It has been a bit dramatic lately and by that I mean a full on drama in the street, as they filmed outside my front door. They are filming all over Prague, various genres from the very modern with flashing blue police lights, to the world of Revolutionary Paris with big wigs and frock coats.
On the day I visited the Barrandov Studios in Prague, the street where I live had fake snow in the gutters and new road signs in FRENCH. We went from Thunovska to Rue de Purcee! There were even soldiers with rifles and the era was mid 1700’s. All big taffeta dresses, huge wigs and shoes with big buckles on them. A phenomenal amount of people were there to make it all happen. Lots of caravans for ‘wardrobe’ and make-up, food for the ‘extras’ with special mobile home type vehicles for the stars. Cranes at various points along the street. The director was French, the actors were French, so I have no real idea what was going on. By the end of the day the fake snow was being swept up, the metres of cabling were gathered and the vast crew of people has moved on to their new location.
Prague has a long history of making film, as as film making has existed. The Barrandov studios were built as part of a development project by two brothers. One had been working in the US on films, the other was in construction. They decided that at the new development, just to the south of Prague should have a film studio alongside the new villa houses and so Barrandov studios were created in 1931. The first film there won an Oscar, a great start. Barrandov employed over 300 people and made eighty films a year, quite an achievement for a new venture. When the Nazis arrived things changed. Making propaganda films in Berlin became too dangerous with the allied bombings, Goebbles moved film production to Prague. The Nazis built more enormous studios at Barrandov, they had planned to stay a while and made their films there to be shown throughout occupied Europe.
At the end of WWII, the Communists arrived and for a while the Czechs were producing their own stuff, it was known as New Era, a bit like the Scandinavian films we have come to view as New Age. They won another Oscar. When the Russians came in force in the 1960’s Barrandov was only allowed to make fairy tales. This was seen as some sort of punishment for the artistic types. However it backfired with the stories being beautifully created into amazing films that were enjoyed and treasured throughout the Soviet Union. With the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the ownership of Barrandov went to the Moravian Steel Corporation, who own it still today. It was a bit of a case of who owns it, so the Steel industry came along and bought it. Not what you would really imagine from a steel company. The studios in Prague have produced some amazing films, Amadeus, the Bourne Identity, Casino Royale, Narnia to name but a few that you may have heard about. There have also been some BBC programmes, my favourite being the Musketeers!
The studios besides making films are hired out as venues for parties, catalogue shoots: Marks & Spencer and Macy’s all do their catalogues at Barrandov, with their TV adverts too. The costume department is vast, 800,000 outfits, from shoes to tiaras, fur lined capes, soldiers outfits, everything and you can hire any costume too. Some are of course more pricey than others, with a fur cape used in the Narnia films, that is 100 years old and hand stitched costing about 2,000,000 CZK ($82,000) for the deposit. We are having a dragon boat race at the end of May, hiring Roman solider outfits from Barrandov at an attractive price.
With all this ‘film, camera, action’ going on, I would like to recommend a Czech film called ‘Kolya’ which although made in 1996 and won an Oscar, is all about how things were when the Russians were in charge pre Velvet Revolution. The two brothers who had started the film venture in Prague were Milos and Vaclav Havel, the second one being the father of the first President of the Czech Republic with the same name. It is a smallish world after all.