Haunted by Talented Czechs

25 January 2019


Haunted by Talented Czechs


Halloween still isn’t commonly celebrated in the Czech Republic, but last October marked a special occasion for Czechs as streaming giant Netflix premiered Haunted, the platform’s first series shot in Bohemia, with a Czech director and mostly Czech crew.

Article by Iva Přivřelová for Czech Film Magazine / Spring 2019

The California-based Netflix recently introduced two European shows to its worldwide audience: the German sci-fi thriller series Dark and the Polish alt-history series 1983. What makes Haunted different is that the show is in English — some of its stories of supernatural encounters even take place in the US — yet it was all shot in and around Prague by the crew of Czech director Jan Pavlacký, known up to now mainly for his commercials, music videos, and the dark short BKA 49-77, winner of the UK Film Festival’s Best Script Award.

The whole thing started in December 2017, when Pavlacký was approached by Tomáš Krejčí, co-owner of Milk & Honey Pictures. This well-established independent film production company was hired to create Haunted in the Czech Republic by Propagate Production, developer of the original idea for the series, advertised as a show where “real people sit down with friends and family to share true stories of terrifying events that continue to haunt them, shown here via vivid recreations.” The chance to work for Netflix was a huge opportunity for Pavlacký, and he gave it his best shot.

“I sent them my reel, where I had some things that were similar to Haunted in terms of theme and genre. Then it took about three weeks for them to confirm me for the first two episodes. In between, there were a lot of conference calls, plus I had to deliver a treatment, with text, photos, and references explaining how I imagined all the different components. I think that’s what tipped the scales in my favor,” Pavlacký told the Czech online magazine Aktuálně.cz.

“Of course, for them it’s cheaper to hire a Czech director, since you don’t have to buy a plane ticket and pay for a hotel and the fee is different than an American salary would be,” Pavlacky added, explaining why Netflix hired him.

Still, the decision to entrust a Czech team with the entire six-part miniseries — created in the US and conceived in the typical US genre of docudrama — was far from straightforward. “It’s common for a foreign director, sometimes with a cameraman and other key crew, to come to Prague to shoot. Haunted was different. Right up until the last minute, there was talk that a US director might come. In the end, it was just showrunner Jordan Roberts who oversaw everything,” Pavlacky told Aktualně.cz.

Ultimately, Pavlacky got the green light to shoot all six episodes and spent eight months working on Haunted. “Initially, Netflix didn’t want the whole thing directed by one person, since each story is a little bit different. So at first, they just hired me for two episodes. Then for another two, and then all of them. Which ended up being practical, since we spent the last few days in the studio, shooting scenes for several episodes at once.”

Netflix still supervised the director’s choice of crew, asking to see showreels for his DoP, architect, makeup artist, etc. “I discussed everything with them, including the cast,” Pavlacky said. “We had no problems, but, for example, when I was choosing actors, I had to offer them two backups, in addition to my favorite.” Fortunately, he says, he really saw eye to eye with Roberts, who took part in all the discussions and who Pavlacky praised both for his creative and producing skills.

For Haunted’s talking roles, Pavlacky část US and British actors living and working in the Czech Republic, and on set they spoke mostly English, even though the crew and most of the rest of the část were Czech. “It felt like an international production,” said the director in an interview with dlgimmigration.com.

All of the stories in Haunted, from the tale of a boy haunted by visions of a ghostly woman hanging in his closet to a onceprotective spirit that becomes possessive when the young girl who inherited his tombstone meets and marries the love of her life, are set in the US, from upstate New York to Louisiana to California.

Pavlacky explained to dlgimmigration. com: “So obviously we had to take special care when choosing locations and sets [. . .] and we shot everything in winter in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, the Czech Republic offers a great choice of scary locations, dark woods, abandoned buildings and — most importantly — very skillful filmmakers accustomed to creating other worlds.”

What’s Next?

After Haunted, Pavlacky said he hopes that more big international companies will now be willing to entrust projects entirely to Czech filmmakers, especially since so many foreign films and series are already being shot in the Czech Republic. “Milk & Honey Pictures worked on another horror series — Lore, for Amazon — right after Haunted,” Pavlacky offers by way of example.

His own ambition is to work in the US, and he now lives in Los Angeles. “Maybe it isn’t necessary, but it’s definitely worthwhile. If I suddenly find out about something happening in a few days, I can be there. I wouldn’t have time to go to L.A. just for premieres and meetings all the way from Prague,” Pavlacky explained to Aktualně.cz.

Currently, he’s creating a pilot for a major US TV network, and says working for Netflix definitely helped him get the job. Despite complaints that the platform is stealing viewers from cinemas, dissatisfaction with the limited theatrical release of its movies, and the ban from the Cannes Film Festival, Netflix is an increasingly important player on today’s show business scene, thanks to the success of its films at the last Venice Film Festival and the Oscar buzz for Golden Lion winner Roma, by Alfonso Cuaron.

Roma is a black-and-white film in Spanish. Probably no studio in L.A. would have paid for it,” Pavlacky said in an interview with online magazine Filmkult. “Thanks to its subscribers, Netflix can afford to produce things not only for the masses but also exceptional art films that don’t need to make money. This gives established directors enormous freedom.”

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