Last year saw a boom in high-profile international projects shooting in the Czech Republic, with Netflix’s The Gray Man, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, leading a slate that also included Adam Sandler in Spaceman and Gillian Anderson in White Bird: A Wonder Story, continued work on The Wheel of Time and Carnival Row, and shooting for TV series such as Jack Ryan, Hunters, Last Light, and much more.
But things are looking a lot different to kick off 2022.
The Czech Republic is currently out as a potential location for foreign productions, as the Czech Film Fund has suspended applications for production incentives. With the Czech Republic operating under a provisional budget and 2021 funds depleted, there’s no money to support foreign productions until a culture budget is agreed on by the new Czech government, which is expected in March.
But for local production agencies attempting to bring in future projects, the impact is already being felt: major international productions eyeing Prague as a potential location have had to drop the Czech Republic from consideration. According to Václav Mottl from Czech Anglo Productions, talks with major studios about filming in the Czech Republic are currently off the table.
“We had about three projects in negotiation from England and America, specifically from Lionsgate Studios,” Mottl recently told Radiožurnál.
“We had to interrupt the negotiations now, because if we are not able to guarantee registration [with the Czech Film Fund], we will not be able to guarantee that they will receive incentives, and therefore they’ll head elsewhere.”
While Mottl did not specify the projects that will be heading elsewhere, Lionsgate’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to The Hunger Games, is expected to begin production in the first half of 2022 and is now scouting locations.
Each year, the Czech Republic reserves 800 million crowns (currently about $37.5 million) from its state budget to support film and TV production in the country. Eligible projects receive a 20% rebate on their local spend, among other benefits. In 2021, this budget was depleted in September, and the state kicked in another 300 million crowns ($14 million) to ensure it could attract further shoots such as the Extraction sequel, which is now filming outside Prague.
Why does the country support foreign filmmaking? Large shoots coming to the Czech Republic make use of the country’s excellent production infrastructure including major studios such as Barrandov and local production agencies, creating thousands of jobs in the process. Typically, around 90% of the crew behind major foreign shoots are Czech locals.
In addition to the jobs directly created, large productions also indirectly support the local accommodation, hospitality, and other industries, with foreign talent making use of local services.
And being featured in major international projects has done a lot to expose the Czech Republic to international audiences. After the hit South Korean TV show Lovers in Prague premiered in 2005, tourism from the country skyrocketed and remained high for more than a decade. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, more people were coming to the Czech Republic from South Korea than neighboring Austria.
Spider-Man: Far from Home spent 195 million crowns ($9 million) when filming for just a couple weeks in the Czech Republic in 2018; after the local shoot wrapped, the production was refunded about 39 million crowns (just under $2 million) from the Czech state.
Long-term projects like Carnival Row and The Wheel of Time, now shooting its second season in a Prague studio and locations throughout the country, have spent billions of crowns in the Czech Republic, and received rebates in the range of hundreds of millions of crowns.
The Czech Republic has been a major destination for international productions for the past 30 years, but it has had to fight to remain fiscally attractive.
While the country saw a huge boom in foreign filming in the late 90s and early 2000s, major shoots began to head elsewhere as other European countries introduced production incentives. 2004’s Hellboy was shot in Prague, but its 2008 sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army moved to Budapest. The reason: Hungary had introduced production incentives in the form of a 20% rebate in 2005, enabling producers to recoup millions of dollars in filming costs. At the time, the Czech Republic offered no such program.
The Czech Republic was late to the party when it launched its own incentives program in 2010. And while foreign productions have slowly returned to the country over the past decade, the country still finds itself behind Hungary and other competing locales in terms of its rebates, a problem that could be exacerbated by the current interruption.
Czech neighbor Slovakia, which can boast the same kinds of locations as the rural locales seen in The Wheel of Time if not the same level of production infrastructure as the Czech Republic, now offers rebates of up to 33%. Scenes for the first two seasons of Netflix’s The Witcher took advantage of Slovak locations.
Hungary, meanwhile, which rivals the Czech Republic in terms of its production infrastructure, has become one of Europe’s prime locations for foreign filmmaking, and its tax rebates have now risen to an advantageous 30%. Some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters over the past years, including Dune, Black Widow, and Blade Runner 2049, have been shot in Budapest.
Even Germany, which offers rebates of up 25%, has attracted major Hollywood productions such as The Matrix: Resurrections in recent years.
While there is little doubt that the Czech Film Fund will re-open submissions for foreign projects later this year, the impact of a brief suspension could be far greater than anticipated.
With the value of the Czech crown at a 10-year high versus the euro, filming in the Czech Republic is now the most expensive it has ever been in comparison to competing locations across Europe. Studios enticed to film elsewhere over the next few months are not guaranteed to return to Prague.
If the new Czech government truly values the economic and cultural benefits of bringing major shoots to the Czech Republic, it will need to raise its level of production incentives to be able to compete with its neighbors over the next decade.