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Karlovy Vary: Czech Incentives, Production Facilities Lure Foreign Filmmakers

Karlovy Vary panel spotlights local industry support for international shoots

Sean Ellis, Anthropoid
Courtesy of Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

KARLOVY VARY  The Czech Republic’s top-notch production design, technical prowess, renowned facilities and attractive incentive program were front and center at a lively discussion at the Karlovy Vary Festival on Monday.

The panel, moderated by Variety’s Peter Caranicas, included Czech Film Commissioner Ludmila Claussova; British director Sean Ellis, whose World War II drama “Anthropoid” (pictured) opened this year’s fest; Oscar-winning Barrandov Studio production designer Allan Starski; production designer Jindrich Koci; cinematographer Jaromir Sedina; and Rick Smotkin, senior VP of government affairs at U.S. cable giant Comcast, parent of NBCUniversal.

Discussing the Czech Republic’s incentive program, which offers a 20% cash rebate on local spend, Claussova said the financing support plays a vital role for most projects, adding that incentives “are necessary if you want to stay competitive. It’s the first question producers ask.”

Yet Claussova stressed that efforts to lure foreign productions to the country meant not just promoting incentives, but also the Czech Republic’s entire infrastructure, from the high quality and expertise of its crews to the value of its state-of-the-art facilities and wealth of historical locations. “The incentives are the starting point,” she added. “Without them there wouldn’t be any further discussion.”

Starski echoed the sentiment, arguing that Barrandov Studios provides such “good quality of work” that producers have chosen to go to the Czech Republic rather than nearby Hungary, which also offers generous incentives. Starski, who won an Oscar for his work on Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” noted that even before the introduction of the Czech incentive program, producer Dino De Laurentiis chose Barrandov over Hungarian facilities for the shoot of “Hannibal Rising” a decade ago. Despite Hungary already having incentives at the time, De Laurentiis was decidedly impressed with the studio’s high quality of workmanship, Starski added.

Since then, however, financial support has become vital for the Czech industry, Starski said, noting that his native Poland has no incentive program and, as a result, offers no real services to international productions.

Despite the Czech Republic’s popularity with international filmmakers from around the globe, including a growing number of Asian producers, not to mention its relatively low costs in view of the strong U.S. dollar, Smotkin said NBCUniversal had not been to the country in a decade because it was not economical enough for the conglom. The country’s incentive is not competitive with that of Hungary, the U.K. or Ireland, Smotkin said, adding that despite “the great crews and great studios,” NBCUniversal would not shoot projects in the country until the government raised the rebate incentive to “the 25% range.”

Addressing the prospect of possible public resistance to the Czech Republic providing money to “rich Hollywood producers,” as has been the case in some U.S. states, Claussova said the government support is sometimes misunderstood.

The incentive is here not to help international or Hollywood producers. It’s not to do them a favor. The incentive is here to support our industry. This is the view that we have to communicate. We are not giving it to the producers, we are making their budgets and their shoots more cost effective.”

The film commissioner added that the incentive was established to support the Czech film business, to help train and employ people and to also provide the country with great promotion through films like “Anthropoid,” which is sharing a piece of Czech history with the world. The pic tells the true story of two Czechoslovakian resistance fighters on a mission to assassinate a high-ranking Nazi official in occupied Prague.

For his part, Ellis said he planned from the outset to shoot “Anthropoid” in the Czech Republic regardless of incentives.

“There was no question that it had to be here if you wanted the authenticity of recreating that story,” Ellis said, adding that it was a story “that is very close to the hearts of the Czech people. Even the carpenters who worked on the production were very proud to be a part of the project, he added.

The panel, “Inside the Czech Republic’s Production Benefits: Why Facilities, Locations, Incentives & Skills Make for an Unmatchable Combination,” was sponsored by Barrandov Studio.