After a busy 2016, international productions are in full swing once again at Czech locations this year, including the first season of the Genius series for the National Geographic, the postwar drama The Aftermath, Xavier Dolan’s Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Ben Levin’s The Catcher Was a Spy, and an ambitious coproduction by four Central European public broadcasters, Maria Theresa.

Geoffrey Rush is Albert Einstein in Genius / © National Geographic, photo by Dusan Martincek

Geoffrey Rush is Albert Einstein in Genius / © National Geographic

Last year’s highlights for foreign productions in the Czech Republic were three major TV series: BritanniaKnightfall and Genius. Shooting on Genius wrapped this March, and it’s definitely one of the most exciting productions we’ve had,” Czech film commissioner Ludmila Claussová says. “Viewers won’t have to wait long for the first episode, either. It will be airing already on April 23.”

Genius, the first ever scripted show for the National Geographic, presents the world’s most brilliant innovators. The first season is based on the Walter Isaacson book Einstein: His Life and Universe, adapted for TV by Noah Pink. Geoffrey Rush shares the role of Einstein with Johnny Flynn, who plays the physicist as a young man. Coproducing the series are Fox 21 Television Studios, Imagine Television, Odd Lot Entertainment, EUE/Sokolow and Stillking Films.

“During 90 filming days, starting in September 2016, the filmmakers shot at locations in Prague and around the Czech Republic. Ron Howard, the executive producer and one of the directors of the first season, greatly appreciated the helpful approach of the city of Liberec and, in particular, the support of the local film offce,” Claussová says.

The postwar drama The Aftermath, a US/UK coproduction directed by James Kent, shot in the Czech Republic in January, with Czech locations subbing for Hamburg, Germany. In winter of 1946, Rachael Morgan (Kiera Knightley) arrives in the shattered city to be reunited with her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British colonel assigned to the city’s postwar reconstruction. The film is produced by Amusement Park Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Scott Free Productions. Sirena Film line produced the Czech portion of the shoot. International productions traditionally choose the Czech Republic to shoot period films or television series. “Unlike contemporary stories, for period pieces you need locations with a variety of architectural styles and historical eras, and you need filmmakers with expertise in a range of creative professions and crafts. We have a lot to offer in this respect. And of course, shooting period stories with us is very cost effective, whether in terms of set construction, hiring extras, or manufacturing props and costumes,” Claussová says.

Another period film, The Catcher Was a Spy, shot on Czech locations in February and March. Directed by Ben Lewin, this fact-based WWII drama tells the story of pro baseball player Moe Berg, who was a top-secret spy during the war. The movie focuses on his biggest mission: infiltrating the circle of Werner Heisenberg, lead scientist for the Nazi atomic program. The film, starring Paul Rudd, Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti and Jeff Daniels, is produced by PalmStar Media along with Animus Films, Serena Films and Windy Hill Pictures. The line producer on the Czech side was Czech Anglo Productions. “For this film, Czech locations offered stand-ins for sites around the world, from New York, Tokyo and the Alps to Zürich and Rome. One of the producers shared with me how difficult it would have been to shoot in so many places, and how glad they were to find all these locations in just one country, so close by each other. In this respect, the Czech Republic is truly unique,” explains Claussova.

The Canadian director Xavier Dolan paid a short visit to Prague to shoot part of The Death and Life of John F. Donovan in March. Produced by Lyla Films and Sons of Manual, the film tells the story of John F. Donovan, a rising American actor whose career is cut short when a magazine reveals his pen-pal relationship with an 11-year-old British boy. Line producing in the Czech Republic was Film United.

The biopic Så længe jeg lever brought Danish director Ole Bornedal back to the Czech Republic this April. Previously, he had worked here in 2013, on the period TV series 1864. Bornedal’s new film portrays one of Denmark’s greatest musicians, John Mogensen (Rasmus Bjerg), his success and failures as an artist, husband and father. The film is produced by Miso Film, and production services in the Czech Republic were provided by Sirena Film.

“A unique coproduction between Central European public broadcasters — Czech Television, ORF of Austria, MTVA of Hungary, and RTVS of Slovakia — began filming April 18 at the Kroměříž Castle. The two-part film centers around Empress Maria Theresa, Central Europe’s most significant monarch,” says Claussová. The film is directed by Robert Dornhelm, a native Romanian known mainly for The Diary of Anne Frank. The cast includes Austrian actress Marie-Luise Stockinger in the role of Maria Theresa and Czech actor Vojtěch Kotek as Francis Stephen of Lorraine. Martin Kurel, awarded the César for Marguerite (2015), is production designer. Producing on the Czech side is Maya Production.

“Like every year, several German productions will be shooting with us in 2017. The Germans mostly choose the Czech Republic for costly period TV films and series,” says Claussová. In the miniseries Tannbach, for example, the Czech locations represent a fictitious village located on the border of Bavaria and Thuringia and divided by a fence between West and East Germany. In the 1960s, that fence is replaced by a concrete wall, a reality that shapes the villagers’ fates and disrupts their personal relationships. “They shot the first three episodes of this ZDF miniseries in the Czech Republic in 2014, then aired them a year later. Shooting on three new films started in fall 2016, and after 75 filming days, wrapped this January. Czech Wilma Film coproduced,” Claussová adds.

Marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Germany, several German television projects focus on Martin Luther, including the ZDF docudrama 10 Tage im April: Luther in Worms. The film is produced by NFP of Germany and Mia Film of the Czech Republic, which is currently also prepping shoots for the fairytale Rübezahl (ZDF) and two films in the Zurich-Krimi series (ARD).

“We’re also looking forward to the shoot of the eight-part series Das Boot, directed by Andreas Prochaska, coproduced by Bavaria Fernsehproduktion, Sky Germany and Sonar Entertainment. It will start filming here this summer, with Stillking Films line producing, over more than 100 filming days,” Claussová says. The broadcast is slated for 2018 in the Sky territories Germany, Austria, Italy, UK and Ireland. The new series is set right after the story depicted in the same-titled novel by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim and Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 Oscar-nominated film.