European Studio Profile: Barrandov Studios
With the largest agglomeration of sound stages, skill and reputation in New Europe, this 83-year-old institution stays fresh with expanded facilities and a string of production successes.
Just a few minutes south of the medieval heart of Prague, Barrandov Studios specialises in time travel—and world hopping. International features and cable series shooting here of late have gotten the convincing look of Renaissance Italy, Cold War Russia, swashbuckling Paris and a post-apocalypse sci-fi world.
Founded in 1931 by Václav Havel’s grandfather and his brother, the 14-stage studios and 40-acre backlot were modelled on the best facilities of the time in Hollywood, and many still prefer Barrandov’s grand old hall numbers five, six and seven, dating from WWII, for their 4000 sq. metre area, 12m height and solid build. That said, the studio’s major recent expansion, the Max stage, so named for its 4,000+ sq. metre footprint, thoroughly updates the facility with modern lighting, lifts, winches and supercharged air and smoke removal system.
With Czech film incentives online since 2010, offering up to 20 per cent cashback on local spends, business has been blossoming lately, with productions of Child 44, the US cable series Missing, French-German historic series Borgia and the BBC’s Musketeers shooting here to name just a few. Joon-ho Bong’s dystopia-on-rails fantasy Snowpiercer also recently wrapped with glowing reviews from the director. Several local shingles are at this point experts at navigating the system and make solid strategic partners—and Barrandov itself launched services company Film Kolektiv last autumn to serve this need.
I always dreamed about shooting at Barrandov. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the skills of the Czech production crew, which is on the top world-class level. Simply fantastic. – Agnieszka Holland
Aside from the epic Max sound stage, which also features 13.75m ceilings, silent heating, catwalks, attached offices, make-up rooms and catering for 140, the older Barrandov infrastructure, including a 20x10m backlot water tank, headquarters for a dozen production companies and veteran construction and design crews, continues to prove its worth. Originally built for the Borgia series, the permanent set of early Renaissance Rome has for example been at the disposal of visiting producers since the spring. Additionally, the studio’s costumes and props departments are also among the largest in Europe—try more than 300,000 costumes and accessories and 60,000 furniture pieces and props—with an online catalogue showing off pieces from every imaginable age at www.fundus.barrandov.cz
The recent 1969-set HBO production Burning Bush, chronicling the aftermath of Czechoslovakia’s most revered modern martyr, Jan Palach, who set himself ablaze to protest Soviet occupation, illustrated once again the remarkable versatility of the costumers, stylists and set builders on the studio’s roster. Director Agnieszka Holland said of the experience, “I always dreamed about shooting at Barrandov. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the skills of the Czech production crew, which is on the top world-class level. Simply fantastic.”
For digital sceptics and old-school film lovers, Barrandov also offers Kodak Imagecare certified labs for 16mm, black-and-white and even classic optical printer special effects. Resources are up-to-date, though, with 2K/4K scans, Spirit HD Datacine telecine suite, video-to-digital transfers, Baselight colour-grading on a seven-meter screen, on- and offline editing, DCP mastering and digital retouching and restoration. Because of its long history, the studio is adept at breathing new life into old negatives and will happily take on even nitrate prints with safety assured.
As for audio, dubbing has been a Barrandov speciality since 1949 and its editors, directors and voice actors have thousands of jobs under their belts while seven sound studios are on the lot.
As studio CEO Petr Tichy puts it, the real value is in proven production know-how plus the unique combination of top-craft skills, a concentration of essential services and a geographical position that’s second to none. Barrandov stands not just 30 minutes from Prague’s airport but an hour or two from castles, forests, peaks and villages from another century. With the aim of serving as the central hub of the Czech film industry, he adds, Barrandov clearly intends to live up to its place in history.