Anyone trying to do justice to the jaw-dropping scenery of Western Norway could do worse than Preikestolen, the iconic rock face that soars high above the Lysefjord gorge. Known as Pulpit Rock, the dramatic formation is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s also known to movie buffs as the setting for the pulse-pounding climax of “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” when Tom Cruise scales a cliff that rises nearly 2,000 feet above terra firma.
Though the final scene in “Fallout” was ostensibly set in Kashmir, the rugged, forbidding, mountainous region that borders India, Pakistan and China, the producers found a more film-friendly twin in Western Norway, a region of striking natural beauty serviced by top-notch film infrastructure.
Putting together such a high-stakes shoot required the skill set of the region’s world-class crews, says Per Henry Borch of Truenorth Norway, who worked as the local line producer on the film. But it also required a bit of luck. “When we wrapped up on a Friday, that same afternoon, the whole set snowed down, and winter came,” says Borch. “And it stayed for eight months.”
Most international audiences were introduced to Western Norway by “Ex Machina,” Alex Garland’s 2015 sci-fi drama about a reclusive tech genius attempting to build the world’s first A.I. robot able to pass as human. Blending stunning scenery with striking contemporary architecture, the movie showcased the appeal of a region ready for the spotlight.
Other international films soon followed suit. Recent high-profile productions to lense in Western Norway include “Fallout,” the sixth installment in the MI franchise; “The Snowman,” Tomas Alfredson’s film adaption of the Jo Nesbo thriller, starring Michael Fassbender; and “Downsizing,” Alexander Payne’s social satire starring Matt Damon, which opened the Venice film fest in 2017.
Borch and Truenorth are currently prepping for another major studio project in the region. Netflix is also making its mark, with the 2018 release of “The Innocents,” a supernatural YA series about two star-crossed lovers on the run, and the six-part series “Ragnarok,” a modern-day, coming-of-age drama rooted in Norse mythology, which will air later this year.
None of this would have been possible without Norway’s incentive scheme, which provides a cash rebate of up to 25% on qualifying spend for feature films, documentaries and television series. The minimum budget for feature films is 25 million Norwegian krone ($2.9 million) and for television, 10 million krone ($1.2 million), with a minimum local spend for all projects of 2 million krone ($234,000).
Western Norway also offers the Zefyr Media Fund, the country’s largest regional film fund, to foreign productions working with a local co-producer. Details about both schemes are available through the Western Norway Film Commission (wnfc.no).
Leading production services companies like Truenorth (truenorth.is) and Blinkfilm (blinkfilm.no) can help foreign producers access the cash rebate and other funds. Highly skilled, English-speaking crews are also a key component in a region whose stirring locations — which include glaciers, mountain ranges, pristine valleys, dramatic fjords, and rugged coasts — can be matched by equally extreme weather conditions.
Just ask Farren Blackburn, who served as executive producer and lead director on “The Innocents.” The production team for the Netflix series arrived to summery temperatures and sunny skies in the western town of Modalen, but it soon became a grueling shoot.
“We had three weeks of torrential rain. It literally didn’t stop day and night,” says Blackburn, who credited his crew, which was largely comprised of Norwegians from Truenorth, with keeping the shoot on track. “They were phenomenal. Incredibly hands-on, incredibly positive. There was a great spirit on set.”
Local crews are both skilled and resourceful. For a modest industry accustomed to working on smaller budgets, Norwegians have mastered a production model “that is very productive and cost-effective, and will bring high screen value for half of the price that a U.K. production would do,” says Orjan Karlsen, head of drama at ITV Studios Norway.
But above all, Western Norway offers something that money can’t buy: a diverse range of spectacular locations that are surprisingly accessible, with a solid road network and 10 commercial airports. Borch stresses to clients that a region that’s just two hours from central Europe is nevertheless a world apart. “I like to say that it’s north of ordinary,” he says.