Czech upstart Prague Studios unveiled its refurbished stages last week, just in time for filming to start on Vin Diesel actioner XXX, with Rob Cohen becoming the latest director to take advantage of low production costs in the Czech Republic. At the same time, it was confirmed that Children Of The Dune, a six-hour sequel to the Sci-Fi Channel's Dune miniseries, has also been booked in for next year.

The renovation of Prague Studios, a former aircraft manufacturing plant, includes sound insulation, a new heating system, fibre-optic cabling and new offices, with a total price tag of $1.6m. The studios boast the largest soundstage in Continental Europe, rivalling Pinewood's Bond stage in the UK, says Krejci, a partner in the studios.

XXX will shoot there as well as at cross-town Barrandov for six weeks in February and March 2002. Set construction begins next week, including a giant water tank that will host a submarine action sequence. XXX is the latest in a spate of action movies that producers have chosen to film in Prague, once known mainly for period movies.

Meanwhile, Children Of The Dune, which is being produced by New Amsterdam Entertainment, is due to begin production in April.

Despite the stagnation in US commercial production that has hit Prague and elsewhere since Sept. 11, Krejci said the studios have projects lined up through the first quarter of 2003, though he declined to mention names other than XXX and Children Of The Dune. He said he hoped interest in commercial shoots would revive in the New Year. Krejci claimed that prices would be comparable to what he calls Prague Studios' "friendly" rival, Barrandov.

Filmmakers in Prague have called for the urgent construction of more studio stage space to keep the boom in the Czech film industry from fading. "There are many projects that could be realised in Prague but cannot be because the capacity is very limited," says Krejci. "Very often producers have to lower their standards and shoot in spaces that are not as good as [Prague Studios]."

Meanwhile, Shanghai Knights, Spyglass's follow-up to Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon, will shoot at Barrandov from early next year, the studios has announced.

After high-profile U.S.-financed shoots in 2000 and 2001 at Barrandov, including A Knight's Tale (Columbia), From Hell (20th Century Fox) and Hart's War (MGM) Barrandov announced it has received the first foreign orders for 2002, with Shanghai Knights taking center stage.

Despite being involved in a protracted and controversial sale process that insiders say has hampered investment and development, Barrandov posted profits of $1.77m (CZK 67 million) on turnover of $14.05m (CZK 527 million) in the first 10 months of 2001 .

Prague-based Stillking Films will handle production services for the shoot, with the film lensing in Prague from February to June with a few days in London and Calgary, a source said. Stillking is also handling XXX.

Once known primarily as a place for period film shoots, Prague in recent years has attracted a number of action films, the most prominent of which has been New Line's $55 million Blade 2 which wrapped mid-2001. Shanghai Knights, set in Victorian London, will likely fall into both categories.