In the biggest film studio in Lithuania – everything from filming underwater to the construction of nuclear reactors
The Film Studio, located 15 km from Vilnius city centre, can be called home by numerous filmmakers. Here scenes were shot for such Lithuanian and international projects like Chernobyl, Spotify, Vesper, Catherine the Great, commercials of Cartier and LEGO. More about studio’s daily life, most challenging projects, and future opportunities – in a conversation with producer and Studio manager Martynas Mickėnas.
Could you please tell us what is a film studio? How does this large machine work and what do film or advertisement makers find upon arriving here?
A film studio is the main filmmaker’s tool. In the United States, where film traditions run much deeper, studios become the fortresses of the producers, the workplace where the whole team gathers, where preparation for filming takes place even if filming is taking place beyond the boundaries of the studio. Still, in Lithuania we focus exclusively on such projects for the filming of which the services provided in our studio are required.
The studio is made up of two almost 1000 sq. m. pavilions, which have cavities that can turn into trenches or swimming pools, we have arts department, where decorations and costume warehouses can be found. Make-up rooms can be installed. Our studio is 15 km from the city centre, so we have an area of few hectares. If it is needed the decorations are built outside of the pavilion when more space is required. For example, during filming the series Chernobyl the explosion reactor was built outdoors.
How long does it take to complete a film project? Can a few different projects be worked on in the studio simultaneously?
Even a few projects can be filmed at the same time. For example, if filming is taking place outdoors, another project can be filmed indoors. Of course, this does create certain challenges coordinating the situation, however, as we know about filming in advance, we prepare suitable schedules. Once we simultaneously filmed three different projects.
If we are talking about a film, the whole process from preparation to tidy-up once filming is completed, takes a few months. In the meantime, for advertisements, usually only a few weeks are needed. Of course, everything depends on a specific project. For example, when we were filming Chernobyl we began the preparations in October-November, whereas the filming itself only took place in July. I remember that the props completely filled almost all spaces, hallways, outdoors a three-floor roof structure was being installed, tunnels where being dug where the shaft was filmed, the reactor after the explosion scene was being prepared.
You have mentioned props, so it would be interesting to know what costumes or decorations can be found in the studio?
In the props warehouse mostly historical things can be found, but there are some interwar, Soviet era, 90s, noughties props items as well. In the warehouse artificial stones, wooden shields or swords, and military uniforms of various periods are kept. We also have 3D printers, with the assistance of which we can manufacture the props ourselves and adapt them to the needs of a specific project.
At the beginning of our conversation, you have mentioned that the studio is adapted for filming in the water as well.
There are tanks installed in the studio which can be filled with water, and the walls, are painted black or blue depending on what is needed. Whilst filming a Lithuanian film – I Am Fine, Thanks a car was sunk in this water tank, divers, camera people, stunts people and actors dived into the water. To create the image of a river, plants and soil were used. Whereas whilst filming Chernobyl clean water was needed so we turned on the filtration systems. I remember filmmakers who were creating a basement filled with water up to knee height. Everything depends on the imagination of the filmmakers.
What projects were worked on in this studio?
One of the largest projects was the already mentioned HBO series Chernobyl, also Netflix series Spotify, Catherine the Great, Stranger Things, films Vesper, I Am Fine, Thanks, numerous LEGO, Adidas, Cartier advertisements. In the area belonging to the studio outdoors German trenches were filmed, future refugee camp, created from shipping containers, a post explosion reactor, a large ship was built. Inside a large alien space base and fragments of their planet were created, scenes with a hanging helicopter were filmed. Each project comes with its challenges, however when we rent the space we make effort to interfere as little as possible in the process.
What is the most complicated, creates the most challenges for you when working in a film studio?
It is very difficult to layout and coordinate everything so, that it is clear and understandable to all from colleagues to clients. One needs to be able to adapt and compromise. However, I work in the world of film since the noughties and even in the first days I have understood, that it is exactly what I was looking for. Every day is different, distinct, it is never boring here. We like challenges, we can’t live in peace. At the end of the project, when you can finally rest, immediately you begin thinking what next? The more action, tension, the more fun.
When evaluating the studio potential and its size – is Lithuania ready to welcome large budget projects? Are we a competitive country?
Currently we are working with a development project. We want to build additional pavilions. One smaller, which would meet the needs of smaller scale projects, and two larger pavilions 2-3000 sq. m. each, which would be used for the projects demanding the really big props. Due to the lack of sufficiently large pavilion, Lithuania loses numerous opportunities, because we do receive offers to film the large budget projects. In the Baltic States we are currently the largest film studio, but Latvia and Estonia are working intensively toward infrastructure improvement. We are trying to improve as well.
Could you reveal, what projects will be filmed in the studio in the near future?
Economic crisis, the pandemic, and also the war in Ukraine, have caused some disbalance in our work schedule, because a large proportion of filming comes from abroad. Currently we are working more intensively, we have projects until the spring of the next year. We hope, that will continue.
Thank you for the conversation.