As much of Europe begins to ease restrictions imposed on business and travel to curb the spread of coronavirus, Hollywood studios are looking ahead to a restart when production resumes in Hungary and the Czech Republic, Central Europe’s biggest production hubs.
On Thursday, the Czech Republic announced that international productions forced to halt their shoots because of the coronavirus pandemic will be allowed to return immediately after the government lifts restrictions on public gatherings, as soon as mid-May.
“Three-quarters of audiovisual productions in the Czech Republic stopped in March,” said Helena Bezdek Frankova, director of the Czech Film Fund. “In full compliance with the Ministry of Health, filmmakers are no longer affected by measures restricting cultural and sporting events and large gatherings. We therefore consider audiovisual production to be resumed.”
“The government has managed the crisis wisely, citizens in general acted responsibly, and the result is the infection rate has remained relatively low, allowing the country to re-open commercially and the industry to get back on its feet quickly,” said David Minkowski of Stillking Films, whose credits include Netflix’s “The King” and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
Both Hungary and the Czech Republic were operating at capacity when the pandemic shut down film and television production across the region in March.
Disney was forced to halt the Prague shoot of the upcoming Disney Plus series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” an “Avengers” spin-off starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, while Amazon’s “Carnival Row” (pictured), starring Orlando Bloom, and an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” fantasy series, produced by Sony and Amazon Studios, were also placed on hiatus.
Among the productions suspended in Budapest were “The Nightingale,” a period drama starring Dakota and Elle Fanning from Sony label TriStar Pictures, and the Amazon Studios film “Birds of Paradise.”
Sources close to two major U.S. productions cautioned that no timetable to return has been set, as the situation remains fluid. And governments in both countries have warned that the recent rollback of lockdown measures could change if the number of coronavirus cases begins to rise again.
The Czech Republic has already eased restrictions on other parts of its society and economy. Many places of business, including smaller retail stores, gyms and libraries, are now open. Cinemas, theaters, shopping malls, beauty salons, museums and galleries will be allowed to reopen on May 11, with restaurants and hotels to follow on May 25.
Travel restrictions have also been eased for European Union nationals, including U.K. citizens, who are allowed to enter the country for business purposes, including film and TV production. Foreign visitors will have to show a negative coronavirus test result before leaving their home countries, and will have to undergo a second test within 72 hours of arrival in the Czech Republic to avoid spending two weeks in quarantine.
The Czech Republic has recorded 7,896 COVID-19 cases and 257 deaths caused by the virus through Tuesday.
Tighter measures remain in place in Hungary, which is the second biggest production hub in Europe, after the U.K. Incoming travel for most foreign nationals, including U.S. and U.K. citizens, is still banned, as are large public gatherings. While Prime Minister Viktor Orban lifted some restrictions outside of Budapest last week, allowing shops and restaurants with outdoor seating to open, many restrictions are still in effect in the capital.
As Hungary continues to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check, however, with a total of 3,111 cases and 373 deaths recorded as of Tuesday, travel bans and other measures are expected to be eased in the coming weeks. International productions could soon follow.
“The shows that left are all starting to formulate calendars on the basis of expectations…that would allow them to move forward,” said Adam Goodman of Mid Atlantic Films in Budapest, which has co-produced or serviced studio titles including Warner Bros. and Sony’s “Blade Runner 2049” and 20th Century Fox’s “The Martian.” Goodman expects to begin prepping for his international clients in June and July in order to commence shooting by September.
“The initial stage (of the pandemic response) was wrapping up the shows that left, and wrapping them up in such a way so that we could open up the proverbial box quickly and efficiently when they returned, so we minimize the amount of prep that needs to take place,” he added. “We want to be able to hit the ground running.”
Studios and networks seem just as eager to get back to work, he noted, with productions already lining up to follow those that wrap later this year, if a summer restart goes according to plan. “Our expectation is that we’re going to be jammed going into next year, and hopefully for most of next year, as a result of the backlog.”
He added: “Everybody’s waiting to see who’s going to be first. What’s the first show that’s going to put down roots and make it happen and show everyone that it can be done safely?”