Well-tooled outfits now compete with Hollywood
Foreign film shoots in Prague may be slumping from the double blow of economic doldrums and price competition from the East, but Czechs are nothing if not resourceful — and have a decided knack for high-tech tools. As a result, post-production facilities have felt considerably less pain this year, and are continuing to give rivals in major Western cities a run for their money.
Many of these small, young and competitive firms pay the rent with commercial work, as do many local production service businesses, but as more and more films of every budget level use these services, and the big houses in Hollywood and London overflow with work, their Eastern European brethren are waiting in the wings, looking to snap up jobs.
David Minkowski of Prague production services shingle Stillking predicts that top post houses in the Czech Republic and beyond will win more and more major studio work. “Like runaway production, there is also runaway vfx work, because vfx work can be done anywhere regardless of where a movie was shot,” he says. “There is a big push in Hollywood to lower vfx costs, and taking the work to places like Universal Production Partners in Prague or even further afield in India or elsewhere is one way to do it.”
Even during the salad days before the crash, Prague post facilities were surprising skeptical foreign crews with their precision and professionalism, as shingles such as UPP scored vfx work for such pics including “Flight 93,” “AVP: Alien vs. Predator,” “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth.”
Another local operation, Post Produkce Praha, or PPP, has a credits list that includes “Les Miserables” and “Anne Frank: The Whole Story” and has all the necessary post toys, from Telecine to nonlinear editing on Discreet Smoke systems and a digital linear editing suite worthy of “Star Trek.”
Prague is not known as the conservatory of Europe for nothing; Czech engineers clearly have well-tuned ears. Sound post house Soundsquare is an insider-tip among Western producers, having done ADR work with Matt Damon, James Franco and Liev Schreiber and recorded the Czech dubbing for a localized version of “The Incredibles.”
Producer Tom Karnowski, a veteran of Prague shoots who used UPP for vfx on upcoming medieval fantasy actioner “Season of the Witch,” which shot in Hungary, says the firm has built a track record that’s now noted abroad. “Everybody that I have introduced them to has also been happy with their work. They get so involved in the projects, do state-of-the-art work and bend over backwards to make it work for ‘challenged’ budgets.”
While several Hollywood majors have admitted they may soon be forced to farm out pieces of heavy vfx pics to affordable but high-quality small studios outside the U.S., Karnowski posits that UPP is more about soup-to-nuts work.
“I think UPP likes to take on projects that they can completely control and do all work internally. I know they have done piecemeal work on projects in the past, but the real value is working with them as an all-in vfx producer and supervisor.”
As for “Season of the Witch,” he says, “Challenges were CGI wolves for a wolf attack sequence and the designing and implementing (of) the stylized, exaggerated, frightening movement of the monks.”
Ed Milkovich, who recently produced “Masterwork,” a Fox TV pilot, also used UPP.
UPP co-founder Petr Komrzy takes a soft-sell approach, rarely touting his 15-year-old Prague shop and preferring to let its work stand for itself. But, he admits, compared with most local post studios, UPP “offers much wider and deeper post-production services, and much bigger capacity, in both vfx and DI.”
Ludmila Claussova of the Czech Film Commission, which handles inquiries from potential foreign productions, says she’s often asked about the quality and availability of local post houses. She generally refers inquirers to the show reels of companies like UPP and PPP, she says.
Minkowski, who notes that such companies in the U.K. have seen a major boost in business thanks to Brit tax credits, argues that the same trick would make the post biz explode in the Czech Republic, ratcheting it up from a solid bargain to a service that would be highly in demand.
Claussova has long crusaded, along with many other industryites, for foreign-production tax incentives, but the Czech Culture Ministry has yet to get seriously behind the idea, even though incentives worked wonders for Hungary’s production sector.
With the recent collapse of the Czech government and a new culture minister in place, she’s optimistic that a plan may finally take shape soon, particularly after the admonishments of George Lucas, who argued the need for incentives during his shoot of “Red Tails,” the story of the fearless Tuskegee airmen of World War II.
“I don’t see pure post-production work coming from an incentive,” Claussova says, “but it could animate or encourage the film productions already shooting to do post here.”