Snow, fog, abandoned psychiatric hospitals and inspiring silver-birch forests that run on for miles are all on offer in Estonia. The northern European country borders the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Finland and is a short ferry trip from Finland and Sweden. It is also just a road trip from major European cities including Warsaw and Berlin. St Petersburg in Russia is an overnight train from Estonia’s capital city Tallinn.
The former Soviet state has more than 2,000, mostly uninhabited, islands and around half the country is forest. Estonia is prowled by lynxes, brown bears and wolves.
Film Estonia was launched in 2016, administered by the Estonian Film Institute (EFI), to encourage better co-operation between local and international film producers looking to shoot in the country.
Rebates allocated to date include to Finland-Sweden-Estonia feature The Eternal Road and Danish animation Hodja And The Flying Carpet, as well as Estonian director Martti Helde’s debut feature, In The Crosswind, which screened at Toronto in 2014. There are plans for a major new facility in Tallinn, which is expected to raise the country’s profile with the international industry.
Estonia may be geographically flat — the highest point, Suur Munamagi (Big Egg Mountain), is 318m (1,043ft) above sea level — but it is looking to rise above its neighbours to attract film and television makers.
Administered by Film Estonia, the film incentive provides rebates worth up to 30% of in-country production costs. In 2017, a total of $2.13m (€2m) has been allocated to the programme. To qualify, a production’s total budget must be at least $1.1m (€1m), with the minimum spend in Estonia between $214,000 (€200,000) and $535,000 (€500,000). At least one of the producers must be an independent Estonian production company and the total Estonian participation must make up a minimum of 10% of the budget total, and at least 10% of the property rights of the film have to belong to an Estonian producer. There is also one major stipulation for international co-productions: 1.2 times the amount of this financial support must be spent in Estonia. The costs of shooting in Estonia compare favourably to other European countries and neighbouring Baltic states.
Full details on financial incentives in Estonia: Estonian Film Institute
Infrastructure and crews
Estonians tend to be at least bilingual and have an excellent grasp of English. Russian, German and Finnish are also spoken. The country has been dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe because of its tech-savvy populace. Skype software was created by Estonia’s Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn, and some 44% of the company’s workforce is based in Tallinn and Tartu. The small population size is reflected in the country’s relatively small but perfectly formed film and television workforce. Estonian crews enjoy a good reputation, especially as problem-solvers.
While Estonia cannot be accessed directly from the US, the country’s biggest international airport, Lennart Meri Tallinn, can be reached from the US via stopovers in Istanbul, Oslo or Warsaw among others. Direct flights from major European hubs also make Estonia accessible. There is regular ferry traffic from Tallinn to Helsinki and Stockholm, and it is also possible to visit St Petersburg by boat or train, and Moscow by an overnight train.
Infrastructure and crews
The Estonian government allocated a funding grant of $1.1m (€1m) through its business development programme Enterprise Estonia to a major studio development — Tallinn Film Wonderland — in November 2016. There are plans for an 8,000 sq m facility at a site near the centre of Tallinn. It will include one building for production offices, as well as three soundstages. The three could be combined into one large stage with an overall size of 2,500 sq m. The facility is backed and proposed by a collective of the country’s six biggest production companies, and when it is constructed it will be the biggest studio complex in the Baltic region. It should open its doors for business in 2018.
Martti Helde, director, In The Crosswind, says:
“In Estonia many things are possible that are not in places like London. The society of filmmakers is quite small and they are really supportive. If you want to make something crazy and in a crazy way, you will find the people and the tools to shoot the film.”
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Need to know
- DO use public transport in Tallinn to get about if you are living there. It’s free.
- DO seek out the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration if it is on during your stay. The local signature event, which happens every five years, is on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list.
- DO visit the Ruhnu stave church built in 1644. It is the oldest surviving wooden building in the country.
- DON’T forget to try bogshoeing on the marshy ground of the Soomaa national park.