Source: HBO

‘True Detective: Night Country’ is now shooting in studios and on location in Iceland 

True Detective: Night Country, the fourth season of the HBO series, is the first project to qualify for Iceland’s newly boosted 35% filming incentive. The show is spending an estimated $65m on the fourth season, all shot in Iceland to double for Alaska.

The production is now shooting with a cast headed by Jodie Foster, Kali Reis, John Hawkes, Christopher Eccleston, Finn Bennett and Fiona Shaw. 

Approximately 80% of the crew is Icelandic, with some international heads of department. The production has been based in Iceland since June and will continue shooting into April 2023. 

The plot follows the two detectives played by Foster and Reis as they investigate six men who vanish from an arctic research station. HBO says the pair will “confront the darkness they carry in themselves, and dig into the haunted truths that lie buried under the eternal ice.”

True Detective is shooting on location at various locations in north and south Iceland, as well as around Reykjavik. The production is taking advantage of two studio complexes on the outskirts of Reykjavik, Fossa Studios and Baltasar Kormakur’s RVK Studios. Both spaces are especially energy efficient thanks to Iceland’s famous geothermal heating.

The Icelandic partner on the True Detective production is Truenorth, which has credits including Clint Eastwood’s Flags Of Our Fathers and Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest to Dune and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Truenorth has had a very busy 2022, also including work on Netflix’s Gal Gadot action film Heart of Stone, which included a set with 900 people on some shooting days; FX’s mystery series Retreat starring Brit Marling; Hulu’s Washington Black series; and Sony’s Kraven The Hunter.

Growth and government support

Iceland’s production sector is busier than ever – new government statistics confirmed last week reveal that the turnover of the film and TV industry in Iceland has increased by 85% over the last five years – especially impressive because that includes the pandemic years (when Iceland could remain open for business). Turnover for film and TV is about $212m (30bn ISK) annually, with about 4,000 people in the small nation working in film production.

Iceland has for decades had a very healthy industry, thanks to a rebate first introduced in 1999 (one of the first in Europe) and welcoming a wide range of productions from Game Of Thrones and Succession to The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and Prometheus. The new 35% rebate was unveiled in May 2022, and sources say the government was convinced to finally boost the rebate thanks to the prospect of a huge show like True Detective bringing its entire shoot to Iceland. All productions qualify for the 25% but special criteria must be met for the 35% rebate including number of days shooting and local spend.

Unlike some countries, the reimbursement is not capped. It is estimated there will be over $40m (5.7bn ISK) for reimbursements in 2023. “I have a strong conviction that support for creative industries has a positive multiplier effect on society and I am sure that this change will promote domestic film production and attract large foreign investment projects to the country,” said Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Iceland’s minister of culture and trade.

In addition to the boosted incentive, Iceland’s infrastructure offerings have improved in recent years with the establishment of the newest Fossa Studios, which has two sound stages and office space totaling 6,100m2 (there are permits in place to erect two more stages at Fossa).

Kormakur’s RVK Studios, which opened in 2018, has three studios – including a huge ‘stage 1’ that is 34,400 square feet with a 60-foot ceiling. That stage has been used by True Detective to build a huge set (the biggest ever erected in Iceland) for the arctic research station at the centre of the plot.

Kormakur has shot some of his own projects at the studio, including the second series of Trapped and Netflix’s Katla, the new Luther film starring Idris Elba, and his current project Touch  Kormakur has huge ambitions for RVK Studios to grow into a creative hub – his own production company is based in an impressive office there, and construction has started now on residential properties. “The plan is to build enough housing for 4,000-5,000 people to live here,” he says. “Buildings are rising here now. Come back in five years and you’ll see a whole community.” 

Other companies already established next to RVK Studios – in a former industrial area which had been used for waste and fertilizer – include equipment rental company KUKL.

More infrastructure growth in Iceland also includes the RVX effects house that works on Netflix’s The Witcher; and Upptekid, a new Dolby Atmos certified sound studio.

Icelandic films ready to travel

Local filmmakers are also busy – including with projects that cross borders. During an Icelandic Film Centre works in progress presentation during the recent European Film Awards weekend in Reykjavik, highlights included Kormakur’s Touch, which has shot in the UK and in Iceland and will continue its shoot in Tokyo and Hiroshima in Japan in January. Focus Features is on board the story of an Icelandic restauranter who goes on a journey to understand the mysterious disappearance of his Japanese girlfriend 50 years ago when they lived in London. The UK’s Mike Goodridge of Good Chaos is producing alongside Kormakur and his longtime producing partner Agnes Johansen.

Goodridge is also co-producing another Icelandic project with big international appeal, Northern Comfort. It is writer/director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s first English-language feature after festival hits including Under The Tree and Either Way. Charades is closing deals on the film, which will be ready for 2023 festivals. Grimar Jonsson is producing for Netop Films, and co-producers are Sol Bondy and Fred Burle from Germany’s One Two Films as well as Goodridge’s Good  Chaos. The story is about a group of strangers on a fear of flying course. The cast includes Timothy Spall, Rob Delaney, Lydia Leonard and Sverrir Gudnason.

Futher internationally-focused  features in the pipeline include Oskar Thor Axelsson’s action thriller Operation Napoleon, which is sold by Beta Cinema; Cold, Erlingur Thoroddsen’s third feature, a drama/thriller about an investigation into deaths at a juvenile treatment center, with Hollywood veteran Joni Sighvatsson producing alongside Heather Millard and LevelK handling sales; and Loss, directed by Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson, an Iceland-Belgium-Norway co-production that shot in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, about a widower who embarks on a journey during his grief.

Icelandic TV projects presented were As Long As We Live, a relationship drama now in post, created by actress Anita Briem, about a woman who shakes up her stale marriage. Eccho Rights handles sales. Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson is one of the writers and directors of drama/comedy Balls, now shooting for Zik Zak Filmworks,, about a middle- aged sports star who clashes with the women’s handball team he has to coach; and Descendants, also in post and directed and co-written by Tinna Hrafnsdottir, about three very different siblings who have to take over a family business.