Here at Pioneer Media, we pride ourselves in not only giving productions incredible locations, but also using locations that may have never been filmed before. Bringing the rarely seen to the silver screen is what gets us out of bed in the morning, or night, depending on the call time. With our 2019 production of “Castle Freak,” we were able to do just that with the mighty Gjirokaster Fortress in southern Albania.
For those who have not seen the movie, the majority of Castle Freak takes place in, well, a castle, Whately Castle to be exact. This ancient mountain top monolith is home to not only a terrible monster, but also generations of evil arcanists. Its halls are lined with occult artworks, medieval weaponry, and it is even decked out with a series of secret passageways. The giant Great Hall, with its massive fireplace and rustic furniture is exactly where a bunch of young Americans should have an alcohol and coke fueled party while a monster is on the loose. Whately Castle has countless rooms, catacombs, and even a dungeon! But spoiler alert, Whately Castle is NOT Gjirokaster Fortress. Well, not all of it.
The Fortress’ day job is being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a stunning museum that goes through hundreds and hundreds of years of Albanian history and culture. Its halls are lined with artifacts from not only the Communist era but also as far back as the Ottoman occupation era. There are no bedrooms or fireplace adorned Great Halls. While the exterior scenes and the catacomb sequences were all filmed on site in Gjirokaster, the bedrooms, the hallways, and even the kitchen interiors were all filmed 150 miles away in Albania’s capital Tirana.
Three different locations were utilized to create the mythic Whately Castle. Now on larger budget projects, this is pretty standard. Usually a structure is used for the exteriors and then interiors are created in studio. This gives the camera, lighting, and audio department more freedom than an onsite location could provide. Sometimes the exteriors themselves are created in studio or on a large back lot. With this project, scheduling and budget prevented us from utilizing studio space in Albania to construct the interiors so with our local partners, we went on a hunt to find existing private properties that matched the exteriors of Gjirokaster Fortress.
Once properties that not only aesthetically matched, but also offered access to necessary production services were locked, we brought our local production designer to start working on blending the seams and bring Whately Castle to life. Where there were aesthetic gaps, the art department team was able to construct false walls and stylish visual cues to fuse the multiple locations together on screen. Once the production design was established, we were able to start “building” the geography of the Castle.
With countless pictures and square grid notebook paper, nod to our tabletop role-playing readers, decisions were made as to where rooms, passageways, catacombs, and even exteriors took place. If a character opened a door in Room 1 where did it lead? Bathroom 1 or Hallway 3? What about this exterior door? Does it lead to the Garden or does it lead to the Front Gate? Where does this staircase take us? With approval of the director, continuity specialist, and production designer, a map was established. Throughout the film, if there were any geographic concerns, the map was used to clarify. This made the work done on set and in the editing room much easier, not only saving time, but also money.
Now, the challenge for you is to see if you can find our seams. Go ahead, what’s Castle and what’s river valley restaurant?