Czech Producers Call for Incentives Hike to Attract More Shoots

Unless the Czech government steps up on better incentives, warns the country’s leading producers group, more series and films are going to pass it by and film in other locations. “There are many series like that,” said Radek Docekal of Milk and Honey Films, speaking at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival Monday.

Series shoots, which move into the Czech Republic for months and employ scores of crew and actors, are dominating business these days, according to the Audiovisual Producers’ Assn. – which also reported a spike in total money spent this year by incoming productions, $218 million. But that figure should not be seen as a signal to rest easy, the group says.

Netflix, Hulu, Disney and Apple TV may all be shooting projects in the small Central European nation but unless its rebates system, now fixed at 20% of production spends, ratchets up to the same rate as others in the region, Czechs will be left in the dust, it’s predicted.

“If the Czech government doesn’t react very quickly there could be another breaking point,” said association managing director Katerina Weissova.

“What’s important is to enhance our competitiveness,” added producer Vratislav Slajer of Bionaut Films.

Recent shoots include season 2 of A+E Studios’ “Knightfall,” season 2 of Sky’s “Das Boot,” Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” AMC Networks and BBC’s “The Little Drummer Girl” and BBC’s “World on Fire.”

The Czech government of prime minister Andrej Babis is under assault from all quarters. There are regular street protests of hundreds of thousands, and Babis is facing a criminal investigation over alleged fraud. He is also the subject of an E.U. conflict-of-interest investigation. (He denies the allegations.) Another issue is his choice of culture minister – the figure most likely to push better film incentives through. This week his government survived its third no confidence vote, but others may follow.

Hungary, with a 30% rebate system, has seen its film studios multiply as demand has taken off since it passed the incentives scheme in 2004. That same year saw Czech productions drop to a level that only now has rebounded to where it stood before the rebates race began. Slovakia, meanwhile, is close to passing a 33% rebates rate for incoming productions and Poland recently joined the fray with a rate of 30% while Romania has come in with 35-45%.

Total production, counting local spends and commercial shoots, reached $365 million in the last year, the Audiovisual Producers’ Assn. reports – but they also caution that Czech shoots, which totaled just a fifth of that, were skewed by one particularly ambitious project: “Medieval” – known in Czech Rep. as “Jan Zizka” – the story of the legendary bohemian Hussite general Jan Zizka, produced by JBJ Film, Genesy, Double Tree Entertainment and Wog Film, which set the bar for most expensive Czech shoot ever, with a budget of $25 million.

The film, directed and written by local star Petr Jakl and featuring Ben Foster and Michael Caine, covers the early life of Zizka, arguably the greatest general in the nation’s history who trounced superior Holy Roman Empire forces repeatedly in the 1400s.

If the “Medieval” factor is removed, Czech native productions are only creeping up slowly, according to a report released by the association.

Of the major productions to bypass the Czech Republic, said Docekal, “Some have left for capacity reasons, some because they got better conditions somewhere else.” He cited Apple TV’s sci-fi series “Foundation,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, based on the novels of Isaac Asimov, surmising producers likely opted to shoot in Ireland because Czech rates couldn’t compete.

The Czech incentives fund, now standing at an annual total of $35.6 million, was adequate for the time when the system came online in 2010, Docekal said, but these days, with series that shoot over longer than a year, the kitty’s clearly inadequate. A more realistic fund now would disburse $53.4 million in rebates, say leaders of the group.

“We missed a lot of opportunities,” says Docekal, noting that Czech crew skills, locations and creativity are second to none – yet more work than ever is moving on to Hungary and other rivals.

“The industry is changing,” said Docekal. “It’s necessary to respond.”

Pictured: Season 2 of A+E Networks’ “Knightfall” was shot partly in the Czech Republic.

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