Lights, Camera, Action!

It’s probably about time for me to talk about movies.

Not just because I’m here taking Screenwriting and History of Film classes, but also because we’ve been on a lot of excursions and activities centered around movies in the past week or so.  This week we went on a trip to the Czech National Film Archive, and then we were able to take a tour of Barrandov Studios–one of the largest studios (and costume/props departments) in Europe.

The film archive was a bit of a trek from where we were staying, pretty much on the other side of Prague.  We almost missed it, despite having a map, because the buildings hosting the archive are…well, pretty run down.  During the tour they mentioned that they were moved here as temporary housing while the Archive secured a better building.  This temporary move was more than five years ago.

Despite outward appearances, the Archive itself was pretty cool.  We got to see their editing rooms, for both tape and digital, in which they restore movies and analyze them for metadata to add to their records.  For example, one man was looking at a documentary while we were there so they could add a more accurate description of the documentary’s content to their records.  There were massive storage piles of reels of tape of various sizes, organized by whether they were originals and if they were meant for screening or for preservation.  We also had a pretty interesting discussion about the move in film towards digital storage, and the various drawbacks and benefits associated with that.

After the tour we got to sit in their theater room and watch two very old movies from the Archive.  The first was a post-WWII educational short about driving safety in Prague, which was actually pretty funny.  The second was a Nazi propaganda film that was only screened privately for SS Officers, chronicling the physical destruction of the Czech town of Ludice, and ignoring (but implying) the murder of most of its citizens.  This was decidedly less funny, but a very powerful experience to watch.

Our second excursion was even farther from the Pension, requiring multiple tram/metro rides to reach the outskirts of the city.  Barrandov studio was located high on some very pretty hills on the outside of Prague, and actually gave us a pretty good view of the city itself.  Soon, though, we were inside and thoroughly distracted by pretty costumes.  Apparently it is one of the biggest costume departments in Europe, and it had pretty much everything you could imagine.  There were medieval outfits, armor, ridiculous dresses, and a pretty wide selection of military outfits that we sadly could not photograph because of the presence of Nazi regalia.

After looking at the costumes we went to examine the props–lots of mirrors, clocks, paintings, and so on.  We found out that the studio has provided materials or sound stages for The Tudors, The Borgias, Casino Royale, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Mission: Impossible, which I thought made for a fairly impressive spread.  We even got to walk around a set from The Borgias, which I imagine was only allowed because the show is now cancelled.  It was a lot like being in a real, authentic, medieval village that happened to be built form plaster rather than real stone and was full of houses that had maybe 10 square feet of space behind their doors.  This might be how medieval people really lived.  I don’t know.

The same day as our studio excursion, our Film History class also went to go see a movie together–Petr Vaclav’s “The Way Out”.  Unlike most of what we have been watching, it is a Czech film that actually was released earlier this year, and was quite good.  It was about a Roma (which, if you were not aware, is the term for Gypsy that isn’t considered a racist slur) family dealing with poverty, discrimination, and other issues pervasive in the European Roma community.  While that sounds incredibly depressing on paper, I really enjoyed it.

I think that is a fairly complete summary of my movie experience while in Prague, with the exception of the screenplay I am currently writing for my class.  As I believe I’ve said before here, it is a modern day adaptation of Frankenstein set in South Africa, and it is progressing nicely.  I’ve gotten solidly into the introduction part of the film, and am working on getting to the juicy bits.  The dialogue still feels a little clunky to me, but that’s what revisions are for!  I’ll be sure to keep you informed as to how that progresses.

Hopefully by the time of my next post I’ll have had a chance to do some of the sightseeing around Prague that I’ve been meaning to do, and will have more to say about the city itself.  We will see!