Producer Marc D Evans took The Raven to Hungary and Serbia to create James McTeigue’s dark vision of 19th century Baltimore — at a considerable saving.

Synopsis: A fictionalised account of the last five days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, when the writer helps investigate a series of murders which seem to borrow from his writing.

Director: James McTeigue

Writers: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare

Producers: Marc Evans, Trevor Macy, Aaron Ryder

Production Companies: Intrepid Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment, Galavis Film

Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson

Nationality: Spain, Hungary, Serbia, US

Language: English

Shooting dates: November 4–January 15

International Sales: FilmNation

Distributors: Relativity

Status: In post

The Raven is grounded in a historical mystery about the end of the life of writer Edgar Allan Poe. Best known to generations of high-school students as the author of such macabre short stories as The Pit And The Pendulum and The Cask Of Amontillado, Poe also introduced the detective story to American literature.

“Historically what happened was Poe had disappeared, then turned up on a park bench in someone else’s clothes, fell into a coma and died,” said producer Marc D Evans. “We’re playing with the historical happenstance of what could have happened in those missing days.”

The story originated as a collaboration between scriptwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare. “Ben and Hannah had been fascinated by Poe for quite some time,” Evans said. “A lot of people have attempted to make films based on Poe’s stories, but they really wanted to tell delve into his psyche. So you have a real-life character without the constrictions of a biopic, and yet you get to sprinkle elements of his stories throughout.”

The Raven begins with Poe (played by John Cusack) arriving in Baltimore as a serial killer is terrorizing the city, using the writer’s stories as the inspiration for his crimes. Poe is a suspect at first, but he eventually joins forces with a police inspector to solve the crimes and save the woman he loves.

The filmmakers scouted Baltimore but rejected it as a location. “It’s hard to replicate 1849 Baltimore in Baltimore,” Evans said. “It became apparent that we’d have to create our own vision of the city.”

The dark, off-kilter vision the producers sought sprang from the imagination of director James McTeigue, who created a steampunk noir look for his solo debut, V For Vendetta. “James was trying to show Baltimore through Poe’s eyes, which is a darker, macabre vision of the city,” Evans said. “That gave us some creative latitude to look domestically and internationally for a location that would allow us to get as much money on the screen as possible.”

The producers scouted New Orleans and other US locations but did not find the combination of locations, talent and savings they were looking for. They also looked at the Czech Republic, but found the costs there were not low enough. “Also, the look of Prague wasn’t quite as spot on for this movie as what we found in Budapest and Belgrade,” Evans said.

Hungary offered the right locations and good value, Evans said, but even Budapest was more expensive than the producers wanted to pay. The solution was to split the shoot between Hungary and and Serbia. “We put them together and got good crews, stages and the look and feel that we wanted,” Evans said. “And most importantly, the price was going to be right.”

The nine-week shoot began last autumn in Budapest. “We did two days on the backlot at Mafilm’s Fot stages, but most of Hungary was either streets or interiors,” Evans said. “There’s a gorgeous museum [the Museum of Ethnography] that we used for a big ballroom scene.”

After two-and-a-half weeks in Hungary, the production moved south to neighbouring Serbia for a week on locations in Novi Sad and Kulpin before heading to Belgrade for practical locations and stage work. The production shot for three weeks at PFI Studios, just outside the city, and at the Fox television studios.

“Serbia took me by surprise,” Evans said. “They are still building their infrastructure, so we were concerned whether they would be able to service our needs.”

The service came from local line producer Andjelija Vlaisavljevic, who had worked with Ralph Fiennes on Coriolanus in spring 2010. “Angie got us every comfort,” Evans said. “She got us good crew and high-quality construction so things looked right for an A-level movie.”

Evans was pleasantly surprised with the work performed by local crews — 180–200 in each territory — although it was necessary to bring in department heads from the UK, Italy and elsewhere. “They were as good a crew as I’ve had anywhere in Europe,” he said. “In terms of quality of work, how hard they worked, how seriously they took their jobs and end result, I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Not surprisingly, Hungary was the more expensive of the two territories. “Hungary has had more big studio films so they have A-level crews, but there’s a lot more competition for crew and locations, so their prices have come up accordingly,” Evans said. “Still, we had a very good experience and I would certainly shoot there again for the right movie.”

The producers were able to offset the higher costs in Budapest by accessing Hungary’s 20% tax rebate. The project easily passed the attached cultural test without any changes to the script. Hungarian UPM Ildiko Kemeny of service provider Pioneer Pictures handled the paperwork. “They made the process very smooth, from the audit to the receipt of cash and finding a buyer for the tax credits. There were no surprises, and they did it in a very timely fashion,” Evans said.

The production wrapped in Serbia before the territory introduced a new 15% production rebate in March, but the filmmakers were able to apply the Hungarian rebate to a portion of the Serbian shoot and to some of the costs of transporting props.

The Raven is currently in post in Los Angeles and London. Relativity will release the film.

Next up: Evans is currently working on a sequel to Bryan Bertino’s horror The Strangers, with Laurent Briet directing. Other projects lining up for production later this year include thriller The Fourth Horseman and an adaptation of Brian Woods’ graphic novel Couriers.