6. December 2022

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An interview with Sirena Film producer Pavel Müller

Sirena Film is a leading Czech production company with extensive experience on major foreign streaming platform projects and films that have received positive reviews from audiences and professional critics. All Quiet on the Western Front, on which Sirena Film collaborated with Germany’s Amusement Park Films, is one such project currently streaming.

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All Quiet on the Western Front, photo: Netflix / Reiner Bajo

Czech film commissioner Pavlína Žipková talked to the company’s producer Pavel Müller about how production for streaming giants is different, the current situation in the Czech film industry, and future trends in global film production. 

As the executive producer of Sirena Film, you provide service production for European co-production films and streaming companies. How is production different for streamers? 

Production for streaming companies is more systematic in many ways. The platforms have a more corporate approach, there are defined procedures at each stage, but it’s more about company reporting and communication methods than the production itself being fundamentally different. There, of course, are more financing possibilities, which means there’s an emphasis on quality, preparation, rehearsals, etc. Generally speaking, there are far fewer compromises.

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All Quiet on the Western Front, photo: Netflix / Reiner Bajo

What is your approach to green filming/sustainable filming? 

We have faced and continue to face many measures due to covid that are in direct conflict with the green filming philosophy, such as individual packaging of all food, half capacity allowed in transport, etc. But there’s no doubt that this is a trend that will be required and systematized.

How do you get foreign projects? Do you actively promote your company abroad?

It's mainly based on previous projects, whether through direct contacts or references. The active approach means primarily film festivals, mainly Cannes and Berlin. Successfully completed projects are our best advertisements, and All Quiet on the Western Front is another example of this.

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All Quiet on the Western Front, photo: Netflix / Reiner Bajo

Sirena Film has worked on quite a few projects for Scandinavian countries - would you say that this is your “area of expertise” or is it just a coincidence?

It's certainly not a coincidence. It’s based on our history, when we gradually transformed from predominantly advertising production to producing films mainly for French and Danish producers. French films thanks to the connections and origins of Sirena founder Artemio Benki, and Danish projects thanks to individual contacts and successful historical films. The first was a film with the English title Flame and Citron by Ole Christian Madsen; the next and probably the most important for us was A Royal Affair by Nikolaj Arcel, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2013 for Best Foreign Language Film. So yes, it can be said that this is our area of expertise. The experience we acquired in previous projects can be used to find ways to implement ambitious projects with budgets that are not yet the size of streaming companies' budgets.

At the end of October, you led a training session in Zlín for film producers and other film professionals with the title “Netflix, HBO, Amazon - A New Challenge”. Have you held any other training sessions for filmmakers?

Honestly, it was the first time I’d ever done anything like this. We always try to have a few aspiring filmmakers as trainees on each project. We’re also in contact with FAMU - Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague now and plan to involve some students in the production of a TV series directed by Thomas Vinterberg next year.

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All Quiet on the Western Front, photo: Netflix / Reiner Bajo

Do you see education as a means to expand the production capacity of the Czech film industry to match the current demand for foreign productions?

There is no doubt that all of us in the industry are struggling with a shortage of experienced professionals, so it is in our mutual interest to do our best to expand our capacity. Education and internship opportunities are key to this.

Which Czech filmmaking professions are most often hired by foreign productions? And why is this?

Basically, all professions. The only exceptions are the lead creative positions, director, director of photography, production designer, and costume designer. But this stems from the specifics of the projects in question, not that they distrust Czech professionals. We always try to maximize the Czech contribution to our projects. For example, on Marguerite (directed by Xavier Giannoli, 2015), our production designer, to our great joy, was the late Martin Kurel, who received the French César Award for the film. On All Quiet on the Western Front, Viktor Prášil, sound engineer, and Marek Svitek, stunt coordinator, held key positions. This is because Czech filmmakers have a great reputation - the long list of top-notch projects shot in the Czech Republic is proof of this. And Czech candidates often have better CVs than their competitors from abroad. The financial benefits due to savings on travel and accommodation costs are an added bonus.

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All Quiet on the Western Front, photo: Netflix / Reiner Bajo

In your experience, how has the temporarily suspended production incentives affected the situation in the Czech film industry?

Fundamentally, I think it will become even more apparent in the next year, or the next few years. We ourselves have lost several projects that have been or will be filmed in other countries due to the interruption. The most essential value of production incentives is their stability and certainty, which was seriously undermined by the interruption. Hopefully, the program will function normally and without interruptions after it resumes.

In your opinion, what are the main criteria that foreign productions use to decide whether or not to come to the Czech Republic? And why?

It's a combination of things - the first prerequisite is of course the project’s subject, which must be suitable for carrying out in the Czech Republic, then it's the solidity and credibility of such a solution. It's a mosaic of stable production incentives, confidence in the production solution, ample experienced crew and subcontractors, construction companies, etc., as well as the versatility of the locations and natural environments. The limiting factor, on the other hand, is insufficient studio capacity.

Do you see any trends in upcoming film projects at the moment in terms of production methods, use of new technologies, etc.?

There will definitely be an increased emphasis on green filming, conditioned, for example, by the use of state support, as well as greater involvement of LED technology in specialized studios, etc.

Report from the set>