Why film in Latvia?
From its location in the middle of the Baltic States, Latvia leads the region in state and local government support for international film productions. Latvia has two funding schemes, one run by the National Film Center and the other, the Riga Film Fund, specifically for productions shooting on location in the capital city of Latvia. Since 2016 both schemes have operated an open deadline for submissions, for 2017 the amount of available funding exceeds 1,5 million euros.
“It’s not that we can point to one singular advantage here, but it’s rather the entire set of services,” explains producer Jānis Kalējs – Head of Film Service Producers Association of Latvia and representative of Film Angels Studio. For several years already, production companies have had access to and experience with co-funding from state and local government resources in Latvia, the first country in the region to provide such support for foreign filmmaking.
Naturally, the first reason to choose Latvia as a location is the visual factor – there are no mountains or jungles to be found here, but it certainly is possible to travel back in time without arranging for elaborate set decorations. “Our advantage is that, unlike elsewhere in Europe, many of our old buildings have not yet been renovated. So it’s easy to find locations, whether in the capital city or at some countryside manor, that haven’t yet been transformed into modern guesthouses and can serve filmmakers for historical scenes from past centuries,” says Kalējs, outlining the benefits to be seen through the camera lens. “There are still streets in Riga that can be made to look like a post-war German city just by slightly ‘improving’ the scene with an extra layer of sand,” he says.
Throughout history Riga has always been a crossroads between East and West, and this matchmaking and bridge-building function is still part of Latvian know-how today. Upon receiving a screenplay, a co-producer on the Latvian side will begin their budgeting calculations of local costs. Need stunt performers? Of course, we have the connections and know that the required experts can be found in Kazakhstan. A Russian company needs special equipment from Western Europe but cannot access it directly? No problem, we know where to find it. Latvia’s capital, Riga, is also an advantageous transport hub – two hours at most by plane from any European city and served by dozens of direct flights, including New York City.
After a location to match a film’s artistic mission has been found, Latvia also offers great benefits in the local services available. “For instance, the Koreans filming a reenactment of the Battle of Normandy were looking for sites all over Europe, comparing costs,” recalls Kalējs. “Of course, filming in Normandy itself would have been several times more expensive, so it was far more cost-effective to film here, on the shores of the Baltic Sea.”
Latvia boasts a developed infrastructure and network of qualified specialists both inside the country and across the region. “As producers we’re used to working with combined international teams – a cameraman from Latvia, a focus puller from Estonia, a lighting technician from Lithuania. Likewise, we know where to find specific units of equipment – if there are four of them for all of Europe, we can arrange to get them,” says Kalējs.
Shorter distances between locations are another cost-reducing benefit, saving time and keeping schedules well within budgets. If you’re filming a scene early in the morning in the Old Town, you can still squeeze in another scene by the seaside that same evening – first of all, it’s just an hour’s drive away, and, secondly, the daylight at these latitudes lasts much longer.
Kalējs adds that support services for the filming process, such as catering and transportation, are easier to arrange in Latvia than in other Western countries, where the chain of activity for a particular mode of service can be much longer and fussier, and therefore more expensive.
- costs incurred through a Latvian production company;
- at least 50% of all financing confirmed;
- total minimum budget of the production EUR 700,000 for feature or animated films and at least EUR 140,000 for documentary films;
- all films intended for theatrical or TV release (incl. animation and documentaries).
- local goods and services for preproduction, production and post-production of the project
Combined cash rebate of 25%