EUFCN Spotlight on: Vilnius Film Office

The Vilnius Film Office was launched at the end of 2011 as a public company, established by the Vilnius City Council. It operates by providing assistance to moviemakers who consider Vilnius as a potential location to shoot their next film project.

The capital of Lithuania is becoming an increasingly popular shooting destination among filmmakers globally, due to its multifaceted history, ability to provide backdrops representing different historical periods, a highly skilled film industry workforce and tax incentives.

In this week’s spotlight interview, Film Commissioner Jurate Pazikaite presents the opportunities of filming in Vilnius.

photo credits: Go Vilnius

Which main productions were shot recently in Vilnius? 

“The biggest foreign production shooting in Vilnius before the pandemic was Netflix series Stranger Things. The crew was filming part of the show’s fourth season. Shooting took place at locations around the Lithuanian capital, including the recently closed century-old former Lukiskes prison.

While working in Vilnius, the show’s Director Shawn Levy remarked, ‘From the start, Stranger Things has been inspiring to all of us lucky enough to work on it. My adventure here in Lithuania in bringing the reveal of the ‘American’ to life has been a huge challenge but an even bigger inspiration, and we are so thankful to the city of Vilnius and the beautiful country of Lithuania for their hospitality.’

Other hit shows like HBO’s Chernobyl, and Netflix’s Young Wallander and Tokyo Trial were also shot in Vilnius in recent years.”

Lukiskes prison. Photo credits: Go Vilnius

What’s the biggest production you have ever supported in your territory?  

“As mentioned above, earlier this year Stranger Things were shot in former Lukiskes prison in Vilnius and around.

Last year Young Wallander, Netflix original series based on Henning Mankell’s best-selling Kurt Wallander novels was shot in the city. Vilnius and its 1970s-built residential district called Seskine doubled as the Swedish city of Malmö, where the protagonist, detective Kurt Wallander, lived.

Vilnius served as the perfect backdrop for the HBO miniseries Chernobyl because of its common Soviet history with Ukraine and the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, which is now gradually being shut down. The massive, destroyed reactor sets were built in Vilnius film studio “Kino Studija” and most of the action took place in Vilnius and around: 60 of the 88 shooting days were spent filming in the city, recreating the lives of the people and the lies their government told them. One of the biggest scenes – Pripyat’s evacuation scene – was recreated in S. Staneviciaus street in the Fabijoniskes residential district. In addition to an impressive showing at the 2019 Emmy Awards, Chernobyl also won the Location Managers Guild award for Outstanding locations in a period TV series. Lithuanian location managers company Baltic Locations was awarded by the LMGI.

Travelling back in time to the 18th century, HBO miniseries Catherine the Great  transported Vilnius to Imperial Russia to recreate St. Petersburg, model Russian palaces, and tell the intense story of Catherine the Great, played by Oscar winning actor Helen Mirren, and her relationship with Russian statesman Grigory Potemkin.”

Behind the scenes of Chernobyl. Photo credits: HBO, Sister Pictures, SKY Television

What do you think is something unique the Vilnius Film Office can offer?  

“We are in close collaboration with production houses and location managers, working actively in pre-production and production by helping in easing access to locations, issuing film permits, collaborating with the transport department and the police when it comes to closing roads, changing public transport or parking reservations. Vilnius has launched an online system for film permits since 2012, and it’s free of charge as well as shootings in public areas. In response to the effects of the COVID –19 pandemic, the Vilnius City Council exempted from city toll all commercials until the end of 2020.

Our work includes a close partnership with film festivals and tourism agencies. Together with location managers we are actively involved in the city’s cultural initiatives by leading film tours and maintaining the positive message about filmmaking in the city.
We work fast and try to find best solutions for both parties, – filmmakers and citizens – especially when it comes to changing traffic or shooting in the backyards of residential districts.  ”

Aerokinas, Drive-in cinema at the Vilnius Airport. Photo credits: Robertas Daskevičius

How is film production gradually resuming in Vilnius?

“The productions that had stopped due to COVID-19 are now starting to resume. The quarantine regime is officially over in Lithuania, starting from 17th June. The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania approved safety recommendations for filming crews since 18th May, so preparations for local and international projects have already started. Few local productions and short films have already started shooting. Surely, production houses and location managers companies are being very careful while organizing filming works. The Independent Producers Association of Lithuania (NPA) together with the Lithuanian Advertising Producers Association (LAPA) are in close collaboration with local institutions regarding better preparation and safety.

Lithuania is one of the least affected territories by COVID-19. According to the statistics, we are a safe country and we hope the international film productions will soon be able to renew work.”

How do you see the future of the audiovisual industry?

“I guess more shootings will happen locally around major studios and less travelling to foreign countries, more VFX and probably no more shooting in 3-4 countries, as it used to be. I believe safety instructions are going to be a new normal. I’m curious to see how (and if) scripts will be affected by this pandemic and what movies the future will bring. ”

Are you interested in filming in Vilnius?

The European Film Commissions Network is a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture. It currently represents 94 European film commissions and film institutions from 30 different countries.