Updated: Mar 15, 2019
In November 2017 I had the rare opportunity to explore in depth the Romanian dictator's meeting place with the Council of Ministers, the palace of Nicolae Ceausescu from Snagov (called today Snagov Palace), with the occasion of the reality tv show "Marry My Son" (,,Ma Insoara Mama") where I was the executive producer in charge with the overall production management.
Before hiring a film locations scouter and manager, I played this role by exercising my film locations, real estate and property management experience, so Ceausescu's Palace was on my shortlist of locations for our most complicated shooting days in Romania.
The management and administrative staff of Snagov Palace was very open, friendly and helpful, they gave me their full support to make sure the location meets our production specific standards and criteria. I have to mention this because for an in-depth tour of Ceausescu Palace from Snagov one needs about 3-5 hours to cover all aspects of the location logistics and operations. Then, it all starts all over again, if the location is chosen by the showrunner or director, for at least one or two tech scouts before the production. So, we need a lot of favors, tolerance and understanding from the location personnel as a tv and film production team is quite demanding.
The location we were looking for had a very long list of requirements, not only because it was the opening and ending location in the show, but also because there were many characters (about 70), a production team of over 100 people and many parallel operational and production flows. It had to be glamorous, not too expensive to light it up and transform, with a great exterior and outdoor views, endless rooms following a particular structure and plan, a huge ballroom, and many other production and content related aspects.
While Ceausescu Palace covered the logistic needs of the production, it turned out to be way too expensive in our lighting and set design departments, and not quite the glamorous palace from this era, but opulent in its unique way. However, it remained the top candidate until we found Noblesse Palace - the one closest to the content needs, but quite difficult for our production. The other two candidates were Ghica Tei Palace and Bragadiru Palace from Bucharest.
I will approach them all in my next posts, as one should not miss them in their traveling and cultural tours in Romania and in our capital city Bucharest.
The palace is located by Snagov Lake at about 30 minutes by car from Bucharest and from one point further the road to it is a splendor. It is quite an exclusive location, as expected, and it is surrounded by lake and forest. The phone and internet signal is low in the surrounding area, as it is still one high security surveillance due to high profile public figures, politicians and business people living North from Bucharest.
The Snagov Palace is surrounded by lake and forest and it has two main buildings:
- the main building which is where dictator Ceausescu had his meeting residence with the Council of Ministers and other high profile state meetings, but also where Michael Jackson had been accommodated in 1992 during his first concert in Bucharest.
- the conference center able to host at least one thousands people, a suitable place for grand scale congresses and events.
The two buildings are only 10 minutes from one another, a short walk by foot.
Past and Present. A drop of history.
The Snagov Palace was built in the '30s by Prince Nicolae and expanded by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena Ceausescu, in the '80s.
This presidential residency is the beneficiary of a prime location on Snagov Lake and in present it hosts high profile guests invited by the Romanian Presidency, Parliament or Government.
The initial plans of the Snagov Palace belong to the daughter a well-known Romanian writer, Henriette Delavrancea Gibory, the most notorious architect at the time. The residence had been finalised in 1932 having a large hallway at the ground floor and few rooms on the first floor, but the palace had not been inhabited for a long time due to the bad relationship Price Nicolae had with his brother. According to the chronicles, this residency was popular among politicians, artists and writers.
In 1937 Price Nicolae had been exiled by his brother and he had never seen the palace again. The palace was occupied successively by General Antonescu and the communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej.
The palace did not preserved the architectural ideas of Henriette Delavrancea, excepting the front entrance, the stairs and the hallway connecting the two floors. In present it also has an attic with ordinary rooms (probably for the location personnel and guests accommodation during events). It was the architect Rogusky who operated the modifications and the development of the palace at Ceausescu's order in the early '70s, as he wanted it to be the residence place of meeting with the Council of Ministers. The development lasted for 7 years, the modifications were made after the plans of professor Nicolae Vladescu and the majority of the materials used were produced in Romania.
Ceausescu never lived in Snagov Palace, but across the lake in an exclusive complex of houses built over some old farms. The presidential couple made the journey from their home to the palace by boat. For this reason there is also a pontoon, used today for fireworks during weddings and other events.
From a film/tv/photo shooting perspective, you must keep in mind that this is an isolated location and you have to organize and manage very well your production, as it is quite time consuming to go backwards to buy the things you haven't taken into account.
The interior of Snagov Palace. Residence Building.
The palace is enormous, very mathematically structured and with great sound isolation walls. You cannot hear what other people talk in other rooms or on hallways and vice-versa. From this angle, I imagine sound operators are in heaven.
