This article by Jūratė Pazikaitė, Director of the Vilnius Film Office, walks you through how the film industry is dealing with the pandemic situation in Vilnius, Lithuania.
International productions filming in Vilnius
Intensive shooting of international films and TV series is taking place in Vilnius. Filmmakers from Scandinavian countries, UK and US have long recognized Vilnius as a film friendly shooting location.
After the astounding success of the first season of the Netflix original series Young Wallander, the international cast and crew have returned to Lithuania. The second season of the series is already wrapping up its production in Vilnius, bringing the beloved character’s journey to our screens once more. Young Wallander is based on the best-selling detective series written by Swedish author Henning Mankell.
“It’s such a pleasure to be back. Everyone here works so hard to ensure everything runs smoothly. The locations work really well, the crews here are so professional, and the hospitality both at work and everywhere else is fantastic”, says Marshall Leviten, the producer of the hit series.
The first season of the Netflix hit show was filmed solely in Vilnius, with the residential neighbourhood of Šeškinė doubling as Malmö for the most complex scenes of the series back in 2019. This year, the producers have expanded their list for authentic locations to Fabijoniškės and Vilnius Old Town, where most important scenes of season two where shot.
As film and television aficionados know, this is not the first time when several parts of the beautiful capital of Lithuania were used as filming locations. The other popular television series where you can spot the beautiful Vilnius include Stranger Things, Chernobyl, Tokyo Trial, War & Piece and many more.
The scripts of the films, currently being filmed in Lithuanian capital, are particularly creative and filled with challenges. Stories that are told cover various periods and the twists of the plot move the characters into unexpected locations. A month ago, Swedish filmmakers were shooting Netflix’s Clark TV series, French crew finished film “Kompromat” and the British filmmaking team has returned to shoot the performative documentary TV series Rise of the Nazis episodes for the BBC Two channel.
The creators of the Norwegian series State of Happiness (No. Lykkeland), currently working in Vilnius, are here not for the first time, - the Norwegian director Petter Næss last year filmed Nothing to Laugh About, telling a story about the performer of a stand-up-comedy genre, and the producer of the series worked on Diana’s Wedding which was filmed in Anykščiai, Trakai and Vilnius.
Maintaining Covid-19 safety protocol on film set
Norway’s leading production house Maipo Film is shooting the second season of State of Happiness (No. Lykkeland) in Vilnius. Filming at the Lithuanian capital has begun in the beginning of March and will last until the end of April. The eight-part series produced by Synnøve Hørsdal for NRK is coproduced by Belgium’s Lunanime Group, in association with DR, SVT, RÚV, Yle as part of Nordic 12, with support from the Norwegian Film Institute among others. The series is written by Mette M. Bølstad, from a concept by Siw Rajendram Eliassen, itself based on an idea by Synnøve Hørsdal. Due to a more complex technical shoot, the season 2 has a budget of around 10.7m EUR / 120 million NOK. State of Happiness has received the qualifying certificate from the Lithuanian Film Centre and can benefit from the Lithuanian tax incentive scheme. Filming at the Lithuanian capital is organised by the local film production company Artbox. Due to the pandemic, Artbox works with all the necessary Covid-19 safety requirements to keep the crew and cast from Norway safe.
“We, the filmmakers, are being far more cautious than we are obliged by the Government decisions. At the moment we follow not just the national, but also international Hollywood practice, which orders us to look at each person as a potential danger. At the time when the pandemic had just begun there were numerous discussions taking place internationally with partners and associations, on what would be the safest way to ensure safe conditions on set” - Artbox producer Violeta Drazdauskė said.
Film industry in the whole world is one among many that have suffered the most during the pandemic, and just like the whole culture and creative sector, the operation of which had completely stopped during the first wave of the pandemic, before the sector had a chance to recover, the second, third waves came upon us and various events and concerts are still not allowed.
“During filming we all wear KN95 respirators, which are more protective. Also, they remain better attached to the face and there is less chance of them slipping off, thus at least at our filming locations we have no problems regarding masks” – V. Drazdauskė said.
