Since it was launched as a joint production venture between Finland, Estonia and Latvia, the North Star Film Alliance has labored to lure international film production to this scenic corner of Northeast Europe, which is enjoying a star turn after the Estonian shoot of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.”
This year the alliance redoubled its efforts by opening offices in the heart of Hollywood, hoping to sell studio execs on what the region has to offer. “Hollywood is always open to new ideas, new looks, new ways to tell stories in the most original ways,” says Eleonora Granata, who heads the group’s L.A. office.
The former VP of acquisitions at Turner Pictures says the Hollywood launch, as well as the unveiling of new offices in Tokyo, will help “to prepare the ground [and] really plant the seed of what these places are offering.”
“The richness and the variety of the landscapes, and the culture and the history that you find there, it is quite extraordinary, and very little-known,” she adds. The North Star Film Alliance will be hosting a virtual showcase on Dec. 4, in which it will present the benefits of producing in the three countries to leading American entertainment executives.
The region can point to a range of never-before-filmed locations, eye-popping scenery, world-class infrastructure, and skilled crews as key selling points. Another attraction is robust government support, in the form of competitive and smoothly functioning rebate schemes at both the national and local levels.
Finland offers a cash rebate of 25%, Estonia offers up to 30%, and Latvia boasts a 40-50% combined cash rebate on the production of films, television series, documentaries, and animation projects. “Everything is online,” adds Granata. “Everything is accessible, everything is transparent from the get-go…. And they are also the fastest in the world.”
What the three countries have lacked most until now is exposure. “It’s a reputation thing,” says Ivo Felt of Allfilm, one of Estonia’s most prolific and successful producers, which provided production services for “Tenet” during its shoot in the Baltic nation. “Once this kind of production gets done…it’s not so bad for the resume. We really hope that this will attract many big productions.”
The Warner Bros. blockbuster was a high-water mark for Estonia, where the servicing of large-scale productions is a relatively new phenomenon. But cross-border collaboration between the three countries has long been commonplace. “We have done this for years and years,” says Felt, “but now it’s more systematic, more focused.”
As a minority co-producer, Allfilm is attached to “Memory of Water,” a dystopian drama from Finnish production outfit Bufo, with Norway’s Mer Film and Germany’s Pandora also sharing co-production credits. An ambitious Estonia-Latvia-Germany co-production, meanwhile, will bring Estonian sci-fi and crime novelist Indrek Hargla’s “Apothecary Melchior” series to the big screen, produced by Estonia’s Taska Film, Nafta Films, and Apollo Film Productions; Latvia’s Film Angels Studio; and Germany’s Hansafilm and Maze Productions.
Riina Hyytia, of Finland’s Dionysos Films, says such partnerships make practical sense. “It’s quite easy to work with Estonians when you are shooting in Helsinki,” she says. Dionysos turned to the neighboring country while shooting scenes from season two of its Netflix drama series “Deadwind,” and Hyytia notes that the ability of local producers to share locations, crews, and studio space across borders boosts the capacity of each industry. “It’s a must for us to help each other.”
Aija Berzina, of Latvia’s Tasse Film, says producers from the region are finding a growing number of co-production opportunities further afield. Tasse recently wrapped shooting on the Polish-Latvian comedy “W2,” the sequel to director Wojciech Smarzowski’s “The Wedding,” produced with Poland’s Studio Metrage, and is filming “The Piper,” a fantasy film directed by Anthony Waller and co-produced with Cyprus’ Ratcatcher Entertainment. The company is also co-producing “Pawns,” a Russian spy series created by Michael and Lily Idov—co-writers of 2018 Cannes competition title “Leto”—and produced by Russia’s Metrafilms.
Yet Berzina says Hollywood is “the one market we are working on now intensely.” “It’s hard to enter that market. And you need that one success story,” she says, pointing to how high-profile productions like “Chernobyl” and “Game of Thrones” boosted the profiles of Lithuania and Croatia, respectively.
“Tenet” has already had a tangible impact in Tallinn, where plans are in motion to unveil Estonia’s first sound stage by the end of 2021. “That would probably not have happened without the big support of this production,” says Felt. The global platform provided by the likes of Netflix has likewise opened doors for local producers. “It has widened up our opportunities to talk to whoever we want to talk to,” says Hyytia.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that in the midst of a global pandemic, production in the three countries has largely continued apace, with coronavirus case numbers in Finland, Estonia and Latvia consistently ranking among Europe’s lowest. “There is one day where we’re all going to be able to travel and make films,” says Granata. “And guess what? This place is ready for you.”