EUFCN Location Award 2020 Finalist: Banská Štiavnica
Travelling on a carriage across snowy landscapes, Mr. Harker approaches a medieval castle in the middle of the night. Suddenly he is attacked by a swarm of bats, while two horrifying red eyes star at him.
Banská Štiavnica is one of the finalists of the EUFCN Location Award, the annual prize for European film locations organized by the European Film Commissions Network (EUFCN) in collaboration with Cineuropa. The location was submitted by the Slovak Film Commission.
In this article, Producer Sue Vertue and Location Manager Patrick Horvath share the experience of filming in the picturesque Slovak town of Banská Štiavnica, setting of the BBC/Netflix’s miniseries Dracula.
When the creators of the miniseries Dracula searched for the most authentic medieval location, they found a hidden gem in the heart of Slovakia: Banská Štiavnica.
Banská Štiavnica is situated in the middle of a vast caldera created by the collapse of an ancient volcano. The town was an important mining settlement during the Middle Ages, and later saw the raising of Renaissance houses and palaces.
“We were sent many photos of castles and convents. After selecting a shortlist, we flew over to such places from the UK and did a recce,” says Sue Vertue, Producer at Hartswood Films. “The town of Banská Štiavnica perfectly suited the writer’s brief for Dracula.”
The towering fortress of the Old Castle and winding streets of its historic city center are transportive, bringing visitors into times of royalty, horse-drawn carriages, and even vampires.
“All of us have seen Dracula’s castle portrayed many times in quite a lot of movies and series,” says Patrick Horvath, Location Manager at Location Bros. “Everyone imagines the mansion as a ‘castle on the top of a rock’, but castles of this type usually do not offer courtyards that would be suitable for the needs of this particular project. The courtyard in Banská Štiavnica’s Old Castle, which resembles a closed cage thanks to its high walls and cramped, dark disposition, met all the criteria of the creators.”
The production chose a ‘convent’ that had an internal courtyard open to the elements. In one scene of the miniseries, when Dracula appears, the nuns are trapped by terrifying wolves coming from the outside.
“For us, it was obviously important to not only find the most suitable building, but to make sure we could do everything we needed to film the scenes,” says Sue Vertue. “We created a gate, false walls, we lit the castle from a balloon light… All the personnel at Banská Štiavnica were incredibly helpful and I would certainly film there again if the opportunity arose. Everything we wanted, and more, was provided by Banská Štiavnica. Even the snow!”
There is an intrinsic tension in the contrast between the lavish lifestyle of a once prosperous silver-mining town and the ever-present dark cloud of fear cast on it by Turkish invaders, who were attracted to the town’s mineral wealth. This particular atmosphere made Banská Štiavnica the perfect location for the home of the most famous vampire in history.
The town’s surroundings are also charming and somewhat mysterious. The Štiavnica Calvary Complex stands on a steep hill overlooking the town, and has seventeen stations. The ascent is rewarded by great views of Banská Štiavnica and the colourful landscape around it.
Many say that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most beautiful Slovakian town, with well-preserved historical scenes and an ambiance unlike any other in Europe.
“There weren’t too many challenges that we couldn’t overcome while filming,” says Sue Vertue. “The town is beautiful and the hotels were also very nice. The only tiny problem was that we were filming over Valentine’s Day. And so when you have a whole film crew wandering around a town looking for somewhere to eat without a booking – that was tricky – we all ended up with Pizzas!”
“It is always funny for us, location managers, to see how surprised and fascinated the locals are by the number of crew members working on a film,” says Patrick Horvath. “After the shooting of Dracula they kept telling us what an awesome experience it was for them and that they are looking forward to our return and to the next project filmed in Banská Štiavnica.”
The general public has now the chance to vote for their favourite location among the 5 in the EUFCN Location Award shortlist: Banská Štiavnica for Dracula – Slovak Film Commission (SLOVAKIA), Lake Resia near Curon for Curon – IDM Film Fund & Commission from South Tyrol (ITALY), Moritzburg Castle for Charlie’s Angels – MDM Film Commission (GERMANY), Pažaislis Church and Monastery Complex for Catherine the Great – Kaunas Film Office (LITHUANIA), Prilep Area for Vrba (Willow) – North Macedonia Film Agency (NORTH MACEDONIA)
One lucky name will be picked among the voters and will win a trip to the winning location.
The European Film Commissions Network is a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture. It currently represents 98 European film commissions and film institutions from 31 different countries.