Go behind the scenes of Barrandov Studio’s 14th-century French village in Prague

We visited the iconic Czech film studio and explored the unique set used for "Knightfall" which may open to the public soon.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 11.03.2021 16:13 (updated on 11.03.2021)

Typically once a film project is completed the sets are torn down to make way for new ones. But the set of Knightfall was so extraordinary that Prague’s Barrandov Studios decided to keep it.

In the fall of 2020 Barrandov purchased the set of a 14th-century medieval French village that was created for the series Knightfall to be used for other productions and possibly even as a tourist attraction, once conditions allow.

This was actually the second Knightfall set, as just days before the first season of the was historical drama was scheduled to begin filming, a fire destroyed its original set.

"After the fire, our craftsman built the city again in two months. I think it was 150 craftsmen who built this amazing set,” Barrandov PR manager Jakub Zíka told Expats.cz, adding that is was much faster than the construction of the first set.

Barrandov set makers worked under pressure as the international cast and crew were all in Prague ready to begin shooting, and production deadlines needed to be met. While the cost of the set was not disclosed, the damage was assessed at over CZK 100 million.

Knightfall is not the only production to use the set. “It has been used in other projects such as Carnival Row, they used it for a while, and another movie will be shooting here, but I can't say what that is now as it's top secret,” Zíka said, adding that a documentary on educator Jan Amos Komenský also used it the set.

Overhead view of the Knightfall village. (Photo: © A+E Studios)
Overhead view of the Knightfall village. (Photo: © A+E Studios)

The Expats team recently took a look at the set located on the studio’s back lot, past the sturdy studio complex and service buildings. The exceptionally large set measures over 100 by 150 meters, with many buildings exceeding 10 meters in height.

The village is actually more like a maze, as few of the facades don't have an interior. The streets wind and intersect to provide good camera angles. It's easy to get lost and walk in circles, even for people experienced in working there.

Two town squares are highlights of the complex, one with church steps and another with a gallows and a stable that houses an actual interior space. There are also towers, stone walls, and grand entry gates.

The level of detail is amazing, but it has to be: with films today being shot on high definition video, any little flaw can be detected.

Scene from Knightfall. (Photo: © A+E Studios)
Scene from Knightfall. (Photo: © A+E Studios)

It immediately becomes apparent how much magic goes into film making when you see the set. The church, for example, cuts off the height of the door, making it good for close shots of people on the steps. The rest of the scene has to be created digitally.

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Throughout the set, the villages look perfect, but only from select angles. From other places, it’s clear that the street leads nowhere and there is nothing behind the doors or windows.

One of the big advantages that Barrandov has over other studios is large backlot that currently houses the Knightfall set. The lot has a clear view of the horizon, without high-rise buildings or other visible obstructions. This is because the complex is situated on top of a hill at the edge of the city.

“Barrandov Studios is one of the biggest studios in Europe. The area of the studio measures about 400,000 square meters. Our backlot is 160,000 square meters,” Zíka said.

While some studios are known for their extensive back lots of standing sets representing different places and times, that has never been the case for Barrandov. This is only the second time that Barrandov Studios has bought a set; they also kept part of the set from the TV series Borgia.

“I think it is sometimes common for a studio to buy the set, it depends how good the decoration is. I think you can find other permanent sets in other studios. In New York, they have New York, in Hungary, they also have New York, in Berlin, they have got a Berlin. We bought this decoration for because it's really useful for other projects,” Zíka said.

The studio also hopes to turn it into a tourist attraction on a small scale. “We would like to show this set to normal people and the public but we can't because of the COVID restrictions. I think before another production starts on this we hope to show it to the public,” he said.

Barrandov Sutudio's main building, designed by
Barrandov Studio's main building, designed by Max Urban. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)

The addition of the medieval village is just the latest chapter in the ongoing expansion of Barrandov.

This year, the studio celebrates its 90th anniversary. The foundation stone was laid on Nov. 23, 1931, and production began on the first film on Jan. 25, 1933. The main building is meant to be a phoenix, with its neck and wings. “This building symbolizes that the Czech film industry is growing up from the dust...you can see the neck and the wings in the building,” Zíka said.

The idea for the studio came from the father of the late president Václav Havel, who shared the same first name. The design for the entire area was by Max Urban, who in addition to being an architect was a film director. The studios were managed by Miloš Havel, the president’s uncle.

Further expansion came under the German occupation in 1939, with another group of studios. Construction slowed in the communist era, but another soundstage opened in 2006, reportedly the largest in Europe.

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