Gene Deitch, who turns 95 next month, is by some distance the US citizen longest resident in Prague. Deitch had run a successful animation studio in New York prior to the fateful meeting in 1959 with his future wife Zdenka that led him to settle in Prague soon after. From behind the Iron Curtain, he produced an Oscar-winning animated short, as well as directing Tom and Jerry and Popeye cartoons for the American market.
Behind the scenes, a ‘subsidy war’ is raging in Central Europe among national film commissions, which have been steadily sweetening rebates and incentives to attract lucrative Hollywood and other foreign productions. Czech Film Commissioner Pavlína Žipková says 2018 was a record year in spending and shooting days, with foreign productions – especially TV series – drawn in by top-notch crews, services and “eleven centuries of architecture” for locations.
Foreign filmmakers and TV crews spent nearly 5 billion crowns last year in the Czech Republic, a jump of nearly two billion crowns compared to 2017. With the state having paid out some 800 million crowns through an incentives scheme, the return on investment is solid. But competition is fierce – and heating up.
The Czech Film Fund will spend CZK 64 million on supporting eight upcoming feature films. The largest amount, some CZK 14.5 million, will help fund an upcoming biographical film about Václav Havel. According to the fund’s director Helena Bezděk Fraňková, the films cover a wide range of genres including historical pictures, those covering present day issues and a film for children.
Foreign film productions spent five billion crowns in the Czech Republic
last year, the Czech News Agency reported on Thursday, citing data from the
Czech Cinematography Fund.
According to fund’s spokesman Jiří Vaněk, the figure could increase by up to two billion crowns a year, if the government increased incentives for foreign co-productions from the current 20 to 25 percent.
Among the international film productions currently underway in the Czech Republic is the second series of History Channel’s Knightfall. Another major project, an ABC crime series Whiskey Cavalier, is currently under preparation.
American actor Ben Foster will portray 15th-century Bohemian leader Jan
Žižka in an English-language film to be directed by Petr Jákl, who also
wrote the screenplay.
General Žižka was an innovative military strategist who led the Czech Hussites in a series of confrontations in religious wars, often beating numerically superior opponents. The biopic film will also focus on his relationship with a local heiress and his face-off against a rival king.
Foster is perhaps best known from the X-men franchise and the indie film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
With a reported budget of 275 million crowns, Jákl’s biopic is set to be the most expensive domestic film since Dark Blue World, about Czechoslovak airmen who served with the RAF during WWII.
Producer Rick McCallum is nothing less than a legend in the film business, known for his many years with Lucasfilm and his work on enormous projects like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and the Star Wars prequels. After retiring from Lucasfilm several years ago, McCallum relocated to Prague where he founded Film United. In our interview he discusses Czech talent and the benefits of shooting in the Czech Republic, and tells the story of a chance meeting he had in the 1990s with President Václav Havel.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Prague attracted numerous international or Hollywood productions, from the ambitious TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to the first Mission Impossible. There was Hellboy, directed by Guillermo del Toro, and Casino Royale, the first outing by Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, shot partly in Prague and in Karlovy Vary. However, things began to go south and the boom turned into a whimper.