On the set: Czech coproduction fairy-tale Dragon Girl

14 August 2020

Introducing

On the set: Czech coproduction fairy-tale Dragon Girl

Norwegian producers love coming back to the Czech Republic

Introducing

On the set: Czech coproduction fairy-tale Dragon Girl

Norwegian producers love coming back to the Czech Republic

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We headed to the set of the Norwegian film Dragon Girl, a children’s fairy-tale fantasy coproduced by the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The small Norwegian-Czech crew, with its calmness and concentration, fit in nicely with the picturesque, quiet town of Dobřichovice near Prague, where the shooting was underway.

It’s the penultimate day of the shoot, and the crew is working on a scene that takes place in a Christmas market. It’s almost spring in Dobřichovice, so they’ve had to create the Christmas spirit from scratch, transforming the street into a market filled with stalls offering wooly Nordic sweaters, mulled wine, and sausages. 

“This film is tough to shoot, because there are three lead characters: a boy, a girl, and a dragon — and the dragon doesn’t actually exist,” Norwegian producer Petter J. Borgli says with a laugh. “We have to shoot the film in a particular way. We’ll create the dragon in the computer afterwards, then insert it into the film. The Dutch are taking care of the postproduction and computer graphics.”

This is far from the first time the Norwegian producer has worked in the Czech Republic. “I know the Czech Republic. I’ve made two other films here before. I saw most of the country during location scouting, because then you get to see a lot of places all over the place. I love it more than being a tourist. Especially when we were working on Amundsen. It was fantastic shooting in those beautiful old castles.” 

In addition to the epic film about the first conqueror of the North Pole, the Norwegian producer also made the children’s family film Magic Christmas in the Czech Republic. Czech coproducer Pavel Berčík of Evolution Films is no stranger to fairy tales, and children’s movies in general, so the two men have now worked together several times.

We caught up with Borgli during a short visit to the set in Dobřichovice, where he told us that he always loves coming back to the Czech Republic, highlighting the excellent technical skills of people here, as well as how practical and capable they are. Pavel Berčík added that an essential aspect of working well together was the human aspect, in particular the similarities in character between Czechs and Norwegians.

A 70-member team is working on Dragon Girl, headed by Swedish director Katarine Launing. It’s the story of a 10-year-old girl who, finding herself alone at Christmas, breaks into a house and traps a baby dragon. When the baby dragon escapes, she decides with the help of a friend to find its mother (obviously, also a dragon) and return it to her. In the end, instead of being alone at Christmas, the girl spends it together with her friend, at his house. The producer emphasizes that it’s not a fairy tale per se, but rather a children’s fantasy film, explaining that fairy tales take place in the “olden days” and are based more on tradition, whereas in Dragon Girl the kids live in the modern world, using Instagram and YouTube.

The Norwegian crew spent 35 shooting days in the Czech Republic on Dragon Girl, and thanks to the Silvershot location agency, filmmakers found their ideal locations in Dobřichovice, Beroun, Líbeznice, the Koněprusy caves, and Prague. Smaller towns like Dobřichovice are attractive for film crews — only a short distance from Prague, yet filled with fairy-tale atmosphere and locations.

During the drive to the set, crew driver Boris Mellion spoke to us about Dobřichovice and working with locals: “People gradually get used to us and understand that we’re bringing their town benefits, even if it sometimes inconveniences them,” he says. He also revealed that Norwegian filmmakers work five-day weeks, whereas in the Czech Republic, crews generally work six days a week on international productions, with Sundays off.

The town’s mayor, Petr Hampl, who loves to host filmmakers, commented on the cooperation between the town and film crews: “The revenue from leasing spaces and locations are a welcome addition to our budget, and working with filmmakers in Dobřichovice has so far always been satisfactory for both sides.”

Of course, in addition to financial benefits, international productions employ local labor. Several Czechs hold senior positions on Dragon Girl: The costume designer is Michaela Horáčková Hořejší, whose previous experience includes the Czech TV series The First Republic and the fairy-tale films The Crown Prince and The Princess and The Scribe, as well as the above-mentioned Amundsen. Tomáš Pavlacký holds the position of first assistant director, the art director is Jiří Sternwald, and the music for Dragon Girl is in the good hands of well-known producer and musician Jan P. Muchow, who has composed scores for more than 30 Czech films.

In our final chat on set, Borgli emphasizes how vital it is to have cooperation between coproducers, bringing greater financial opportunities and incentives from multiple countries. “Without the support of the Netherlands and the Czech Republic,” he says, “it would have been extremely challenging to pull together the necessary financing for Dragon Girl.”

The film is supported by the Czech minority coproduction scheme, and received production incentives from the Czech Film Fund.

Film Commissioner Pavlína Žipková notes: “We are genuinely happy for the Norwegians who keep coming back to shoot here. With the percentage of incentives rising in surrounding countries, it’s a challenge, and until our government makes the move to a higher percentage, we must be more than perfectionist in every other aspect of film production. Considering where to shoot may not be just about finances, but without them, would anyone be able to shoot at all?”

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