Prague back in spotlight for film shoots but big features still likely going elsewhere
Prague back in spotlight for film shoots but big features still likely going elsewhere
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Prague was a big hitter in the film world for around a decade until 2008, becoming a venue to shoot high cost feature films. But the shoots started going elsewhere when the Czech Republic failed to roll out the sort of film subsidies other locations were offering. That eventually changed and Prague has clawed its way back as a venue, though perhaps not the first choice one that it once was.
I sat down with Mr. Stillman at his offices at Prague’s Barrandov Studios and asked him first of all to chart the recent fortunes of the Czech film sector.
“TV probably started coming to Prague in 1995 and feature [films] probably in 1997 to 1998 started picking up. And there was a lot of volume of big features from around 1997 to 2007 and 2008. Then what happened, I would say in 2007 or 2008, is that this industry had evolved into a large industry. The idea of people shooting out of Los Angeles and London and the cities where the projects were conceived prior to the early 1990s people did not really use to do that because there was too much risk with travel and locations. But with technology and companies opening up in different places the world became a lot smaller and it became a lot more accessible for different productions. That grew quickly through 2007 to 2008 and by that point an industry had evolved which was probably 7 to 10 billion US dollars of foreign production. Other governments became very much more aware of it. The Hungarians, in this area, introduced a very aggressive subsidy to try and attract it. The Czechs didn’t until about 2010 or 2011. So Hungary got a steal on Prague over those years. Also Berlin was doing quite a lot and the UK subsidy, which used to be called sale and leaseback, and applied to the whole of Europe was in place. So Hungary and the UK in particular had strong years from 2007 to 2011. Because of that they became the regular destination that Prague had bPhoto: Tomáš Adamec, Czech Radioeen.
“Prague, I would say, is more the medium to lower budget features and tv series.”
“Now we are in a phase where Prague is back catching up to that, to where it once was. But the subsidies are still more effective in Budapest and London so the bigger studio features still tend to be there. We have an office in Budapest and we are doing at the moment one for Universal called Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence. We just finished one with Charlize Theron, also for Universal. And Prague, I would say, is more the medium to lower budget features and tv series. Now in Prague there is Knightfall which is a Jeremy Renner 12-part series about the legend of King Arthur. We are also working on one with Ron Howard called Genius which is about Albert Einstein, which is another 12-part series.
“There is more demand that ability to supply at the moment.”
“The overall industry, tv and film, is very vibrant at the moment. There is a lot of production looking for a lot of housing and there is a lot of support. Now we have to fit projects in by slots really, when there is studio and crew availability. There is more demand that ability to supply at the moment.”
Can you shift work between locations, is it possible to do that?
“Well it’s really a question of political will based on an understanding of the economic advantages of doing it. The UK have been very active in producing their reports and providing as much incentive as they can. And so have the Hungarians. The Czechs were less so. There was no political will until the Sobotka/Babiš government. There was a small incentive before but there was never really the political will for it. The people who were in charge of finance did not see, or did not want to see perhaps, the economic advantages that the exporting of services can bring. Other people are a lot more pro-active about that. The UK is particularly strong about trying to develop its creative industries. It has really designed a whole network of, not just film incentives, but other subsidies and support to develop its creative industries and the results from that are quite phenomenal if you look at the recent reports that have come out of the UK government. Others have other priorities or it depends on the nature of governments, if they are short term and unstable mean that they are not willing to enter into these kind of three, five, seven, or 10 year planning developing infrastructure, developing industry in a particular place. So, this government, the Sobotka/Babiš government, is a lot more pro-active about it and a desire to do it. I would not say the political will is as strong as it was in Hungary previously, and I don’t think that the economic benefit as a result of that has been reaped fully in the Czech Republic as much as it has in Budapest or Hungary.
“Yes, what happens is that people come here, directors or producers, and they work with crew and are surprised how great they are. Ridley Scott’s son came here, Jake, and he made a film. And a lot of the Czech crew, especially in stunts, wardrobe, different departments, Ridley then took to do subsequent films in Morocco and different locations, Spain., because they were great crew. As you say, some people move, some of the top camera people have moved. The crew base shrunk, that’s for sure. “
As regards the Czech incentives, there has been some evolution of the incentives. At one stage, if I understand correctly, they were limited to one year and they are now available over a few years. There is more flexibility there but on the other side of the coin there is also much more scrutiny of the accounts and what they are getting as well…?
“There is no film shot here that has not been able to reclaim a rebate and the full rebate.”
“It used to be a one year thing that was replaced by a three year one. It is essentially a revolving fund which is supposed to one budget year but actually there is no film shot here that has not been able to reclaim a rebate and the full rebate. I would say the issues are perhaps more around administration and presentation of that than they are around the effectiveness of the rebate that was established. Like I said, everyone that has come here has got it. But most people did not trust it and did not come because it was not presented in the right way. Now, yes, it’s deeper and longer. There have been more resources applied to it. It can be cancelled, but that can apply to anywhere else as well. There’s a longer term programme there, it might be slightly politically sensitive we will see. We will see what happens with new governments but that can happen anywhere.”
Looking forward as you do, maybe three to five years, do you still see a strong industry based on both those pillars, film and tv, or do you see the tv series gaining even greater share and the Netflix phenomenon and all that becoming even more powerful?
“At the moment there is a scramble to aggregate eyeballs across the Internet and Internet platforms.”
“There is a kind of liberalisation of content which happened with the development of broadband and the rise Netflix, Amazon, Apple and people like that. Up until around five or six years ago, films were distributed by five or six studios and they essentially controlled the market and the product of film at that end of the market. And tv was also limited to a few broadcast networks in Europe and the US and UK for English language. That has all changed significantly in the last few years and the result is that the liberalisation of distribution has created a lot of opportunity for new entrants onto the market. Some of those guys are now the strongest, the Netflix and Amazons and National Geographic. They are the ones that are actually financing a lot of the stuff. In film and tv right now there is a huge demand. Also with data that is now available you can make particular films to hit particular markets and you can distribute them that way. So the desire for content, all content, but particularly tv and film, is particularly strong at the moment. In the tv market at the moment there is a scramble to aggregate eyeballs across the Internet and Internet platforms. They are probably overproducing because they are trying to put their stake in the ground and say we have got, whatever it is, a billion eyeballs subscribing to Netflix or Amazon. At some point, you would expect their models to mature a little bit and less content to be made. That is probably true in perhaps three, five, or seven years. But the general trend, we may be in a bit of a bubble at the moment in terms of tv, but the general trend is for a lot more demand for content because it can be a lot easier distributed."