8. February 2008

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Faced with leaner, meaner competition to the east, the Czech film biz has finally won a commitment from the state to introduce a Hungary-style tax incentive for foreign productions. At the same time, bizzers are concentrating efforts on fewer but bigger shoots, hoping to build on the recent Narnia and James Bond lensing at Prague's retooled Barrandov. The pre-WWII-era studio complex hosted both The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian  and Wanted in the last year, and Paramount's GI Joe has committed to the city for a late spring shoot, insiders say. One reason Prague remains attractive, says Narnia producer Philip Steuer, is the "level of talent, experience and depth" of Czech crews, which saved him some 60% on set construction. The city's appeal to cast and foreign crews stationed here for months is also key (Maze, Prague's first Gordon Ramsay restaurant, is already a hit). Steuer committed to Barrandov before Hungary announced its glitzy new Korda studios and says he would consider other locales but might well return to Prague for sequels - even though Barrandov's new 4,000-square-meter (nearly 45,000-square-foot) Max soundstage, curiously, lacked air conditioning during the hot summer shoot and had power-supply issues. Barrandov says it's improved its electricity grid and is adding HD telecine facilities this summer. In the grand scheme, it's not just big shoots that are attracted to the Czech Republic: The Illusionist was able to maximize an indie-scale budget by using local department heads instead of bringing them in, Steuer points out. Passage of a 20% tax credit, a goal the local film industry has been trying to sell the state on for a decade, help matters further. Incentives and exchange rates "play a huge role," Steuer says. Radomir Docekal of the Czech AudioVisual Producers Assn. says a key strategy in finally selling government officials on the tax credit - expected to become law this year and effective in 2009 - was a change of tack. After long lobbying at the Czech Culture Ministry, it was the Ministry of Trade and Industry that finally backed the proposal. Meanwhile, others in the production-services sector focus on competing by continuing to build infrastructure. Prague Studios topper Tomas Krejci says he expects to open four stages of about 21,500 square feet each in 2010 (with air conditioning, like his existing three stages). Many also have become adept at lining up regional authorities, who can be key in easing location shoots in the Czech Republic's diverse and picturesque hinterlands, such as Karlovy Vary, which stood in for Montenegro in Casino Royale.