What Prague needs, as everyone knows, is a tax incentive," says Mark Johnson of Gran Via Productions, the US producer of the first two Chronicles Of Narnia films. "Outside of London, it's one of the only places in Europe that could handle a movie like Narnia. But now it is losing work to places with less of everything, because of tax incentives."
Walt Disney and Walden Media's The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian both used Czech facilities and locations, but The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader - which requires a water tank set against the ocean - looks to be heading elsewhere when it starts shooting this October (locations already scouted include Malta, Spain, Iceland, New Zealand and Australia). The weak US dollar and strong Czech crown are also proving to be deterrents.
Prague has missed out on a number of key productions in the last couple of years. After shooting Casino Royale at the city's huge Barrandov Studios and at various Czech locations, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Eon Productions returned to Pinewood for Quantum Of Solace stage work. Similarly, Guillermo Del Toro shot Blade II and Hellboy in Prague, but lower costs and a 20% tax rebate lured him to Hungary for Hellboy II: The Golden Army last year, while United Artists' Valkyrie and Michael Hoffman's The Last Station considered Prague but went to Germany instead.
"This is the worst I've seen it," says Prague-based producer Kevan Van Thompson, who worked on the Czech shoot of Davis Films' $20m Solomon Kane, one of the few international films to shoot in the Czech Republic so far this year. "If (producers) are really just looking for a big bang for their buck, then they're going to go someplace else. If they're looking for really good workmanship then they can come here, but we can't compete at the moment."
To further compound the problem, the Czech government recently threw out a proposal to introduce a 20% tax rebate for film-makers shooting in the country on the grounds it would give an unfair advantage to a single industry.
The local industry received the news with the resolve that has seen it through years of rejection. "The tax incentive process continues to move forward," claims David Minkowski, head of film production at Prague-based Stillking Films, which has provided production assistance to several major films, including Prince Caspian. "Problems and delays are inevitable, but the point is that high-level negotiations continue." The local industry remains confident an incentive will be put in place. "Our goal is still to see a law in effect during 2009," adds Minkowski.
Production in Prague has always been cyclical, but the local industry is finding this quiet spell ominous. Just three big productions have shot in the territory since the beginning of the year: Solomon Kane, Bronson Club's $1.7m Finnish horror Sauna and Paramount Pictures' GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra. Looking ahead, The Film Department's war drama Brothers In Arms, which has a completion guarantee from the Screen Actors Guild in the event of a strike, and HandMade Films' teen movie Eloise In Paris are the only major projects planning to shoot in the Czech Republic in the coming months.
However, it is not all gloom. All the US studio projects to have shot recently in the territory cite its ability to handle major productions. In addition to Prince Caspian, Universal's Wanted also filmed there, and Paramount has just wrapped GI Joe at Barrandov.
"What makes Prague so special is that it has hosted so many big US movies," says Johnson. "There's no learning curve. This translates into cost savings and, in the end, a better movie."
Sauna producer Jesse Fryckman adds: "They have everything you need - all the equipment, great crews, fantastic locations. It's a real, stable infrastructure. In Finland, each time we start a production, we have to start from scratch."
And despite increased competition from its cheaper Eastern European neighbours and the falling dollar, the Czech Republic is still considered better value than many Western countries.
Davis Films used Barrandov's backlot and warehouse space for Solomon Kane. With a production budget of $20m, the producers looked at filming in the UK and, when that proved too expensive, they tried Romania. Eventually they decided the Czech locations had the look they wanted. Van Thompson estimates shooting in the Czech Republic still costs half of what it would in the UK.
Matthew Stillman and David Minkowski
Stillman and Minkowski's Stillking Films has a contract with Paramount to provide services for the studio's Prague-based shoots, recently serving as a co-producer on GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra. Further credits include Universal's Wanted and The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
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Moravec's Etic Films has provided production management, location scouting and complete production services for The Omen, Hannibal Rising, Oliver Twist and 16 other feature productions since 1993. The company's next job is servicing HandMade Films' Eloise In Paris later this year.
Dan Frisch and Phil Waley
Frisch and Waley's International Production Company, based in Prague, offers comprehensive production services and has serviced Bangkok Dangerous, Solomon Kane and both of Eli Roth's Hostel films. The company also produced its first film, The Rainbow Tribe, last year in California.
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Kevan Van Thompson
Through Czech-Anglo Productions, Van Thompson has served as assistant director, line producer or production manager on 24 TV productions, and has 16 film credits to his name, most recently as producer on Solomon Kane and line producer on Babylon AD.