November 28, 1931: construction work begins on Barrandov film studios

Barrandov film studios

On November 28, 1931 construction work started on the Barrandov Film Studios which were to become one of the biggest and most modern studio facilities in Europe. Over the years they have been the location of choice for the production of more than 2,500 Czech and international films and offer a network of highly-skilled English-speaking crews, trained to Hollywood standards.

Czech film history is closely connected with that of the Havel family of entrepreneurs, and especially with the activities of the brothers Miloš Havel and Václav Maria Havel (father of the late Czech president Vaclav Havel).

At the beginning of the 1930s, Miloš's brother Václav planned to build a luxury residential complex on a hill on the outskirts of Prague. Miloš Havel suggested that he include a modern film studio in the development. The area was to be called Barrandov after Joachim Barrande, the French geologist who had worked at the fossil-rich site in the 19th century.  To this day, the Barrandov Rock displays a plaque with Barrande's name.

Miloš Havel | Photo: National Film Archive

Construction of the studio, based on designs by Max Urban, began on 28 November 1931 and was completed in 1933. Fourteen months later, Barrandov's first Czech film, Murder on Ostrovni Street, was shot there. The volume of films shot at the studio increased rapidly. Within a few years Barrandov had three hundred permanent employees, was making up to eighty films a year, and started attracting foreign producers. It was the best-equipped studio in Central Europe at the time and foreign production companies such as UFA, MGM, and Paramount developed their own distribution systems in Czechoslovakia because of the studio.

During the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany during World War II (1940–1945), major additions were made to the studio's facilities. Three large interconnected stages were built at Barrandov which remain a major attraction for filmmakers from around the world to this day.

In the 1960s, the Czech New Wave attracted worldwide attention. Czech film directors working at Barrandov at this time included Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, Vojtěch Jasný, Pavel Juráček, Věra Chytilová, Jan Němec, Ivan Passer, František Vláčil, Elmar Klos, and Ján Kadár.

Photo: Studio Ströminger,  Pestrý týden,  19.3.1932,  public domain

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Barrandov continued to produce feature films, particularly comedies and fairy tales, turning out an average seventy pictures a year. In the 1980s, some major American productions were made in the studios, including Barbra Streisand's Yentl and Miloš Forman's Amadeus, winner of several Academy Awards. Shortly after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Barrandov was privatized. The studio almost closed down in 2000. However, the decline in local films was balanced out by an increase in foreign productions, particularly feature films made by US producers. Czech television stations and producers of commercials for television also made extensive use of the facility. Barrandov Studios now provides complete production services for feature film producers and for the increasing volume of local audio-visual productions.

On December 2006, Barrandov Studios opened a massive new soundstage aimed at attracting even bigger productions. In terms of size, the new facility is now the largest in Europe, at 4,000 square metres.

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