Hot Locations: L.A. Lensing Declines in Q3
  • Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
"Catherine the Great" was shot largely in Lithuania (photo courtesy of Baltic Film Services)

Overall on-location filming in Greater Los Angeles declined 5.2% from July through September, according to new data published by FilmLA. In all, 9,226 Shoot Days (SD) were logged during the period.

And while the third quarter of 2018 saw local filming attain near-record highs, the same period this year delivered declines in on-location feature film, television and commercial production. Only the TV comedy and “Other” categories posted significant gains. FilmLA researchers characterized the report as atypical, and unusually at odds with other production indicators and local employment trends.

In FilmLA’s Television category, TV comedy production increased 45.6% to 754 SD during the third quarter. TV drama production declined for the first time this year, slipping 28.6% to 1,069 SD. TV pilots (down 19.2% to 63 SD), web-based TV (down 8.7% to 346 SD) and TV reality (down 6.% to 1,051) also saw cuts.

“Given what we know about the LA production scene, the Q3 report omits much of the story,” observed Paul Audley, FilmLA president. “Earlier this month, our research group published a report revealing L.A.’s significant capture of the scripted television production market. Meanwhile, union officials assure us there are ample work opportunities for local crews. We can only surmise that there is significant filming confined to area soundstages, or taking place in adjoining cities where the activity is not tracked.”

Feature film production, which has generally struggled in 2019, dropped 24.7% to 980 SD. Film projects brought to Los Angeles by California’s film incentive contributed 7.3 percent, or 72 SD, to the feature category in the third quarter. Commercial production, which has also struggled this year, trimmed its year-over-year losses to just 5% in the third quarter, declining to 1,330 SD.

Catherine the Great, the new Sky and HBO’s TV series depicting the latter years of the Empress of Russia debuted this October. The four-part 18th-century epic with the Academy Award winner Helen Mirren as its star depicts the latter stage of the 34-year-long reign of the famous Russian ruler.

Even though the events in the series are set in the Russian Empire, most of the series was shot in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

As the city was part of the Russian Empire prior to WWI, the filmmakers managed to use the multi-layered architectural and historical nature of Vilnius to portray Saint Petersburg, a burning city in the Russian Empire, and a traditional Russian village, among other backdrops.

Apart from the cityscape of Vilnius providing the perfect backdrop for various scenes, several buildings in the city were used to portray the luxurious lifestyle of the 18th-century Empress. The Trakų Vokė manor doubled as Catherine’s quarters, while Vilnius University was made into the Council Chamber of Russian Empire, and the inside of the Writers’ Union took up the role of Empress’ private staircase.

“One of the bigger challenges with Catherine the Great was building a real size private ship of the ruler,” commented Jūratė Pazikaitė, director of Vilnius Film Office. “Built in the Lithuanian Film studio, the ship was as authentic as it needed to be.”

Catherine the Great marked the second time Mirren, the star of the show, visited Vilnius. Fifteen years ago, the actress came to the city to work on the set of Elizabeth I. 

Catherine the Great was not the first big-budget production filmed in Vilnius in recent years. HBO’s Chernobyl (2019), the 10 Emmy-winning hit series, was mostly shot in Vilnius, as were Netflix’s Last Czars (2019), Tokyo Trial (2016), and BBC’s War & Peace (2016). Currently, Netflix’s Young Wallander is being shot in the city, too.

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