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Mogul hopes he's built a Krakow-adjacent Hollywood

A studio 20 miles outside Poland's second-largest city looks otherworldly. Polish mogul Stanislaw Tyczynski wants it to be all things to filmmakers looking to make blockbusters.

August 07, 2011|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times
  • Polish mogul Stanislaw Tyczynski created Alvernia Studios to make English-language, star-led films.
Polish mogul Stanislaw Tyczynski created Alvernia Studios to make English-language,… (Alvernia Studios )

Reporting from Krakow, Poland — — About 20 miles outside of Krakow, amid fields that unfold endlessly beyond Poland's second-largest city, a "Blade Runner"-like complex looms: Fourteen silvery domes, their interiors tricked out like the chambers of a spaceship, connected to one another via glass tunnel.

Inside the complex, past a guard booth shaped like a giant helmet, doors open with a whoosh when fingerprint scanners detect an approved visitor. In one cavernous space, banks of rooms with showers and beds are stacked several stories high, as though providing quarters for Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew. A Space Age cafeteria bears a strong resemblance to the "Stars Wars" cantina.

If it sounds like the set of a science fiction film, well, it could be. But the man behind the whimsical facility, called Alvernia Studios, hopes it's something more than that — an unlikely new player in film production and financing. The facility's mastermind is an eccentric, press-averse mogul named Stanislaw Tyczynski, who made his money founding Poland's first commercial radio station, RMF FM. He sold it five years ago to the German conglomerate Bauer for several hundred million dollars, using the cash to establish Alvernia, which he hopes will put Poland on the movie map.

Unlike most efforts in other Eastern European cities such as Prague or Budapest, where the focus has been on funding from the government or from U.S. interests, Tyczynski is trying a different tack: a privately financed, wholly local entity. His campus here is a reminder that even some of the most un-Hollywood-like corners of the world want, realistically or not, to be a part of the filmmaking game.

"We hope to be everything in the movie business," said Robert Kalinowski, Tyczynski's chief publicist, aide-de-camp and face to the outside world. "With money and good ideas, we can be, no?" he said, sounding at once boastful and needy.

'Money,' 'blockbusters'

Tyczynski, 53, created Alvernia Studios in 2010 to fund English-language, star-centric films and serve as a facility where those films can be shot and edited. (There is a staff of executives and crew of about 70 that can swell depending on the number of films in production.)

The company has put money into "Vamps," a recently shot vampire romantic comedy directed by "Clueless" director Amy Heckerling and starring Sigourney Weaver and Alicia Silverstone; it was edited at Alvernia earlier this year and is seeking a U.S. distribution deal. Tyczynski's firm also recently agreed to co-finance Nicholas Jarecki's $10-million financial-world thriller "Arbitrage," starring Richard Gere and Tim Roth, which recently finished shooting and will go into postproduction at Alvernia in the fall. A smattering of Polish productions are also using the facility.

Underlying the company's mission is a kind of disdain for government regulation and funding that would make Michele Bachmann proud. Asked via email about what has surprised him most about the film business — as leery of the press as he is of government, Tyczynski rarely gives interviews and, according to Kalinowski, has never answered questions from a U.S. media outlet until now — Tyczynski replied:

"European socialism! And more specifically, European scale of insanity in financing films by European taxpayers. Yes, it is 500 million of Europeans that are financing movie crap, even without going to the movies!" he said, alluding to state-run film commissions in many European countries.

Even with Tyczynski's deep pockets, though, top-flight directors are difficult to attract to a place like suburban Krakow. Alvernia is an unknown entity, and most filmmakers would rather not risk meddling from a Polish mogul. Others with dreams like Tyczynski's have tried and failed — the list of international companies with big Hollywood dreams that belly-flopped is long, stretching from the Middle East to Western Europe.

Yet Tyczynski believes that a shift is inevitable: American filmmakers need money more urgently than ever, and entrepreneurs like him want to bring both business and prestige to their home country. A company like Alvernia, he says, helps everybody win.

Krakow has a rich cinematic history. The city of 750,000 is the birthplace of Roman Polanski, and directors such as Jerzy Skolimoswki have shot and set movies throughout Poland. But Alvernia doesn't want to make the kind of small films those auteurs are interested in. Asked at the Cannes Film Festival this spring about Alvernia's philosophy, Lukasz Poninski, the company's international sales agent, had a succinct answer: "Money. A lot of money. With big blockbusters. These small Polish films are too dark and depressing."

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