Struggling ‘Czech Hollywood’ pins hope on state aid
Prague – Once renowned as the bustling "Czech Hollywood", Prague's vast Barrandov film studios are now empty but Central Europe's Tinseltown is hoping state aid will start cameras rolling.
Star-studded blockbusters like Mission Impossible with A-lister Tom Cruise or Casino Royale featuring Daniel Craig, as well as international releases The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Blade II, The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Brothers Grimm, Oliver Twist and Hannibal Rising were filmed there.
Opened in 1933 on a Prague hill, the studio has drawn clients with its high professional standard and affordable prices, but the latter have recently ceased to charm top Hollywood filmmakers.
"Germany, Hungary, Great Britain and other countries have started to pursue a policy of supporting filmmaking, which has affected our competitiveness," Ludmila Claussova, in charge of foreign productions at the Czech Film Commission, told AFP.
Now the Barrandov studios are also pinning their hopes on a Czech government programme of subsidies for both local and foreign filmmakers, currently being scrutinized by the European Union.
At Barrandov, "the volume of spending by foreign productions in 2008 was just around 15 percent of the 2002 amount. Hundreds of people have lost jobs or have been forced to look for another job," Claussova said.
In 2008, only one foreign film was shot in Prague, against eight in 2006 and as many as 11 in 2003.
In a bid to counter the plunge, the Czech government adopted a subsidy scheme in October 2009, backed by Czech lawmakers, compensating filmmakers for up to 20 percent of their production costs.
Prague is now waiting for the go-ahead from the European Union, which the Czech Republic joined in 2004, to rescue their "Paradise Lost".
"We are in talks on a European TV series and two American feature films. We can start shooting as soon as we get the go-ahead from the EU," said Jan Macola, in charge of acquisitions and development at the studios.
In the meantime, Barrandov has focused on shooting commercials, Czech films, and on television productions including the recent launch of the digital station TV Barrandov.
"We live off shooting commercials," said Petr Cermak, caretaker of the vast complex of buildings and land on the southern outskirts of Prague.
"Roger Federer and Claudia Schiffer have recently shot commercials here," Cermak said, pointing at the studio number six, covering an area of 2,000 square metres (21,500 square feet), where workers are setting up for the next commercial promoting a beer brand.
"The studio number 10 was ‘baptised’ by Gerard Depardieu during the shooting of Babylon A.D.. The first part of The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — was shot in number eight," he added.
His voice echoes in the ultra-modern studios, numbers eight, nine and 10, which are equipped with partitions that can be removed to transform the space into a giant room of 4,000 square metres.
The studios built during the big-boom period, however, are desperately empty these days, a situation that has saddened historian Pavel Jiras — the author of a book on the history of the studios — who sees Barrandov as "a magical place unmatched in central Europe".
"It’s as if someone wanted to replace the Louvre or the Uffizi Gallery," in Florence, Italy, said Jiras about filmmakers who have defected to rival studios.
He also praised the Barrandov staff, saying they were well known for their "patient skills" which.
"There’s not only the perfect precision, but also a certain playful quality, a special passion for this job," the historian said.
"We hope the work will resume in full and that Barrandov will shine brightly once again."
AFP / Expatica