FNE Visegrad YR2021: Slovak Production: Post-Pandemic Boom

    Emma and Death´s Head by Iveta Grófová Emma and Death´s Head by Iveta Grófová copyright: Anton Faraonov/PubRes

    BRATISLAVA: Slovak film production in 2021 has restarted with unprecedented intensity, after a challenging year in 2020, when the film industry remained paralysed by the pandemic and filming was completely stopped for several months.

    Slovakia has been experiencing a production boom since the spring of 2021, and filmmakers who were left completely out of work for months are now getting really busy, with great demand for technical professions (for instance, cameramen and sound engineers) seen particularly this summer. New TV series, TV shows, commercials, but also long-term film projects have been filmed: Iveta Grófová started production on Emma and the Death´s Head / Emma a smrtihlav, produced by PubRes in coproduction by Total Helpart T.H.A., Campfilm, RTVS and the Czech Television; Mariana Čengel Solčanská shot the last scenes for Chambermaid / Slúžka, produced by Bright Side Pictures and coproduced by RTVS and CINEART TV Prague; Jakub Kroner was working on the long-awaited sequel Love 2 / Lóve 2, produced by INOUT Studio in coproduction with Evolution Films; and Jonáš Karásek has just finished production on Invalid, produced by Slovakia‘s AZYL Production in coproduction with RTVS.

    Invalid by Jonáš Karásek, author of the visual Miloš GašparecRegarding foreign productions, the Amazon series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan was partialy shot in Slovakia at the end of summer, while another American production, The Performance, is currently being shot in Bratislava.

    “The production boom after the pandemic continues and there is a great demand for film professionals at the moment, as new job opportunities have been created. Thanks to widespread vaccinations, the borders were opened so that foreign crews could shoot again. This year, Slovakia has received a record number of 54 film projects registering for incentives. In terms of COVID-19 restrictions, filmmakers already know how to organise getting tested, as well as implementing other security measures, to protect their crew members. For example, the film crew of the Jack Ryan series, which was shot in Slovakia in August 2021, had its own COVID centre, where members got tested every 48 hours,“ Zuzana Bieliková from the Slovak Film Commision told FNE.

    Moreover, despite a recent rise in infection numbers, COVID restrictions have not made it impossible for filmmakers to work as they did last year. The government hasn't announced plans on limiting travel and, thanks to vaccinations and a set of self-regulatory measures, which leading representatives of the Slovak film industry agreed upon and adopted in May 2020, Slovak filmmakers are able to continue working despite the pandemic. COVID certificates, negative tests of crew members, protective equipment, respirators and disinfection have become standard conditions for filming.

    In many cases, a new COVID-19 Coordinator function has also been added to the crew: “We started production in the spring of 2021 and, as the filming was based on current anti-pandemic measures, a new position of COVID-19 Coordinator was added to the staff, whose task was to oversee compliance with the measures. The crew and actors were regularly tested. We only had to postpone the shooting of the last crowd scene, which we could not shoot due to the amount of extras needed,“ Monika Lošťáková from nutprodukcia told FNE about the shooting of Victim / Obeť by Michal Blaško, produced by nutprodukcia in coproduction with nutprodukce and Electric Sheep.

    Jack Ryan SeriesThis is a marked improvement over last year. Indeed, in 2020 the shooting of many projects had been slowed down due to numerous bans and restrictions, and many productions had to be rescheduled for 2022. Nevertheless, in the pandemic year of 2020, a total of 28 films were completed, including 11 feature films and 18 documentaries (compared to 44 in 2019).

    Moreover, since most Slovak films are coproductions (19 out of 28 films in 2020), the main complication in 2020, in addition to closed hotels, restaurants and the ban on assembly, were the constant changes of travel conditions. Foreign crew members or actors could not cross the border, just as Slovak filmmakers could not travel. According to some producers, this situation directly impacted not only the production itself, but also the preproduction and preparation or financing of TV productions.

    However, production in 2020 restarted especially in the summer and autumn, when multiple renowned directors managed to shoot their films. Among them were Tereza Nvotová, who in the summer of 2020, completed the filming of The Nightsiren / Svetlonoc, produced by BFILM in coproduction with Czech moloko film. In the autumn of 2020, Juraj Lehotský shot his third feature film Applause / Potlesk, produced by Arytmia Film in coproduction with RTVS, Polish Harine Films and Czech Black Balance, while Mariana Čengel Solčanská started to shoot Chambermaid / Slúžka, produced by Bright Side Pictures and coproduced by RTVS and CINEART TV Prague.

    “In our case, the pandemic primarily affected international coproduction projects with demanding multi-component financing, especially those in the phase of preparing contracts and production. Some projects, such as coproduced TV series, were immediately postponed to later programming periods in terms of television programme priorities (and shifted by a year or two). In some projects, there was ‘only‘ a shift in planned production by a half or three quarters of a year,“ Jana Motyčková from TRIGON PRODUCTION told FNE.

