20th Century Fox's The Omen 666 is set to shoot in Praguein the Czech Republic from late October.

Prague-based productionoutfit Etic Films will work with Fox on the new instalment in the Omenfranchise, which is directed by John Moore, Etic's head of production VeronikaFinkova told ScreenDaily.com.

The Omen 666 joins YoungHannibal: Behind the Mask as the second high-profile film startingproduction in Prague in late October. Etic will co-produce the Hannibal Lecterprequel, which is directed by Peter Webber.

News that the films are toshoot in the Czech Republic comes as a relief for the local production servicesindustry, which saw a huge drop in orders in 2004.

According to the CzechAssociation of Audiovisual Producers, foreign orders for production services inthe Czech Republic fell nearly a third in 2004.

Among APA members,production services for foreign clients fell nearly $41.6m (CZK1bn) from 2003.

Orders for services forproduction of feature films, videos and commercials in 2004 was just over $83m(CZK 2bn), the lowest since 1999.

The drop appeared to confirmfears that Czech Republic is losing market share to other, cheaper countries inCentral and Eastern Europe, a trend APA vice-president Filip Sirovy expects tocontinue.

Recent productions includingBlood and Chocolate and Eragon have skipped over the CzechRepublic for cheaper shoots in Romania and Hungary, respectively.

The Omen 666and Young Hannibal: Behind the Maskcould reverse the slide, however. And professionals in Britain and the CzechRepublic are on tenterhooks waiting for word on whether James Bond thriller Casino Royale will leavePinewood-Shepperton for Prague - a production that would mean a huge boost tothe Czech production service industry.

Etic's major production of 2004was Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist.Finkova said she thought the drop in orders in Prague reflected a global trend."I think there was a serious drop everywhere," she said. "InLondon they're having enormous difficulty getting films made. It's expensiveeverywhere."

David Minkowski of StillkingFilms is cautiously optimistic. For Stillking, 2004 was a gap year book-endedby Alien vs Predator in 2003 and abusy first half of 2005 with such features as Doom, The Chronicles ofNarnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Illusionist. "2005 is going to be a banner year," hesaid. "Prague has everything it needs. It just needs incentives and alucky break on the exchange rate."

The falling dollar has meanthigher costs for Hollywood producers shooting in Prague. Additionally,production services in the Czech Republic are charged 19% VAT since the countryjoined the EU in May 2004. Foreign producers are entitled to a refund of theentire amount, but doing so requires considerable red tape.

But the Czech government hasso far not expressed any willingness to offer tax incentives to lure moreproductions to the country.

Ludmila Claussova of theCzech Film Commission was in Cannes this year promoting the country amongfilm-makers. Producers at the festival were "incentives-crazy", shesaid. "Eight questions out of ten questions at Cannes were about taxincentives. Unfortunately I had to tell them 'No, we don't have tax incentivesyet, but we are working on it."

A point of hope forproducers is a Ministry of Culture study this autumn that seeks to learn whatcontribution the film industry makes to the Czech economy. Work on the studiesshould begin in autumn and be concluded by the end of the year.

"We've convinced thegovernment production services are part of the film industry," Claussovasaid. "Now we need to show them that the film industry is part ofindustry."