Ailing 'Czech Hollywood' pins hope on state aid

A view inside the Czech Barrandov film studio. (AFP)

Once renowned as the bustling "Czech Hollywood", Prague's vast Barrandov film studios are now empty but Central Europe's Tinseltown is hoping state aid will start cameras rolling.

Star-studded blockbusters such as Mission Impossible with A-lister Tom Cruise or Casino Royale featuring Daniel Craig, as well as international releases The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Blade II, The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Brothers Grimm, Oliver Twist and Hannibal Rising were filmed there.

Opened in 1933 on a Prague hill, the studio has drawn clients with its high professional standard and affordable prices, but the latter have now ceased to charm top Hollywood filmmakers.

"Germany, Hungary, Great Britain and other countries have started to pursue a policy of supporting filmmaking, which has affected our competitiveness," said Ludmila Claussova, in charge of foreign productions at the Czech Film Commission.

Now the Barrandov studios are also pinning their hopes on a Czech Government programme of subsidies for both local and foreign filmmakers, currently being scrutinised by the European Union.

At Barrandov, "the volume of spending by foreign productions in 2008 was just around 15 per cent of the 2002 amount. Hundreds of people have lost jobs or have been forced to look for another job," said Claussova.

In 2008, only one foreign film was shot in Prague, against eight in 2006 and as many as 11 in 2003.

In a bid to counter the plunge, the Czech Government last October adopted a subsidy scheme, backed by Czech lawmakers, compensating filmmakers for up to 20 per cent of their production costs.

Prague is now waiting for the go-ahead from the European Union, which the Czech Republic joined in 2004, to rescue their "Paradise Lost".

"We are in talks on a European TV series and two American feature films. We can start shooting as soon as we get the go-ahead from the EU," said Jan Macola, in charge of acquisitions and development at the studios.

In the meantime, Barrandov has focused on shooting commercials, Czech films, and on television productions including the recent launch of the digital station TV Barrandov.

"We live off shooting commercials," said Petr Cermak, caretaker of the vast complex of buildings and land on the southern outskirts of Prague. "Roger Federer and Claudia Schiffer have recently shot commercials here," Cermak said, pointing at the studio number six, covering an area of 2,000 square metres (21,500 square feet), where workers are setting up for the next commercial promoting a beer brand.

"The studio number 10 was 'baptised' by Gerard Depardieu during the shooting of Babylon AD. The first part of The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – was shot in number eight," he added.

  

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