“I Will Survive” is the anthem of the night as well as the era here in Prague. The famed Charles Bridge, one of many centuries-old landmarks in this picturesque Czech capital, was known a half-dozen years ago as the place where locals got arrested for singing Beatles songs.
Today, the mood of a quiet moonlit stroll on this stone spanse over the Vltava River is derailed by the blasting of ’70s disco chestnuts like the Gloria Gaynor tune pounding out from the riverside loudspeakers of a nearby dance club. Even Stalinism, it seems, had its pluses.
More positive signs of change abound. The first Prague Intl. Film Festival earlier this summer drew Hollywood heavies such as Meryl Streep and Dennis Hopper. Two weeks later Mia Farrow watched movies at the nearby Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival. So did director Ted Kotcheff, who lensed the Dolph Lundgren political actioner “The Shooter” here.
Kotcheff describes the local crews as “young and willing” while noting a few production problems: “costume departments are not particularly strong” and “they couldn’t get the right vehicles on the right day,” as well as woes carrying over from the old state-supported system, so “you can’t fire anybody.”
But he also cites “production values that are incredible, rights to shoot that are amazing,” first-rate local facilities like the Ytamp Studios, a small studio on the outskirts of Prague and “the best gaffers I’ve ever worked with.” Kotcheff says that in general, the crew “worked their asses off. So it’s hard to fault people when they give you everything they’ve got.”
Czech-American producer Evzen Kolar, who filmed Zalman King’s “Delta of Venus” here last year, says the best way to encourage foreign productions is to lure the filmmakers over. Several American helmers attended the Prague fest, including Taylor Hackford and Ronald Maxwell (“Gettysburg”) and the result is “We’re developing several projects to shoot in Prague,” says Kolar, who is also developing “Hunter’s Moon,” which director John Irvin is set to shoot the pic here in ’96. It’s no coincidence that Irvin was a guest of last year’s Karlovy Vary fest at the famed Czech resort.
Kolar says there are other, more prosaic attractions. “Equipment and personnel are available,” he points out, “even though over the last five years, prices for some crews are up 200%-300%. But for the right script, it’s still much cheaper.”
Pavel Cerny, president of the North Hollywood-based East European Film Office, also facilitates production work in the Czech Republic and has spent the last decade bringing American video product to the Eastern markets.
The upside in the vid market, says Cerny, is that “from World War II to the mid-’60s, there were no American films, so they’re just releasing ‘Gone With the Wind.’ “
The downside is that “the majors with large libraries are flooding the market.” His brightest hope lies in “new independent distribution companies in video that are emerging,” because, Cerny says, “they’re betting on Americans leaving since the indies have lower overhead and can offer better deals.”
On the downside, Cerny says “a lack of knowledge of American laws” is leading to embarrassing situations. “One major cable company bought TV rights to films from a company that only owned video rights,” says Cerny, adding that “several American companies are looking at filing a lawsuit.”
On the distribution front, Cerny says “the majors find that it’s not profitable enough yet,” and the local distribs, Lucerna, Gemini and Barrandov, are carving up the market.
David Bernatsky, Gemini’s managing director, says his firm handles the Warner Bros, product in the market, but is “increasing the number of independent and local films.” He cites Sasha Gedeon’s Karlovy Vary Fest award-winner “Indian Summer” and Philip Rene’s actioner “War of the Colors” as examples of the latter category, which Bernatsky says make up an estimated 20% of the local B.O.
Bernatsky says the Czech moviegoing audiences are hungry for “present-day, not historic pictures,” citing “Rob Roy” as a local disappointment and “The Specialist” and “Outbreak” as hits. “Sci-fi is still very big,” reports Bernatsky and expectations are high for the fall release of “The Bridges of Madison County.”
If that sounds like a virtual mirror of American tastes, then you’ve stumbled onto the magic formula of marketing in the New Europe. As you step off of the Charles Bridge, if the disco din hasn’t made the point, then the neighborhood coffee shop with the sign boasting “Seattle-style cappuccino” erases all doubts. We have met the post-Communist enemy and it’s wearing Nikes, a Raiders cap and a polo shirt from the Gap.