Boasting experienced and cheap crews and what it says are the biggest film studios in Europe, Czechoslovakia lures Western producers to make movies they say they could barely afford to film at home.
The latest foreign films being made in Czechoslovakia are an American-West German co-production starring Faye Dunaway and Klaus-Maria Brandauer and a British family fantasy "The Wolves of Willoughy" featuring American soap opera queen Stephanie Beacham.According to Mark Forstater, producer of "Wolves," he saved about $2.8 million, or 40 percent of total production costs, by making the film in Czechoslovakia and not in Britain.
Other advantages were guaranteed snow - not often seen in southern England in March - and a manor house near the Bohemian town of Hradec Kralove that Forstater said was a perfect 1850 copy of an English manor house.
He also had the good, cheap craftsmanship of the setmakers at Prague's Barrandov studios, billed as the largest in Europe.
In March, the second tract of the studios was transformed into a huge and gloomy Victorian laundry with an enormous cauldron in one corner. Ragged orphans, played by some of the 100 Czech children chosen to take part in the movie, washed clothes on a set that gave the feeling of stepping into a Charles Dickens novel.
Beacham said in an interview that she was embarrassed by the disparity of wages between herself and the Czech crews.
"We work long hours, but we get paid for it," she sighed.
There are five categories for remuneration of local actors. A senior Czech actor can get up to $90 a day, but most crew members would get much less. Overtime is not paid.
What Beacham did enjoy was not being known or recognized in Prague streets. "It's lovely; it's great freedom," she said. "When I get a wolf whistle, it's for me and not for my TV role."
The biggest complaint on the set was the scarcity of vegetables.
Forstater said the crew sent a bus to West Germany once a week to get produce. "Usually when I ask people what I'm to bring when they are on location, they ask for chocolates. Here they want carrots and cauliflower," said food consultant Sara Keen.
The language barrier also sometimes posed a problem. Czech handlers for the 16 Alsatian dogs dressed up to look like wolves had to get their commands translated from English, and then instruct the dogs.
But the Czechs are used to coping with such difficulties. Prague's state-owned film company first made a film for the West in 1958, when Walt Disney Productions hired them to produce "Popeye, the Sailor Man" and "Tom and Jerry."
In 1964, the West Germans made the first full-length feature film shot by Westerners in Czechoslovakia. Business slowly built up, until Czechoslovakia had a $3.4 million turnover in co-productions and foreign orders by the end of the 1960s.
Now, five or six full-length foreign features, mostly West German, about 30 short films and 10-15 TV films are made each year.
The most famous films made in Czechoslovakia in recent years include "Slaughterhouse Five," the film version of Kurt Vonnegut's anti-war fantasy novel made in 1971; "All Quiet on the Western Front," a remake of the 1930 classic shot in derelict miners' houses and open cast mines in 1979; Barbra Streisand's "Yentl" in 1982; and the Academy Award-winning "Amadeus" in 1983.