‘Dune’ Proves Hungarian Business Is ‘Hard to Beat’ as Budapest Production Booms

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Few could have predicted the global disruption of the past two years, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to claim lives and disrupt livelihoods and the war in Ukraine – now in its second month – triggering a crisis whose human consequences, political and economic still need to be fully considered. For most screen industries around the world, forced to adapt on the fly to unforeseen and often unprecedented events, simply staying afloat has become something of a triumph.

Yet, despite the challenges and continuing uncertainty, Hungarian industry is on the rise. Legendary and Warner Bros.’ impressive Oscar win “Dunes,” which filmed in Hungary and won six Oscars at Sunday night’s ceremony, is just the latest validation of a booming company that’s only going from strength to strength.

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Last year, total production spending in Hungary reached $650 million, a new record and almost 30% more than in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019. Csaba Kael.

Government and private sector buy-in have been instrumental in this success, with a streamlined licensing process, state-of-the-art stages and sound facilities, and highly trained English-speaking crews helping to make Hungary the second – largest production hub in Europe, after the UK Additionally, Hungary offers 30% cashback (which can be increased to 37.5% with the addition of qualifying non-Hungarian costs ), as well as production costs that are 30% to 35% lower than in the United States or the United Kingdom, and 25% lower than in Western Europe.

Nigel Marchant, chief executive of Carnival Films, the NBCUniversal-owned production company behind “Downton Abbey,” points to these factors as the “building blocks of getting the most bang for our buck ‘when it comes to filming’.”The Last Kingdom,” the netflix historical drama, which spent five seasons in Hungary.

“The government has been incredibly smart in capitalizing on the growth of this sector, and being incredibly smart and lean in tax refunding to … continue to be at the forefront of giving back so much money and being so attractive to a producer as possible. might,” adds Marchant, who just wrapped production on the “Last Kingdom” feature film spin-off “Seven Kings Must Die.”

Despite rising energy costs and ongoing supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the industry has not missed a beat. Budapest is booming. “Over the next four to six weeks, I think our capacity will either be completely full or almost full, until the fourth quarter of this year – possibly until the first quarter of 2023,” says Adam Goodman of Mid Atlantic. Films, which provided principal photography on “Dune” (pictured) in 2019. “There are enough projects in the works to imagine the city will remain busy as it has been year after year.

Almost two years after COVID-19 began disrupting film and television production across the world, the Hungarian industry appears to have finally overcome a backlog of projects delayed by the pandemic. But as demand continues to rise, it is now counting on a fundamental change – accelerated by the pandemic, but in no way caused by it – in the way films and series are produced and consumed, a ripple effect being felt in screen industries around the world.

“More than ever, there is a need for content. That hasn’t changed; if anything, it grew,” says Goodman, who recently completed principal photography for “Seven Kings Must Die.” Mid Atlantic is currently gearing up for the second season of Showtime’s “Halo,” while budgeting and sourcing several miniseries from Hollywood studios and streamers in development.

“High-end television is in high demand,” adds Ildikó Kemény, managing director of Pioneer Stillking Films, whose list includes NBCUniversal’s “FBI International,” Lionsgate’s “John Wick” prequel “The Continental,” and “All the Light.” Netflix’s We Cannot. See,” a limited series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anthony Doerr starring Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, and newcomer Aria Mia Loberti.

Kemény says she responds daily to requests from foreign producers “circling” the studio space and the Hungarian crew. “Producers, financiers, streaming giants contact us: Could we look at their project? Can we compare the costs? Could we book them in one of these studios? ” she says.

On the contrary, the question is whether Hungary will be a victim of its own success. Capacity is increasingly a challenge in what is already shaping up to be a busy year, with no signs of slowing down. “[There] is a clear understanding by US studios and our international partners that they need to commit to stages and infrastructure, sometimes before a budget or before a final script,” Goodman said. “If you want to know that you have a place to make your film [in Budapest] in 2023, you will have to make this decision in the second quarter of 2022 – certainly no later than the third quarter. “It’s a nice balance,” adds Kemény. “It’s very important that we don’t take more than we can deliver. »

Demand continues to rise, even as the war in Ukraine – which shares a border with Hungary – has cast a shadow over Europe and the rest of the world. So far, there has been no ripple effect on the projects currently in production, nor any signs that international partners are ready to rethink their plans to film in Hungary.

The war nevertheless casts a shadow. “It’s the humanitarian atrocity we’re witnessing and experiencing – it’s a direct result of the war, as we’re in close proximity to Ukraine,” Goodman says. Pioneer Stillking has mobilized his resources to deliver food and medical supplies to the Ukrainian border every week as Hungary faces an influx of refugees. “On our small scale, we try to do everything we can to help,” says Kemény. “I wish we could do more.”

Meanwhile, the industry is carrying on, as it has throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to meet growing interest, four new sound stages are set to open in 2023 at the public Mafilm Studios complex, increasing studio space fivefold. Plans are also underway to expand the backlot and build new stages at Origo Studios, which hosted ‘Dune’, where recent additions include a purpose-built water tank for the 2019 filming of Russian blockbuster ‘Chernobyl: Abyss’. , a green screen stage, and a host of air-conditioned warehouses and workshops.

It is indicative of how Hungarian film professionals adapt to all industry requirements. “We had to learn how to animate these productions. We had to go through this learning curve of what big productions really need,” says Mihály Tóth from Origo. “Whenever there’s… something we need to provide, we learn it, we do it, and the next time they come back, we already know how to provide it.”

“When you have crew bases, stages, infrastructure in terms of building capacity, prop crafting capacity, costume crafting capacity – when all of those things line up, combined with the incentive we have, we’re tough to beat,” adds Goodman.

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