Drawn to the Baltics


Stunning scenic backdrops of dramatic lakes and castles combined with an attractive 20% tax incentive are making Lithuania a popular location for European shoots.

More than 100 international film and TV productions have been shot on location in Lithuania, from TNT’s The New Adventures Of Robin Hood in the 1990s to the BBC and The Weinstein Company’s adaptation of War And Peace in 2015. Film-makers and stars, including John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Ben Kingsley and Kirsten Dunst, have been drawn to the country’s mix of dramatic lakes, forests and castles with contemporary urban and Soviet-era architecture.

The country’s desirability as an international location was given a boost with the introduction of a tax incentive scheme in 2014, offering a rebate of up to 20% production costs on local qualifying spend for feature films, TV films, documentaries and animated films.

The scheme, which is administered by the Lithuanian Film Centre (LFC), requires that at least 80% of Lithuanian production costs are spent in Lithuania, with a minimum local film spend of $48,000 (€43,000).

Last year, international projects such as the two BBC projects War And Peace and The Eichmann Show, Finland’s Second World War feature The Midwife and Spain’s Catalan-language legal drama La Espera and others benefited from the tax incentive, bringing almost $13m (€12m) into the country.

“The remarkable results in 2015 demonstrate the potential of the Lithuanian film industry as well as the effectiveness of the incentive scheme,” says LFC director Rolandas Kvietkauskas. “It is very important that — in using the scheme — we increase international co-operation, stimulate private investment and contribute to the valuable area of audiovisual content.”

Almost 75% of all Lithuanian productions are co-productions. LFC support has been given to internationally renowned projects like Mariupolis (Lith-Ger-Fr-Ukr) and  The Summer Of Sangaile (Lith-Fr-Neth). Further titles include Caritas Et Amor (Lith-Bra),  Seneca’s Day (Lith-Lat-Est), Stásis (Lith-Ger-Fr) and Ashes In The Snow (Lith-US-Neth).  

Since 2015 minority co-productions have also been supported, for example Habit and Armour (Pol-Lith), Pretenders (Est-Lith-Lat), Master Plan (Lat-Lith-Est) and The Man Who Knew 75 Languages (Nor-Pol-Lith).

The country’s crew and facilities can service up to three international productions, but only one large project at a time. “If a major production comes along, like Defiance or War And Peace, there are only resources left to cater for smaller productions,” says Gary Tuck, the Anglo-American managing director of Baltic Film Services (BFS), which has been providing production and co-production services in the three Baltic states since 2004. BFS hired around 300 local crew for War And Peace, most of them English speakers. “The crew base here is very good in terms of skills and proficiency in English,” says Tuck.

War And Peace director Tom Harper was impressed, telling The Lithuania Tribune: “Lithuania offered us the logistical support to film such large-scale battles. Shooting these war scenes is essentially quite dangerous. You’re blowing things up while working very long hours. You need experts who know what they are doing. That’s why we picked Lithuania. On top of that, it’s such a huge logistical challenge, with so many people involved.”

Many Lithuanians speak Russian, which proved an advantage on War And Peace. “It was invaluable when we spent two weeks on location in Saint Petersburg,” adds Lineta Miseikyte, who works as a production manager, line producer or producer on productions handled by BFS.

BFS used an old factory in the capital Vilnius to construct some of the sets for War And Peace and ABC’s The Assets. A new film studio was opened in 2011 in Kaunas, just over 100km from Vilnius, while the Vilnius Film Cluster Audiovisual Lab boasts state-of-the-art facilities, including the largest green screen in the Baltic region.

Lithuanian highlights the 2015 roll-call 

Seven internationally commissioned productions were shot in Lithuania in 2015 following the introduction of a tax incentive programme in 2014. LFC issued 22 investment certificates confirming that more than $3m (€2.7m) had been granted by investors aiming to exploit the corporate tax exemption, facilitating 14 productions and co-productions. Almost $13m (€12m) was spent in Lithuania during 2015 by international projects. These included the BBC and The Weinstein Company’s War And Peace; the BBC’s Second World War drama The Eichmann Show by the UK’s Feelgood Fiction and Vistaar Entertainment; Antti Jokinen’s wartime love story The Midwife, from Finland’s Solar Films; the second season of the Swedish broadcaster SVT’s Thicker Than Water, Nice Drama’s family saga set on the Swedish coast; Tomasol Films, Messidor Films and Television Espanola’s La Espera, about a Spanish couple’s attempts to adopt a child in eastern Europe and others

A report by Mark Mowbrayy published on Screen Daily magazine (2016 02 14). See PDF / Go Online