PRAGUE — As Hollywood pours more and more money into production and promo budgets in its quest for B.O. primacy, it’s refreshing to discover in local production centers that Hollywood’s original business plan — tenacity and fun — still works.
For a refresher course in Hit Moviemaking 101, take a walk through the lobby of the Lucerna movie theater off Prague’s Wencelas Square, which leads you to the Tvrdohlavi Gallery, a chic contempo art space owned by former Barrandov Film Studio CEO/chairman Vaclav Marhoul.
Note the posters and cardboard promo stands for “Mazany Filip” (“Smart Philip”), a locally produced spoof of Hollywood’s classic hardboiled detective thrillers that has trumped “Lord of the Rings” and the rest of the Christmas blockbusters to become the Czech Republic’s current No. 1 film.
Roughly translated from Czech into English, “Tvrdohlavi” means “hard-headed” — which is apt, since it took Marhoul, the pic’s tenacious writer and director, 18 years to bring the piece to the bigscreen.
The project began as a popular stage production during the communist days of the former Czechoslovakia.
Marhoul completely rewrote the piece in the early ’90s “to make it work according to the rules of detective fiction.” His itch to get “Filip” to the screen began in earnest in 1997, not long after he left his post at Barrandov, the Czech Republic’s famed production facility.
“Though it was a hit onstage, it wasn’t easy to convince people that this would make a popular film, especially more than a decade later,” says Marhoul. “One of the few people who believed in this from the beginning was the CEO for Warner Bros. Czech Republic, Ladislav Stastny, thank God, because he was instrumental in helping us get the money together.”
Luckily for Marhoul, Stastny had the tenacity to stick with Marhoul for the six years it took to raise the less-than-$1 million production budget, which in Hollywood would barely buy one Hobbit buffet.
Finally shot in 2003 entirely on local soundstages and with virtually every actor of note in the Czech Republic (which hasn’t hurt its B.O. appeal), the pic revels in its artificiality. Not unlike the recent Lars von Trier-Nicole Kidman opus, “Dogville” — but with a lot more laughs.
And comedy, Marhoul says, is the other secret of his success.
“When we did this onstage in 1986,” he recalls, “it was performed by a theater group called ‘Divadlo Sklep,’ ” which is basically our country’s ‘Monty Python.’ ”
But unlike other popular acclaimed theater of the time, we weren’t anti-communist. We were not against anything, not solving anything. We weren’t pro-anybody, just pro-fun.
“What we discovered with the film’s success was that nothing has changed,” says the beaming Marhoul, “even though the political situation has completely changed.
“People still want to laugh. I always thought they would, but until they did, it was just my theory.”