• Interviews

Baltasar Kormákur’s Vision in Reykjavik

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur opened Reykjavik Studios (RVK) in 2018 in a building that used to be a fertilizer plant. The studio, which is roughly 86,000 square feet is one of Europe’s largest and as Iceland is already a popular shooting location for international projects, Kormákur hopes to attract foreign productions to shoot here. He has already attracted a few – and apart from his own projects for Netflix such as Trapped and Katla, he has had many requests to shoot at the massive studios. He sat down with the HFPA in Reykjavik recently to speak about his vision.


In 2016, you decided to start creating a studio village in a peninsula called Gufunes close to the city center of Reykjavik. Why did you decide to do this?

This is one of the most beautiful spots. It’s inside Reykjavik, but it’s ten minutes away from the center. So, I thought it would be perfect, secluded in a way, but at the same time, close enough so people don’t have to commute far, unlike say, Pineland in the UK, where you drive for 40, 50 minutes to get to work.

I started developing this idea with the city. In the end, I bought quite a bit of land and this building we are in now was called Channelville by my friends in the industry. But we started renovating and now we have one of the more equipped studios in Europe. It’s a huge space, 3,200 square meters, open space and 1,000 square meters of stories next to it. Then we have these green rooms, and we are opening a building in February with offices of 2,500 square meters. I just bought the building next door too, which is the same size. I’ll split that up into two studios and support staff. So, we’ll have production offices, we’ll have studios in a way that you probably don’t find in many places.

You are building one of the biggest studios in Europe, yet Iceland is a very small nation of only 360,000 people. How is it going?

It’s doing really well. One of the things, I bring my own projects here and it gives me an opportunity to make bigger projects. I made the TV series Katla here for Netflix. Another film with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Charles Dance called Against The Ice was made here, and it will be out in February. I also made the TV series Trapped here and then we have had The Northman shoot here. We have had lots of big productions coming through. It’s been really doing well. Of course, through these COVID years, I was very adamant about getting up and shooting and created the color-coded system which I came up with from the swimming pools in Iceland when I was a kid.

Do you believe in the future of the studios here?

I believe in the future, and I believe that the Icelandic politicians will do better in the tax rebate in Iceland. As part of your tax payment, it’s a rebate of what you spent. It’s 25% today. They’re talking about moving to 35%. But when that happens, I think it might change the game here in Iceland.

Why is it attractive to shoot in Iceland?

There are a few reasons for this. We have a very special landscape that attracts all kinds of shoots. It’s very different from Scandinavia. It’s not a competition. Everything that happens in the moon or in the orbit, people tend to want to shoot here. Even Nepal is sometimes shot here. Russia, Siberia. I also think we have a very strong crew base at this point. We can probably have four or five crews going at the same time and they are very well-equipped and very hard workers. So, everything on the ice tends to be shot here. We are in a wildland, but we still cultivate it enough where we have enough technology that it is still appealing to come here. As an example 10 minutes away from here, you will find any kind of hotel you want, any class, any style, anything you want. That’s one of the ideas behind this place – the location. I don’t like to have to travel 45, 50 minutes to go to my studio.

You are creating a whole village here. Why is that?

I was very adamant about building apartments here so people who are in the film business and other people who want to live close to the film business, can live here next door. We were building about 900 apartments now, and there are only a few houses up. There are a lot of artists now living in these buildings. You don’t notice, but it’s full of artists. When the people start living here, the coffee shops will open and it will become a village where you can actually get good coffee!

Iceland has had many big productions shot here like Game of Thrones, The Midnight Sky, Succession and The Northman just to mention a few. Did you create these studios mainly to attract foreign productions or to help the Icelandic community too?

I think this studio is too big for many Icelandic productions, so I’m going to split the other one up into two smaller ones. I believe that people come to Iceland mostly for the mountains and the wild landscape, but I believe we can build up a more sustainable film business and keep them going. It’s already happening because I’m getting requests about, “Can you block the studio for a year for this big show here and there?” I can’t mention which productions, but they are big shows. It also looks like we’re going to be in trouble next year because I need more space. So, I need to get this one up and running. In 2016, did I know that that would happen? No. But was I ready to take the chance?

It has given me the opportunity to make bigger productions, and that supports my core business. It supports the Icelandic community. It supports the crew base here and it supports the future.

I think a lot of people thought I was crazy when I did this, and I said I want to build a Pinewood inside Soho because I do my post-production in Soho, and then I do shooting in Pinewood. I’ve done that quite a bit in London. I love being in Soho and I hate being in Pinewood. So, I thought maybe in Iceland, we can actually have both at the same place, and it’s happening. People are fighting over the apartments. So, I’ll give it five to ten years and you’ll be surprised to see it.


You have directed films such as 101 Reykjavik (2000), The Deep (2018), Everest (2015) and Adrift (2018) and you just shot the film Beast with Idris Elba. Which role do you enjoy most – director or entrepreneur?

It’s very creative, actually, but in a very different way. Building a little city, it’s really exciting. Of course, I can’t control everything because the banks and things have to be sustainable. Anytime they think about bringing something here, they call me and say, “What do you think about this?” It’s actually been a very interesting project. Some of the financing stuff is not that interesting along the way, but I do have good people working with me as well. So, I find ways to make this work, but I’m very proud of this.

Will you also have post-production facilities here?

Yes. It will be here in the future. We’re moving in February, that’s the plan. It’s all moving. They are building fast, but when you’re building, it’s never on time.

You are involved in so many projects. How do you manage everything?

I don’t know how to say this. I enjoy it that much. It’s not a burden. Of course, sometimes you go like ‘God!’ but most of the time I’m actually just enjoying it quite a lot. It’s very easy for me to focus on one thing at a time.

What will this place look like in 10 years?

There will be people living here everywhere. There will be a boat bringing you up to the harbor from here. There will be a fully equipped studio on both sides here. There will be thousands of people living here. There will be coffee. There will be a great bakery and there’ll be life. There will be creativity, it will be a unique place, a place you can probably not see anywhere else in the world. It will be unique.