Foreign producers favor filming elsewhere in Europe over Estonia
Every year numerous foreign producers are choosing to shoot films in Latvia, Lithuania or elsewhere in Europe, while Estonia is missing out due to a lack of systematic support schemes for external film projects.
The current situation harms the Estonian economy and directly stunts development within the audiovisual field in Estonia, Edith Sepp, Head of the Estonian Film Institute, told ERR.
In 2009, Estonia served as a shooting location for the Norwegian, French, Swedish and Polish co-production "King of Devil's Island", starring Stellan Skarsgård, with 1,5 million euros of the film's 6,5 million budget spent in Estonia.
The film employed Estonian filmmakers, as well as proving beneficial for locals and the Estonian economy as a whole.
"We built decorations, bought building materials, provided drivers, purchased gas, arranged accommodation – all aspects which clearly liven the economy. Shooting outside of Tallinn in Kalvi, Virumaa, we livened up the village for a while," said producer Ivo Felt ("Tangerines", "The Fencer").
Due to its lack of support schemes, Estonia will accommodate a mere three outsourced productions this year. However, with its unscouted locations and professional filmmakers, Estonia has the potential to serve as an attractive shooting site for high-quality Nordic productions, who are currently opting to film in neighboring Latvia or Lithuania instead, as Estonia fails to provide systematic support. Both countries offer a 20 percent tax refund for foreign film producers seeking to shoot in the southern Baltic states.
"When asked whether or not there's a system in place and we reply "no", then that's followed by an awkward silence and that's the end of discussions. Such schemes are so commonplace elsewhere in the world, I would say they're essential for Estonia," added Felt.
The Estonian Film Institute is currently preparing proposals to the government on how such support schemes or stimuli might function in Estonia. Support could be provided to audiovisual enterprises registered in Estonia collaborating with foreign film producers.
"As we know, film budgets are very high, we're talking about 5-10 million euros. In the case of a 5-million budget, around 1-2 million would be spent in Estonia and if we return 25-30 percent of that, then that's not money taken away from somewhere, but rather money that would otherwise never have made it to Estonia," Sepp explained.
According to her, Estonian film financing is in deep trouble and support is currently being provided at the expense of the next few years. The current production support for a full-length feature film in Estonia thresholds at a meager 450,000 euros. The number shies in comparison to the minimum competitive European standard budget of around 600,000-700,000 euros.
This poses further difficulties for Estonian filmmakers hoping to find international co-producers, with local filmmakers facing a potential lack of work.
Undersecretary of Culture: European Union, culture and national budgets all viable options
Various options for increasing foreign film investments in Estonia are currently on the table, according to the Ministry of Culture undersecretary Paavo Nõgene.
"With Enterprise Estonia at the discussion table, one option would be to make use of resources from the European Union, to direct those somewhat toward development in the field of film. But also to make use of funds from the Ministry of Culture's budget as well as the national budget," Nõgene said.
"But first we would need to work out the system as a whole and how it might function in Estonia. Europe makes use of a variety of models," he added.
From Soviet sci-fi to makeshift mansions: Estonia as a shooting spot throughout the years
In the Soviet era, Estonia served as a shooting location for productions ranging from Andrei Tarkovsky's science fiction 1979 cult classic "Stalker", hosted at the Rotermann quarter of Tallinn, as well as for a 1979 series adaptation of "Sherlock Holmes", with Hobusepea Street in Tallinn's Old Town filling in for Regent Street.
Throughout Soviet years, Estonia additionally substituted Sweden as well as Denmark on the silver screen, with Elsinore relocated to the appropriately gloomy Türisalu cliff, a 30-minute drive from Tallinn, for a Russian rendition of "Hamlet" in 1964.
Recent foreign productions filmed in Estonia include the 2010 drama "The Poll Diaries", which saw the construction of a makeshift mansion by the seaside near Pärnu for shooting the German, Austrian and Estonian co-production. The film remains the most expensive production to be shot in Estonia to date with a 7.8 million euro budget.
Russian productions have also continued to make use of Estonia as a shooting location, with the 6-million dollar 3D fairytale adventure "Rorrima Bo and the Magic Goblet" shot in the Dvigatel factory in Ülemiste in 2009.