The residence has more entries and it hosts also a ballroom with a capacity of about 1,000 guests. If you don't need it for content (shooting), it works very well for the production team. From the perspective of events production, the ballroom is a generous place for gallas, big weddings, exclusive concerts and other themed events. The location offers its clients a full-service approach in the event production area.
The overall design makes any present-time Romanian happy and proud because it reminds of the days when we were a production power in the world. Everything is Made in Romania and there's unity in the overall design.
The rooms are very spacious, most of them have chimneys, wallpapers and carpets with gold fibers, private bathrooms and balcony.
The offices, smaller and bigger, follow the same concept of design.
The palace has also a more private zone for its special guests, a Roman bath surrounded by palm trees and exotic plants (I think, architects and designers may know better):
The conference center is a stand-alone palace and a hot-spot for high end photo shootings. It had two floors and endless possibilities:
Thoughts on logistics and production operations
Ceausescu's Palace from Snagov Lake is a location suitable for big events, tv shows and films productions, productions involving large numbers of extras, characters and teams, and this means you need to consider a generous budget if you put this cinematic place on your list.
It has a unique print and vibe, it is recognizable and this may be both a problem or a solution, depending on your content needs. Nevertheless, whoever chooses it for shooting, it is exactly its uniqueness that lies behind the choice.
It has enough space for big base camps and team with large parking lots right near the access doors and from space perspective it is generous enough to cover both content and production needs.
The sound operators may be very happy because the interiors are very well isolated and the location is situated in a prime spot, a thing that eliminates neighbours noises and other interferations. However, being situated on a lake you may encounter sound issues for exterior shootings, as the sounds coming from the surrounding communities amplifies through water.
Lighting and set design will be your main challenges in the budget area, depending on how much of the location you need to use.
The location has enough bathrooms and indoor secondary/waiting places, but also full support from the staff, so logistically the production is covered very well. However, for giant productions, you should reconsider your options.
What you need to consider is its isolated position. Due to its exclusive location you need to organize and manage extremely well your production because it takes over 30 minutes to come back and forward from the main street to buy various small or bigger things. The main access road (DN1) is a high trafficked one, so it may take even more if you need something from a hypermarket, as nearby are only small shops and a gas station. Being on the clock, as a production director you cannot afford such delays and mistakes as it will push up other departments' costs and overall, the production costs.
The two buildings, the residence and the conference center are 10 minutes walk by foot, they are separated by alleys and don't overview each other, so if you use the conference center only for production, you need to architect very well your operational flows and consider placing there only the non-urgent things and people. Otherwise, you'll have to face the set at all times to answer promptly to all needs coming from the shooting scene, from team, general producer and director.
The location is also an interesting option also for exterior shootings because of its very nice gardens, forest and alleys overviewing Lake Snagov. Scenes involving romantic walks, high profile talks, action on water and in the forest, chasing cars may work very well in this generous place and its surroundings.
The road to the palace through the forest is long enough to allow very good beauty shots and driving scenes.
The Real Estate Market in Snagov and Business Vibe
Snagov area is quite big covering a multitude of small villages on both sides of the lake. One side of Snagov Lake is navigable, while the other it is not, being well known for international sport fishing contests.
Being very close to the Northern part of Bucharest where all corporations have their business offices and few minutes away by car from Henri Coanda Airport and Therme, Snagov area is predominantly a high end real estate market, hosting multi-million villas and above average properties in prime locations, homes with direct access to the lake, pontoons, private boats, generous land and construction space.
The area began to develop more also on the touristic side of things, themed and adventure parks rising up in the area, horse riding centers, authorities modernizing also the old Complex Astoria located at the end of Snagov Village, a beautiful place surrounded by lake and forest, loved by campers, joggers, water sports passionates and picnic fans. The city hall also has plans to reinstate an older railway by investing in a tourist train connecting Bucharest with Astoria and overall Snagov region.
There are also many other cultural objectives and accommodation oasis for passionate travelers to put on their bucket list, like Snagov Monastery which is situated on a small beautiful island and hosts Dracula's head (Vlad the Impaler), Romanian Olympic Center, hotels with breathtaking views like Vila 23 Snagov, traditional restaurants with Romanian and international food, and much more.
The real estate market knew quite a boost in the last years, indigenous and foreign developers investing very much in the construction of new and modern neighborhoods, as young corporate families prefer the less polluted air at such short distance from work.
Overall, Snagov region on a radius of up to 30 km from Bucharest is an opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs, a place where there's still plenty of opportunities to buy and sell high end properties or to open new businesses.