The Czech Republic continued to be a popular filming location for international productions in 2019, with the incentive program by the Czech Film Fund maxed out halfway through the year. Fortunately the Czech Film Commission was able to prevail upon the government to increase the program by an additional 500 million crowns topping out at over 1 billion Czech crowns.
What are film incentives? It’s an economic tool for attracting foreign investment in production. If accepted for the program (productions must apply by a deadline each year), a producer has to spend all of their finances for production inside Czech territory and, in return, he or she gets a percentage back from that spend.
The Czech Republic currently has one of the lowest incentive programs in Europe (20%) and, in fact, despite record growth, still lost a fair amount of high profile projects to other countries like Romania (offering a 35-45% incentive) and Hungary (offering over 30%) in the last several years due to those countries’ more competitive packages. Some recent films shot in Hungary, for example, were TERMINATOR: DARK FATE, Netflix’s THE KING, and BLADE RUNNER 2049.
Why would Czech not offer a higher incentive? It’s complicated but some of it has to do with the fact that, generally, politicians see most film people as wealthy and wonder why they need incentives. Of course the reality is that, not unlike society today, only the top 1% of people in the film industry are what one might refer to as “wealthy,” while the average working crew does well, but would most likely be considered upper-middle class. More importantly, governments or states who don’t support tax incentives for the film industry are often incredibly short-sighted in terms of the economic impact films have on surrounding industries – hotels, car rentals, restaurants, and perhaps most crucial, tourism driven by people having seen a location in a film who decide to visit.
California’s film industry was nearly decimated in the late 90s after a strike by the actors union and, later, fear of a strike by the writers union. At that time, once the strike insanity was over, states like Louisiana and Michigan began offering lucrative incentives which quickly lured the film industry away from its historic home with even films like BATTLE: LOS ANGELES ironically being shot in Baton Rouge… a different “LA.” Other states soon followed such as Georgia which until recently has been the production hub of Marvel entertainment for years. The states that gave up their incentive programs saw their film industry whither and die – like Michigan which saw DC and Warner Bros. head elsewhere. Meanwhile, Georgia continues to thrive despite the Marvel exodus to London. The most recent films to take advantage of Georgia’s generous incentives were the smash hits BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (set in Miami) and FORD VS FERRARI (set in California, France, and Italy).
Despite its lower-end incentive, Czech hosted numerous films and series’ in 2019 – nearly 80, in fact – including the Academy Award-winning film JOJO RABBIT, Knightfall (which brought STAR WARS actor Mark Hamill to the country for several months), SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, and the first season of Amazon series Carnival Row. Amazon has more or less taken over Barrandov Studios in 2019 with season two of Carnival Row shooting now as well as their epic fantasy series Wheel of Time. In addition to that, German produced series’ Shadowplay and the second season of Das Boot have been active in the region. Series television made up 85% of projects shot here according to Czech Film Commission’s Pavlina Žipková.
So how much did foreign productions spend in the Czech Republic last year? According to the APA (Association of Audiovisual Producers), foreign film crews spent almost 9 billion crowns (over $390 million USD) in the Czech Republic or double the amount from the previous year.
“Some other countries, such as Spain, have a basic 20 percent rate, but additional rebates enable international productions to receive up to a quarter of local production spend back,” noted the APA, adding: “Thus, all other EU countries offer much more favorable terms to foreign producers.”
In 2019, the Czech Film Fund paid a total of 1.2 billion crowns ($52.4 million USD) in incentives to 71 projects. This total includes projects that were filmed in the Czech Republic in previous years, such as the first season of Carnival Row which is also the current record holder, incurring almost 1.7 billion crowns ($74.2 million USD) of eligible costs in the country.
There is work to be done as potential incoming projects weigh the decision of whether to base in the Czech Republic or go elsewhere, but just last month it was announced that the next season of Netflix’s The Witcher will be filmed in the Czech Republic and Žipková believes that profits will definitely increase further in 2020.
There were 117 applications in 2019 for new 2020 projects that could potentially be filmed here including not just turnkey production for international projects, but also co-productions.
Here’s hoping the Czech government continues to back the incentive program – and maybe considers an increase – so that Prague can continue to be a major hub for filming in Europe.