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Behind the Scenes at Netflix’s The Last Czars: Intriguing Vilnius Locations and Community Cooperation Provide Exceptional Movie

 

The Courtyard of the Church and Monastery of the Holy Trinity

Being able to provide the backdrop for film productions depicting various periods, Vilnius and its ready-made cinema infrastructure continue to attract major titles

The Last Czars, a Netflix mini-series portraying the fall of the last Romanovs, the dynasty that ruled Russia for 300 years, premiered earlier this summer. Next to displaying the dramatic ending of the three-century-old imperial family, the show attracts its viewers by showcasing several spectacular surroundings. The show, however, was not shot in Russia, but in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, which is becoming a landmark destination for film production in the region.

It is not the first major film production happening in Vilnius in the past few years: BBC‘s War and Peace (2016), HBO‘s Catherine the Great (2019) and the record-setting Chernobyl (2019) were all, among others, partially or fully shot in Vilnius. Even though each title was set during a different period in history, they were all, thanks to the complex history of the city, successfully filmed in and around the Lithuanian capital.

„Even though the budget of The Last Czars was not huge when compared to other titles of this scale, and the filming schedule was tight, the show managed to capture some epic-looking scenes,“ said Jonas Špokas, CEO of Baltic Locations and supervising location manager for The Last Czars.

The show was shot in twelve locations around the city, including a Franciscan monastery, several former palaces, Literary Museum of Alexander Pushkin, an Orthodox church and an Orthodox cathedral.

„We managed to create surroundings for different scenes without even leaving the area of a single location,“ commented Vytautas Riabovas, location manager for The Last Czars. „For example, we used the Vokė Mansion, a 19th-century manor, for three completely different sets simultaneously. One of the floors was used as an elegant room for Czar Nicholas II, while another floor was turned into a hospital. Finally, the basement of the palace was converted into rooms where the royal family was executed.“

Vokė Mansion

Some filming challenges, however, wouldn‘t be overcome without the support of the local community. One scene in particular, a scene where the infamous Rasputin was brawling with a priest inside a church, seemed worrisome for the location managers at first, but the local Orthodox Church authorities agreed for it to be filmed with only one simple condition.

„After Adrian McDowall, the director of The Last Czars, met the responsible priest in person, the cleric had only one condition – that Rasputin would be portrayed in an objective and historically accurate way,“ added Riabovas. „Later, the priests of the Orthodox Church were extremely helpful in consulting the movie crew about religious processions. They also lent some materials to make the church look as authentic as possible, and were generally interested in doing the research, as much has changed in a hundred years since the depicted events.“

The whole city, it seems, is genuinely invested in making the filming crews feel as welcome as possible.

„The city government wants more movies filmed in Vilnius, and it shows,“ claimed Špokas. „With the support of the Vilnius Film Office and the municipality, film crews working in Vilnius are enabled to capture the shots they need easily, be they filmed in the streets or elsewhere. The word about Vilnius as a filming location is spreading, and a string of successful titles shot in the city steadily attracts new productions.“

The optimistic outlook on the growing pedigree of Vilnius as a regional filming hotspot can be backed up by numbers, too. Between 2014 and 2018, foreign film industry capital spent in Lithuania grew from 1.25M EUR to 45.5M EUR. Among many reasons behind the hike in numbers, the presence of highly skilled local cinema professionals and Lithuanian Film Tax Incentive policy seem to be central. According to the incentive, foreign production companies can save up to 30% of production costs when collaborating with local production companies.

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Chatelin Bruno
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