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Central, Eastern Europe Eyes Bigger Slice of Production Pie

Frictionless international film and series production is at the top of agendas in Central and Eastern Europe these days, with increasingly competitive territories adopting policy tweaks and launching new film promotion bodies.

The freshly minted Slovak Film Commission is looking to catch up quick to its longstanding Czech counterpart, the Czech Film Commission, with a high profile at major fests, partnerships with Western European counterparts and streamlined services for foreign producers now on the table, says Zuzana Bielikova, who heads the org.

“We would like to make obtaining shooting permits in locations easier and eventually handle the formalities,” says Bielikova, who has spent years at one of Prague’s topline production companies, Negativ. In that capacity she has been part of the team behind critical successes such as “Alois Nebel” and the recent work of Czech docu legend Helena Trestikova.

Now, says Bielikova, helping her native country to win more inbound productions is a top priority as the new commission aims to build on Slovakia’s rep, which already includes a deal for the eight-episode teen superspy series “Alex Rider,” produced by Sony and Eleventh Hour films.

In Hungary, even the loss of the country’s most influential film figure, Andy Vajna, who served as film commissioner, won’t slow down the sector’s rapid evolution, say officials.

“Andy was a true professional whose competence, devotion and hard work led the Hungarian industry out of a deep crisis eight years ago,” says Agnes Havas, CEO of the Hungarian National Film Fund, noting the country saw some $400 million spent on new productions in 2018.

Vajna, who led a systemic transformation of Hungary’s state-run film support system, was credited in the country for greenlighting numerous commercial and critical successes including the 2016 Oscar foreign-lingo winner “Son of Saul.” The unconventional Holocaust drama’s bold visual style, employing heavy use of close-ups and starkly limited depth of field, typified the kind of groundbreaking work Vajna embraced, say colleagues.

In his absence, the Hungarian film fund will carry on supporting courageous work, Havas says. While some veteran directors accused Vajna of having a worryingly cozy relationship with strongman president Viktor Orban, Havas insists the funding org has always operated independently and will carry on backing progressive work.

Meanwhile, series production in Central and Eastern Europe continues to blossom, often driven by the need for U.S. streaming platforms for more original content, with studios in Budapest, Prague and points east booked for months on end. Productions such as Amazon’s “Carnival Row,” alongside feature films such as Kate McKinnon-starrer “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” have made use of top-drawer crews in the Czech Republic while taking advantage of increasingly user-friendly incentives.

A new European Union law – now being finalized – will require streaming services to ensure that at least 30% of their content is produced in the E.U. The platforms will also be required to help fund European productions. Such measures are likely to drive a new boom in location shoots.

With or without such compulsion, the streamers are upping their backing of European content. Netflix is estimated to have boosted its content investment in Europe to the tune of $1 billion in original productions, a figure that has struck fear into the hearts of traditional broadcasters on the continent. Many, such as pubcaster Czech TV, have long been integral to national filmmaking, alongside local film funds.

Another important player in the region is HBO Europe, which remains committed to local talent. Local productions include the German-Romanian cybercrime thriller “Hackerville,” created by Ralph Martin and Joerg Winger (“Deutschland 83”) and its more recent retro spy series “The Sleepers,” penned by debut Czech screenwriter Ondrej Gabriel, with “Wasteland” director Ivan Zacharias helming. With cast featuring David Nykl (“Arrow”) and Tatiana Pauhofova (“Burning Bush”), the six-part “Sleepers” is set in 1980s Prague, where it’s being filmed with additional shoots in London.

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