Prague-based producers bring two new films
Whatever one’s opinion might be of Daniel Craig having assumed the Bond tux, there’s no denying that Casino Royale was an international hit, as well as a major success for Barrandov Studios and the Prague-based producers of Stillking Films.
Rather than resting on its recent achievements, the Stillking crew has plunged into two new film projects that will be filming in Prague over the next couple of months. Up at Barrandov, Prince Caspian, the second part of the Chronicles of Narnia, began shooting Sunday, April 1, while across town at the Prague Studios, the cinematic version of Mark Millar’s cult comic Wanted, under the helm of the Moscow-based Kazakh Timur Bekmambetov, is gearing up.
Operating out of Prague since 1993, Stillking has served as co-producer on many of the large films that have been produced in the Czech Republic since the country’s liberation. While 2002’s Bourne Identity and last year’s first Narnia outing, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are as well-known as Casino Royale, Stillking also played a part in Liev Schrieber’s Everything is Illuminated (which never received a Czech cinema run), The Illusionist, XXX and Tristan+Isolde. Stillking also put up money for the Czech film Návrat idiota, directed by Saša Gideon.
Out on the muddy fringes of Barrandov a few weeks ago, carpenters were busy creating a castle out of plywood and two-by-fours. This will be the principal back-lot location for Disney’s next Narnia. Close by, a new soundstage has also been built for the film — a state-of-the-art facility that can only increase Barrandov’s attractiveness to filmmakers.
Stillking’s head of film production, David Minkowski, works out of offices near the new sound stage. With two projects weeks away from principal photography (and with rumors published in Variety that a Fox film, Babylon, currently being shot at Barrandov, is running behind schedule, which might affect Narnia), Minkowski appears unflappable.
Minkowski has been with Stillking for 12 years, first arriving in Prague as a production coordinator on a U.S. television film, Hidden in Silence. “Casino has given us a lot of traction,” he tells me. “So much so that I’ve had to turn down four film projects, because they would have competed with our schedules for Narnia and Wanted.”
Minkowski is the associate producer on Narnia, and so is working on-site. His average day starts with an early-morning walk around the back lot and new soundstage to gauge the preproduction progress. At the height of filming, both this project and Wanted will employ upward of 1,600 people. Though both films will be primarily studio-based, Wanted will be wandering out into Prague streets for a few shots.
This busyness belies the talk of Hollywood leaving Prague for cheaper accommodations further east, particularly in Romania, which has attracted a number of recent projects. “I’m not worried that Prague is going to be abandoned,” Minkowski says. “Romania’s studios are good, but the infrastructure is better here. Plus, it is Prague, and that counts for much.”
With its massive built-in audience of C.S. Lewis readers, the latest Narnia chapter should do well for Disney and Stillking. Wanted, however, will be the film to watch. It’s the first work of Bekmambetov’s since his Night Watch and Day Watch became sensations in Russia (the third film in the trilogy is currently in production), and he’ll be using some new toys. Wanted will be the first film to be shot with the brand-new Red One 4k digital camera, something that has cinematographers salivating. The announced cast for Bekmambetov’s take on Millar’s superassassin includes Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and James McAvoy (fresh from The Last King of Scotland).
So, Stillking seems perched in the catbird seat. “Things are going very well for us at the moment,” Minkowski says. “We’re having no problems finding projects that we believe in and that we want to spend our time on.” The company, however, has even more ambitious future plans. “As much as we love this work, we do want to develop our own films eventually,” he says, and then laughs. “It’s the only way to get to the Oscars’ stage.”