14. December 2021

Alternativní text obrázku

Gaumont and Czech Okko Production joined forces once again for the challenging production of the 8-part series Totems, featuring a multinational cast, including 34 Czech actors. For French producer Arnaud de Crémiers, working with the Czech crew was a “fantastic experience”, one that made it worth overcoming the complications that arose during the filming.

Image totems_-_s01e01_-_jose_garcia_virgile_-_photo__stanislav_honzik5_mala.jpg
Photo: Stanislav Honzik

Gaumont and Okko: a successful long-term partnership

French production company Gaumont discovered that everything it needed to shoot its international spy thriller could be found just an hour and a half away from its headquarters in Paris - in the Czech Republic. Here it set up shop with its long-term partner, the Czech production company Okko, and preparation work began.

Most of the filming for the 8-part series (15 of 19 shooting weeks) for Amazon Prime took place in the Czech Republic from February 15 to July 2, 2021. The foreign production spent CZK 251 million (EUR 9,9 million) here, with incentives amounting to CZK 48.6 million (EUR 1,9 milion). 

Totems’ secret mission

The love story between spies from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain is set in the 1960s during the race to conquer space, and the French secret service SDECE and the American CIA are pitted against the East German STASI and the Russian KGB. The omnipresent theme of lies and betrayal plays out against the backdrop of a secret, unofficial intelligence mission - operation Totems.

A complex game of intelligence unfolds as France’s SDECE seeks to repair its tarnished reputation and regain the trust of the CIA. French agent Francis Mareuil (Niels Schneider) is tasked with luring Russian space scientist Boris Goloubev (Aleksey Guskov) to NASA.

At a scientific conference in East Berlin, where he travels for this purpose, Francis meets Goloubev’s daughter Lyudmila (Vera Kolesnikova), a KGB agent, in the middle of a dimmed exhibition about the moon landing. The undercover mission becomes much more complicated, and the lives of both agents take a new direction.

Spy thriller with an international cast

“Our story is a spy story which unfolds on a number of countries, including France, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, with an international cast from all over Europe. The Czech Republic is naturally a crossroads and an anchor point between western and eastern Europe, at only an hour and half from Paris and the headquarters of Gaumont. Moreover, our series is a period drama, and Prague and its surroundings offer settings we can easily exploit to recreate the 1960s,” comments French producer Arnaud de Crémiers on the advantages of shooting in the Czech Republic.

Image totems_-_s01e03_-_lambert_wilson_contignet_-_niels_schneider_francis_-_photo__stanislav_honzik2_mala.jpg
Photo: Stanislav Honzik

However, it was far from being only about Prague and its surroundings. Filming locations here in the Czech Republic included Hradec Kralove, Melnik, Air Park Zruc near Pilsen, Ostrava, Panensky Tynec Airport, the former Klondajk missile base, Dolni Lhota, Olesna, Naceradec, Brezova, Kourim, Dobris, Krkavci Hora, Nizbor, Busohrad, Bilichov, Chynava, Kladno, Jilove u Prahy and in Prague Stodulky, Bechovice, Dejvice, Vrsovice, Zizkov, Smichov, Lesser Town, the film studios in Zlicin and Barrandov, and the New Building of the National Museum.

Producer Marc Jenny of Okko clarifies that the Czech locations in the series represent not only Prague, but also Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. The remainder of the shoot took place in Spain and France. 

Czech actors in important roles

The international cast of the series includes 34 Czech actors - an unusually high number for a foreign project. Six of them appear in two or more series episodes; Pavel Kriz as Josef appears in four of the eight episodes. Other significant roles include Klara Issova as Mirka Kucerova and Martin Finger, who plays her husband in the series. Miroslav Hanus played the director of the KGB, Jaromir Nosek took the role of a city policeman and Petr Hanak the role of Ivo.

Producer Marc Jenny also appears as an airline captain. The original version of the series is in French with some dialogue in German, Czech, Hungarian and Russian.

“Working with the Czech crew was a fantastic experience”

Czech Okko Production has a long-standing partnership with French Gaumont. “It felt natural to pursue our collaboration with them for that specific project,” confirms French producer Arnaud de Crémiers, and he doesn’t spare the praise for the Czech crew. “It has been a fantastic experience to work with the Czech crews: they are incredible, very professional, available and flexible. It’s also very important to stress that the Czech Republic is a very welcoming land for shootings, with a high-performing audiovisual industry, renowned film studios and highly skilled technicians.”

Image totems_-_s01e04_-_jose_garcia_virgile_-_niels_schneider_francis_-_photo__stanislav_honzik4_mala.jpg
Photo: Stanislav Honzik

Together with Marc Jenny, Michal Přikryl headed up Okko’s Czech service production on this project. Czech filmmakers were an essential part of the 150-strong crew across all production departments. To name just a few: assistant directors - Filip Pavlik, Marketa Magerova, Zuzana Tomcalova, Martin Pavlacky; camera department - Martin Matiasek, Marek Lustyk Docekal, Martin Maryska, Ondrej Kos, Stepan Krizek; sound designers - Jan Vacek, Martin Lonek and Ivo Repcik; special effects - Jan Rejnus, Miroslav Precechtel and Miroslav Miclik; sfx make-up - Rene Stejskal. And you can’t shoot in the Czech Republic without Czech stuntmen: in this case, David Prusa and Miroslav Lhotka.

Speaking of Czech filmmakers, Arnaud de Crémiers notes: “It’s interesting to notice that we’re not the only Prime Video show to choose Czech Republic and shoot here. Carnival Row (with Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne), The Wheel of Time (with Rosamund Pike), or Hanna (season 3) were produced here as well.”

Complications during filming

Shooting Totems series was not without its difficulties. Writer and producer Olivier Dujols gave Variety magazine a peek behind the scenes of the filming of the dramatic scene of the search for the lost space probe amid a sandstorm in the Sahara: “We had to stop shooting for a few days. We were supposed to shoot in Morocco but we could not do that, so we shot the same scenes in the south of Spain.”

Marc Jenny adds: “The most difficult issue for us has been the quarantine of 5 days for actors coming from Russia and France.” Arnaud de Crémiers agrees: “Another challenge was dealing with COVID-19 and associated restrictions, but that applies to every production which happened during the pandemic.” And he admits, “The challenges we had to face were due to the language barrier sometimes, an anonymity that can be created due to a language that is not shared, but you learn to overcome this quickly.”

Image totems_-_s01e01_-_jose_garcia_virgile_-_photo__stanislav_honzik2_mala.jpg
Photo: Stanislav Honzik

Cooperation that makes sense

The Gaumont/Okko combined production team has done this successfully several times before. The fact that Gaumont and other foreign producers keep coming back is testament - as is the story of the series itself - that persevering across barriers and joining forces makes sense.

The series Totems premiered on October 9 at the Canneseries Television Festival.