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Lithuania stands in for England, Germany

Could the economic crisis prompt the closing credits for a booming film industry?

Lithuania, a stand-in for places where it is more expensive to make movies, has attracted British and American productions. Shown here is the Vilnius Cathedral, illuminated during a light show to commemorate Vilnius becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2009. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Scene: a frigid late winter morning, a couple of hours after sunrise, on the set of “True Horror,” a British-produced historical docu-drama that is on its last day of shooting. 

The air feels much colder than the few degrees below freezing shown on the thermometer. Fat, wet snowflakes are falling. Film technicians mill about, sipping weak instant coffee and munching cholesterol-laden breakfasts from a local catering truck. Inside a rundown 19th-century mansion, in the bowels of the basement, klieg lights, cameras and sound equipment clog all available space. A tall, gaunt British actor in period costume, with frilly sleeves and a velvet jacket, fiddles with a contraption that looks like an oversized hand accordion set on its side. 

Welcome to the Lithuanian film industry, northern Europe’s unlikely film center. 

It’s not a glitzy global movie capital like Hollywood, London or Mumbai. Heck, it’s not even Hungary, Romania or the Czech Republic — ex-communist countries that have emerged as bargain-basement locations for western film producers. But those who work here say that Lithuania has found its niche as an up-and-coming locale for foreign film productions, thanks to its high standards, low costs and quality northern European landscapes. 

“True Horror” is a case in point. The series — depicting the real-life stories on which horror tales such as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" are based and shown on the Discovery Channel — is being shot here for 207,000 British pounds per show, a fraction of what it would cost in the United Kingdom. 

“We’ve done 19th century London, medieval Germany and medieval Transylvania,” says Catharine Alen-Buckley, the series’ line producer. She said that the scene on this cold day is for a dramatization of the life of Giovanni Aldini, who inspired the Frankenstein myth. 

“What you get for your money is great value,” she continues, adding that last year, she re-created a 1960s moon landing. “So you can do just about anything here.”