Czech this out

As film biz matures, facilities establish themselves

PRAGUE — Despite competition from Romania and its hosting the shoot for “Cold Mountain,” Prague quietly managed the impossible: a 56% increase in 2003 vs. its 2002 record $200 million film business.

In 2003, projects such as Universal’s big-budget “Van Helsing,” MGM’s Terry Gilliam-helmed “The Brothers Grimm” and Fox’s “Alien vs. Predator,” among others, contributed to the estimated $300 million-plus spent on film production this year.

As the Czech film service business enters maturity, post-production facilities as well as leading supply companies are establishing themselves in the city. Arri opened a home at Prague Studios, while Kodak entered a joint venture with post and special effects house UPP to bring the first high-end Telecine machine to Central Europe.

Kodak may well be congratulating itself on the move. UPP recently brought home its first Emmy, for visual f/x on “Children of Dune.” Now it’s changing the flow of effects work, drawing projects shot elsewhere to Central Europe.

UPP is handling productions such as Australian-shot Warner Bros. telepics “Salem’s Lot” and the L.A.-lensed “Helter Skelter,” while negotiating to keep more post-production work for Prague-shot films in the city.

At UPP, quality trumps expense (although that’s a factor). “They’re just really good,” says one producer.

But the biggest step forward, agree biz insiders, has been the first concrete step in establishing a Czech Film Commission. Czech producers association APA will launch a preliminary commission Dec. 1, with the state expected to take over a fully functioning office in 2005.

With Barrandov and Prague Studios running near capacity through next summer, it looks as if Prague is becoming firmly established on Euro production lists.