The most important aim during work on the set – is not to get infected, also at the same time it is particularly important to protect the people working closest to the camera, meaning the director and actors, who whilst acting cannot wear masks and who cannot be replaced by other people.
Even before commencing work on set, during the preparation stage, the film crew are already tested regularly with PGR tests, people are assigned to a specific colour coded zone, each film crew member is assigned to a specific inner social bubble. On set people are sorted according to colours: green, yellow and red, thus aiming to avoid unnecessary direct contact.
“Testing takes place daily for each individual working on set (tested by the rapid antigen test). If you’re “clean” – your test was negative, you can go to work. All new members of the team, and those who fly between countries are always tested using the PGR test” – V. Drazdauskė shared about the structure of following the safety rules.
Lunch time is distributed according to zone colours, so that people from different inner circles do not meat, thus distributing the flow of people and reducing the number of individuals present at any given time.
“When issuing permits for filming we have noticed that the filming workspace has increased, plus the number of spaces reserved for cars has also gone up. This is directly related to limitations on how many people can be in the same car, which naturally means renting more vehicles, and if previously a single lunch tent was sufficient, now we have to build a “town” of 5 or 6 tents” – spoke, Director of the Vilnius Film Office, Jūratė Pazikaitė.
A new position has appeared on set – “Covid safety supervisor” and there is a separate team of individuals who test the team daily, conduct the registration of all individuals working on set, control the maintenance of safety distances and conduct disinfection of the set every day. It is understandable that daily testing, compulsory isolation period when returning from abroad, disinfection of rooms and surfaces, acquisition of respirators, has increased the film budgets, and thus next to the usual film budgets there are these so-called “Covid budgets”.
During the pandemic, the international filmmakers are particularly cautious when choosing a country to work in and evaluate all the dangers related to the pandemic Corona virus situation, analyse the statistical data and volume of infections, follow decisions made by the local governments of the country where they intend to come to work. According to Producer Violeta Drazdauskė, Norwegians who are currently working in Vilnius feel safe, they see that the safety measures are in place, they see the behaviour of the team. Additionally, one of the safety features was taken onboard from their practice, that‘s daily testing.
A producer who has been working in the industry for many years has noted that in social sense the work on set has suffered greatly:
“Humans have instincts to socialize, we need communication, hugs and social contact, and now we are trying to change those habits. Filmmaking is a lengthy process, in such a long time we would have all become close friends, the team on set becomes like a small family, thus this current part of the work where you can’t embrace your colleague or shake their hand is very saddening. It is like going against the human nature.”
International audio-visual industry event E-Meeting Point – Vilnius
Not only international films and TV series are being shot in Vilnius, but international events also taking place, though still online, as Lithuania is still under national lockdown since November, 2020.
E-Meeting Point – Vilnius, the leading Lithuanian film industry forum organised by Vilnius International Film Festival Kino Pavasaris, has started on 14th April 2021. Meeting Point–Vilnius is a work-in-progress audio-visual industry event that discovers, develops, and supports emerging European talents and upcoming debut films, and this year’s program reflects both broad international reach and the depth of talent in the Baltic film industry.
The centrepiece program of MPV is Coming Soon, a work in progress session dedicated to the development of 25 debut films (first and second features) selected from applicants from 35 countries across Europe. The selected filmmakers have the opportunity to pitch their projects, set individual meetings with industry professionals, and qualify for prestigious awards with cash prizes.
Meeting Point—Vilnius aims specifically to nurture the industry and talents of the Baltic region. In the Talents Nest program, emerging professionals in all film disciplines from Baltic, ex-Soviet, and Caucasian countries become familiar with the audio-visual industry through industry and networking opportunities with professionals in the field.
MPV is also presenting multiple one-off events and masterclasses with international film professionals, providing opportunities for a closer look at various aspects of the audio-visual industry.
Photo credits: (c) Dansu. Netflix's Clark (Sweden) shooting in Vilnius