Lithuania: The new Baltic filming hotspot

Vilnius’ popularity is expanding thanks to increased efforts to bring in movie directors. 

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The streets of Vilnius offer a perfect backdrop for historical movies. Photo courtesy of Vilnius Film Office.

Soviet-era residential complexes and old historic streets in the city centre of the capital of Lithuania present a unique backdrop that is being embraced by filmmakers for its diversity. Boasting many splendid perks, Vilnius and Lithuania as a whole are becoming competitive in the European film industry. 

Filming in Vilnius is made easy through Jūratė Pazikaitė of Vilnius Film Office. “If somebody wants to shoot in Vilnius, I am the first and only person they come to,” said Pazikaitė. “I am also helping with locations and information. I am helping foreign producers to be in contact with local producers.”

In cooperation with the Vilnius City Municipality, Vilnius Film Office assists filmmakers in shooting locations by granting access to public areas, because they belong to the municipality. “Shooting in the public [areas] is also for free, and shooting permissions don’t cost anything,” said Pazikaitė.

Lithuanian line producer (a type of film producer that functions as the key manager during the daily operations of a feature film, television film or the episode of a TV program), Lineta Mišeikytė, has benefited from Vilnius Film Office while working on a past production with an American project. “The Vilnius Film Office helped us close down the busiest street in Vilnius. Without the help of Vilnius Film Office I would never, as a line producer, manage to close down the street for five hours. The director was happy, everyone was happy.” Mišeikytė said public transportation was also redirected in order to get the master shot that was important for the story.

Promoting the film industry in Lithuania has been a work in progress over the recent years with booths at film festivals such as Cannes, and marketing with the help of Vilnius Film Office. In the spring of 2011, independent Lithuanian producers, like Mišeikytė, came to the Vilnius city mayor to show the importance of film offices and institutions. Pazikaitė talked about some of the reasons why it is needed. “First of all it is for financial benefit, creating work positions, and of course it is good for tourism; people know about your country, city.” Six months later Vilnius Film Office was established. 

At the beginning of 2014, Lithuania enacted a 20 per cent tax incentive for foreign producers filming in the country. This means that filmmakers can get 20 per cent of their local spending budget back after the production. While promoting Lithuania abroad at Cannes Film Festival, Mišeikytė said foreign producers would ask about how big the tax incentives were in the country. “If you say ‘we don’t have it’ the conversation ends right away.” Tax incentives make the country “more attractive,” said Mišeikytė. Because of the tax incentives, Lithuania is becoming competitive in the film industry and “more foreign producers are excited to shoot in Lithuania. Since the tax incentives, we have got bigger clients, bigger scale movies, and bigger producers interested to shoot in Lithuania.”

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Vilnius sees all four seasons which provides perfect backdrops for story lines.

Lithuania has four distinct seasons which offers a variety of settings throughout the year. Vilnius is also beneficial to filmmakers, because of its small size. “Vilnius is a very compactable city. All locations you can reach in almost 30 minutes,” said Pazikaitė. “You don’t need to go far away from set to another set.” Mišeikytė worked in Vilnius while filming The Assets, an eight episode ABC TV mini-series, and embraced the diversity the city has to offer. “One street we shot as Moscow. Just around the corner we managed to find a Washington DC street. Such short travel time [around the city], and such a variety of locations.”

Mišeikytė has been working on foreign productions since the mid ’90s. She has worked on notable films, such as Defiance starring Daniel Craig, which she said was her most difficult project, because of the scale. “I love the story; it was wonderful. But it is tough to get 400 extras together every day. It was just a huge production with five cameras shooting all of the time. Just a lot to manage.” 

For her latest project, she went on a location scout with the producers of The Help to the Baltic Sea to try to match the Mediterranean Sea. “It’s challenging. I’m nervous,” said Mišeikytė. “I want those kinds of people to shoot in Lithuania.” The potential film is about Greece mythology and will require a lot of sets to be built. Mišeikytė said, “Lithuania is a good place to shoot if you need to build a lot of sets, because our construction quality and prices of constructing sets are competitive.”

 While managing the Lithuanian film booth at this past Cannes Film Festival, she observed the Mediterranean in preparation for the location scout. “It is a very different blue color. I’m nervous how we are going to match. Lithuania, when it is cold and raining, the water is different; it is more or less dark brown, dark grey. It is not always fantastic crystal-clear, like the Mediterranean, but the producers are happy.”

Boasting a growing amount of productions each year, Lithuania is becoming a prime location to make films. Mišeikytė said word about Lithuania’s success has gotten out and many foreign producers have “heard lots of good thing about Lithuania. They know of lots of foreign productions that have been done in Lithuania. Good value, good locations for comparatively low prices.”

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