    As in other industries, a lot of preproduction as well as postproduction work moved online. The producers negotiated with their coproduction partners about the development and preproduction phases, and even many casting sessions took place online. “We realised, that its not necessary to travel hundreds of kilometres for a single meeting and Zoom is a great invention. Communication through online space is much more concentrated and economical,“ producer Mátyás Prikler from MPhilms told FNE.

    Victim by Michal BlaškoInteresting online collaborations were also created in animated film production. “Communication between the individual components in the four countries - Slovakia, France, the Czech Republic, Slovenia - has moved online and even the production of sets has not stopped, as artists have found a way to work separately. Animated projects, therefore, have the advantage of being able, with certain limitations, to continue even in these pandemic times,“ Juraj Krasnohorsky from Artichoke told FNE about the production of Of Unwanted Things and People / O nepotrebných veciach a ľuďoch, which was made in coproduction with French Vivement Lundi !, Czech Maur Film and Slovenian ZVVIKS.

    “Constantly changing rules and stricter restrictions have caused uncertainty in the implementation, cancellation and postponement of planned activities, and have brought a lot of additional bureaucracy. All this has also had an impact on the financial side of the project - increasing primary costs (tests, hygiene items, protective elements) and secondary costs - changes in planned FD meant increasing costs or doubling them and, of course, the constant presence of the disease threat negatively impacted the atmosphere during production, especially while filming crowd scenes. The total cost of the film Applause / Potlesk, shot in three countries – Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic - with an international cast, increased by 10-15%," producer Miša Jelenek from Arytmia Film told FNE.

    However, the pandemic paradoxically eased the situation for filmmakers at the beginning of 2021. As hotels could only be opened for accommodation purposes for business reasons, booking of accommodation was easier for a larger film crew than under normal conditions. Also some locations, such as castles or other sights, which are usually full of tourists, were more available for film crews.

    “At least when it came to the Applause / Potlesk project, the pandemic also brought positives - Bartosz Bielenia could devote himself fully to our project; the Konzerthaus in Vienna found a day off for our filming; and the streets of Vienna were empty,“ Ms. Jelenek continued.

    Nightsiren by Tereza Nvotová, photo: BFILMThis was the experience also described by the makers of Avalanche of Love/ Láska hory prenáša by Jakub Machala, produced by Bright Sight Pictures in coproduction with the Czech branch of DARQ Studio. “We lived and ate at the hotel where we were filming, so it was easier for us to create a ‘bubble‘ for one month of shooting. We regularly tested all the actors and members of the crew, even more often than we had to; we used respirators; we hired a COVID-19 Coordinator who supervised the compliance with the measures; and at the end of the shoot, we did not have a single positive case,“ producer Simona Bago Móciková told FNE about the production.

    As for the need for financial support from the state, much depended on the phase of the project's financing.

    On 23 November 2020, the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic issued a call for support for technical professions in the culture and creative industries. In this first call, which closed at the end of 2020, the Ministry supported 269 applications with a total amount of 853,200 EUR. Later the support was extend for cultural companies.

    On 29 December 2020, the Ministry of Economy of the Slovak Republic launched a subsidy scheme to support culture and the creative industries. It was intended for cultural operators (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises) that have been affected by the restrictions related to the COVD-19 pandemic. The aid is conditional on a decrease in turnover of at least 30% between 1 March and 31 December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Producers continued to apply for grants, in particular from the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, which sought to respond to the situation.

    “In this regard, we very much appreciate the work of the Audiovisual Fund, which switched to online hearings during the pandemic and did not stop its activities or financial support for films, which made pandemic worries less concerning for all of us,“ Jana Motyčková from TRIGON PRODUCTION told FNE.

    Today, producers are still facing a risk, since the situation is constantly-evolving. In addition, they are financially affected by the situation in cinema distribution, as producer and distributor Zuzana Mistríková from PubRes told FNE: “The situation for productions has stabilised, although it is not possible to insure a film project against the consequences of COVID. This risk is up Applause by Juraj Lehotský, credit: Arytmiato the producer. The problem is that cinema distribution got into great difficulties and producers practically lost the source from which they developed projects - from which they basically paid for the overhead of their companies. Subsidies and coproduction resources are earmarked for a specific project and do not create any large reserve for the functioning of producers.“

    As optimistic as the development of film production may look in recent months, the third wave of the pandemic is growing faster every day. Whether filmmakers will not face new obstacles cannot be guaranteed.

    However, producers have been able to gradually adapt to more demanding conditions, sometimes taking advantage of restrictions, and thanks to the online space they have found new ways to continue to work even during restrictions.