Vilniaus film office

Location manager A. Šidla: about the Siberian taiga in Nida, expectations from movie directors and popular filming locations

Aivaras Šidla is a location scout and manager, who has been working on Lithuanian and international projects (“Ashes in the Snow”, “Kompromat”, the TV series “Chernobyl”, “Forgotten Battle” and many more) for several years. According to A. Šidla, although finding suitable locations for filming often becomes a real challenge, with the help of creativity, it is possible to turn Lithuania’s landscape into Siberian taiga or historical battle site. More about the most interesting filming locations, challenges and the movie industry – in the full interview below.

Could you tell us what it’s like to find a suitable location for filming? How do you start and how does the process develop?  

Aivaras Šidla | Photo: Akvilė Razauskienė

The first step starts with the director or cinematographer, who usually have their vision. Local movie creators already know Vilnius and Lithuania, so they already have one specific location in their minds. Foreign creators prepare “mood boards” which help to understand what to look for, and what kind of atmosphere prevails in the film. Later, we get a description of the film or a script, after reading which one can feel the whole world of a movie.

Online maps such as Google Maps help at the beginning of the research. After seeing an interesting area on the map and assessing its potential, you need to see it live, take photos, find the owner of that place, contact the director, etc. Of course, it also happens that sometimes only one out of ten foreseen places is suitable. I would say it resembles fishing.

Finding the right location sounds like a long and complicated process. What is its biggest challenge?

Everything depends on the specific project, but the most difficult situation arises when there are simply no suitable places in the country for the vision of a scenographer or a director. Then you need to turn on creative thinking and reflect on how to turn one location into another. For example, while filming the French film “Kompromat”, we had to find a place which would resemble the Mongolian-Russian border. Unexpectedly, we found the right spot at the Gariūnai car market.

Once we were asked to find Dutch dams in Lithuania. The war scenes between the two Dutch armies – defending the West and supporting Nazi Germany – were to be played here. For this scene, we chose a fish farm that looked very similar with the addition of computer technology. Of course, we had to think about how to bring the 25-ton cranes needed for lighting, when there is only peatland around. We had to order some special tiles so that the team could drive through and unload things.

There were various other stories, but thanks to the cooperation of the location scouts and the scenographers, it is possible to turn the chosen place into a completely different country or location.

You have worked for many movies and TV series of Lithuanian and international directors. Could you tell us about the project which was the most memorable for you?

Perhaps the most memorable is the TV series “Chernobyl”, the filming of which required the closure of one of the largest neighborhoods in Vilnius. We worked almost 24 hours a day. It was the first experience in the Lithuanian film industry when it was necessary to close not a specific location, but the entire district, which in the movie became the city of Pripyat. We had to think of new strategies, write down the registration plates of vehicles, set up a call center, monitor which cars are moving, answer questions of residents, etc.

Filming of the series “Chernobyl” | Photo: HBO Sister Pictures Sky Television

Filming of the series Chernobyl | Photo: HBO Sister Pictures Sky Television

Algimantas Puipa’s “The Other Side of Silence” was the most memorable of the Lithuanian films. We filmed in Anykščiai and then drove to the town of Rusnė, where we tried to “catch” the flood. The process was not easy – a lot of snow, everything is frozen, and many roads are no longer passable. We didn’t know when exactly the flood would start, we could only predict – by talking to the locals, and listening to their opinions.

Finally, we found a bus that could drive through a body of water that is a meter deep. Thank god, the flood finally happened. It was the first time for me to be in such a place – you go by boat and you see flooded pasture fences and submerged road signs deep in the water.

How do the film’s budget, scale and popularity change the filming process and the location manager’s work?

A bigger budget means more convenience. It is possible to have larger bases, to set up an office a few minutes away from a filming location. It provides comfort and helps you get more done in less time.

Perhaps in Vilnius or Lithuania, we have unique places, certain architectural styles or natural landscapes that especially attract filmmakers? 

One example is Lukiškės prison, which was enabled extremely well, many companies wanted to film their films there. Another example is Verkiai Palace. Historical films are filmed here, sometimes taking the audience even back to the 60s.

We usually go to Kaunas when the plot is set in the interwar period. If Siberian taiga is needed, Nida is perfect – we film on frozen lagoons or dunes. We have many different places in Lithuania, perhaps the only thing missing is the mountains. Of course, location managers have several suggestions for other locations, ideas that are never used because they simply do not match the vision of the director or scenographer.

What things and conditions in Lithuania would you name as the main strengths, and aspects that make filming in the country worthwhile?

One of the greatest strengths is the professionalism of the team. We often get positive comments from British and American developers about the quality of the work.

From the point of view of the locations, the biggest strength is the architecture of various periods: baroque, renaissance, and buildings characteristic of the Soviet era. I would also like to highlight such places as Trakai Vokė mansion, Verkiai Palace, and Pažaislis monastery. Compared to Latvia or Estonia, we still lack the restoration of manors – if this situation could be improved, the country would have even more potential.