Czechs shaken as Blighty stirs

Bizzers say Czech gov't has to offer sweeter deals to keep Brits away

Can the Czech biz keep the resurgent U.K. production sector at bay and hang on to the $300 million it earns each year from foreign shoots?

When London-based Eon Prods. decided to shoot much of the next James Bond pic, “Casino Royale,” in the Czech Republic, and not at the franchise’s traditional home, England’s Pinewood, many bizzers saw it as a good omen for Prague.

“We didn’t look at the Czech Republic at first because we’d heard it was more expensive,” says Michael G. Wilson, one of the producers of the 007 pic.

In the end, based on production designer Allan Starski’s rewarding experience working on Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” in Prague, Wilson and team chose to shoot at Barrandov anyway — and were glad they did.

He, like Martha De Laurentiis, producer with Dino De Laurentiis on the Hannibal Lecter prequel, “Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask,” is quick to praise the professionalism and skill of Czech crews, even if the country still offers no tax rebates.

“Crews want to work in Prague,” Wilson says. “That has a lot to do with morale on long, tough shoots.”

But this year’s change in U.K. tax incentives, which benefits Hollywood blockbusters, may divert the flow of productions back to the U.K. once more.

Bizzers say if the Czech Republic wants to fend off the British, the government has got to offer a sweetener of its own.

Veronika Finkova, who negotiated “Young Hannibal” and “The Omen” for Prague service provider Etic, is unequivocal about the need for the Czech state to step up to the plate.

“Absolutely,” she says. “It’s not so much about the money — it’s more a psychological thing.”

There’s good and bad news. On the one hand, Eon has said it’s eager to return to Prague with a second Bond pic starring Daniel Craig, says Barrandov topper Vladimir Kuba. On the other, New Line has said no to the Czechs for “The Golden Compass,” its adaptation of the Philip Pullman novel, and will shoot the pic in Britain.

Changes in U.K. tax law, including 16% back on productions with budgets of $35 million plus and 20% back on ones below that figure, will benefit the project.

Wilson calls the U.K. rules, which only apply to money spent within the country, misguided. Many Brit productions would, like Bond, happily bring core crews and some props to the Czech Republic. “An Aston Martin with lots of gadgets and weapons systems might cost a million euros and you might need three of them,” he says. This still benefits the U.K. biz, but these wouldn’t qualify for refunds.

For now, says Radek Docekal, who is lobbying the Czech state with a report on the economic impact of foreign production, business is still booming. Business in 2005 was rosier than in previous years, thanks to pics such as “Young Hannibal,” “The Omen,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Doom.” Commercials biz, which forms up to 30% of foreign projects in the Czech Republic, is stable too, he says.

Prague’s limited studio capacity has been addressed with a 43,000-square-foot studio opening at Barrandov in November.

About time too, says Martha De Laurentiis. Bond took over space she would have liked for the “Young Hannibal” shoot.

The story of Hannibal’s cannibal roots runs from Lithuania to France of the 1940s and 1950s. Locations in the Czech Republic can easily stand in for so many looks and periods that the city makes a great place “to satellite from,” says De Laurentiis.

“It truly fit the look and period of our film. Ninety-nine percent of our locations were in and around Prague.”

And, as Stillking topper David Minkowski points out, most Czech regions and cities are far more film-friendly than the Czech government. Karlovy Vary rolled out the red carpet for “Casino Royale,” the mayor presenting Craig with city honors during the Bond pic’s location work there.

Though the soft dollar doesn’t help, at least there’s no immediate risk of the Czech Republic adopting the euro, which would likely lead to a hike in prices. President Vaclav Klaus is no fan of the European Union, and has no plans to adopt the currency.

With that worry dismissed, says “Omen” producer Glenn Williamson, he would definitely choose to go Czech again.

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