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The Etyekwood Phenomenon

Hungary continues to thrive as a shooting destination. According to Tamás Csapó, Chief Executive of Korda Studios, this country suits international filmmakers’ purposes for two reasons – one is aesthetic and the other is financial.

On a former missile base some 30 kilometers from Budapest, in the picturesque village of Etyek, stands the huge, 40,000-square-meter complex of Korda Studios. Since its opening in 2007, this up-to-date motion picture establishment has hosted some of the most prestigious local and international films and commercials ever filmed in Hungary, according to Tamás Csapó, Chief Executive of the facility. Hellboy 2, The Borgias and a Hungarian piece entitled Kaméleon have been shot here. “There is an extremely big interest in the opportunities for movie making in Hungary,” Csapó tells Diplomacy and Trade. “Hungary is actually becoming Europe’s new Hollywood,” he adds.

The economics of shooting in Hungary are very enticing. According to the appraisal of Universal Pictures, a general shooting day costs USD 78-80,000 in Prague, USD 105,000 in Canada, USD 115,000 in Los Angeles and USD 125,000 in London. Hungary is much cheaper with our USD 60,000 per day tariff, but, at the same time, we have everything what a modern international film production could possibly need: the most up-to-date technology, experienced crew, state-of-the art post-production suites and infrastructure, all adding to the so-called ‘one stop shop’ system. There is also lots of space. The facility features a soundproof, air-conditioned studio, and a 5,500-sqm workshop, in which you could fit an airplane or the Titanic. Plus, over 10 hectares of the total premises is a designated backlot, with electricity and water supplies. The large open fields surrounding the studio offer practically unlimited space for filming. Europe's largest permanent New York City street set is here, including the full Brooklyn street block with four-story facades on both sides, a movie theater, a bank, a restaurant, a repair shop, freight loading docks and fire escapes. Work continues on the facility's major attraction: over 18,000-sqm of wet ‘super stage’ to beat the world’s largest (12,000 sqm) indoor water tank.

Taxation

In 2004, the Hungarian Parliament introduced a new tax law granting significant concessions for foreign film producers. Since then, an increasing number of foreign films have been made in Budapest and this positive trend has not been broken, even by the world financial crisis. In 2008, 47 foreign productions were made in Hungary. The number grew to 52 in 2009, and to 53 last year.

With tax incentives offering productions a 20% rebate on costs spent in Hungary, Hungary is able to draw international productions, and spur local filmmaking. “What we see is that the influence wielded by the film sector is very appealing. We have arrived at a stage in which the state extends a hand to the sector,” Csapó says. He is of the view that the film business brings the best tourists to Hungary. “Celebrities, who live in 5-star hotels, love the best restaurants, have a lot of fun after hours , and go home with presents after the shootings. With every dollar spent for filming in Hungary, another dollar drops into tourism, culture and the catering sector.”

Multifaced Budapest

Foreign production companies have also been noticing the beauty of the settings. Budapest, according to Csapó, is a genuine chameleon. With its eclectic style, the Hungarian capital can be and has been ‘sold’ as Berlin, Paris, London, Rome and Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, Hungary faces increasing competition from other Central European countries such as Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Germany. “The American motion picture industry annually spends up to USD 56 billion, of which 40 per cent is spent abroad. Our goal is to lay our hands on as many productions as we can,” Csapó continues. This is when lobby work comes into the picture. “In the film industry, the most effective opportunities for making business depend on personal relationships, and let’s face it: hearsay. It is necessary to keep those connections that have already been made. We are always present at the National Movie Festival of Cannes and Berlin, the film programs of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in London and the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin, at the American film Market in Los Angeles and at the Location Trade Show.

It’s also important to note that this is not the kind of a business where anyone can make a mistake without facing real consequences. Feedbacks such as ‘In Hungary this or that is not working’ can damage the whole local industry and the image of the country.” A visitor center will open at the end of June, featuring a 1,400-sqm exhibition room, a 1,100-sqm restaurant and an outdoor set of a whole medieval village. An interactive exhibition will be opening too, dedicated to the Korda brothers. Visitors will be able to find out more about the history and the process of filmmaking from animation to green screen technology. Studio tours will be also available, through shooting scenes – a perfect location for team-buildings. Csapó says that the studio is already booked for the year 2011. “Shooting of the miniseries Borgias continues, starring Jeremy Irons, along with another super-production entitled World Without End. Commercials, video clips and music productions are continuously on the studio’s agenda.” The Budapest Cinematography Masterclass – which takes place every two years – is also hosted at the Korda Studios. Its next edition will be led by Hungarian-born Academy Award winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and Hungarian director János Xantus.

The USD 124 million budgeted movie-making facility, named after Sir Alexander Korda, is owned by the Etyek-born real estate mogul Sándor Demján, who has backed some of the largest property developments in Hungary and the region. Minority investors in the studio include Hungarian-born Hollywood producer Andy Vajna, financier Nathaniel Rothschild, the co-chairman of Atticus Capital LLC, and Canadian businessman Peter Munk. In addition to its six studios, the 34-hectare building site accommodates numerous support facilities.

SIR ALEXANDER KORDA: Born in the Great Plains of Hungary in 1893 as the first of three sons in a poor farm house, Alexander Korda went on to become one of the most prolific film directors, producers and studio chiefs in the history of filmmaking. He began his career writing film reviews and went on to directing Hungarian films during the First World War. By the age of 23, Korda built his own film studio in Budapest (Corvin Film Studios). Due to political turmoil, Korda was forced to escape Hungary in 1919 and fled to Vienna and later Berlin, where he directed his first wife Maria Corda in a series of movies. In 1926, the pair was hired by MGM and moved to Hollywood, but by 1930, Alexander Korda was in Paris running Paramount's French division. His success at Paramount took him to England to run the company's British division. He founded London Films, the company that was to revitalize and change forever the British film industry. The worldwide success of The Private Life of Henry VIII made Alexander Korda an international star.

Réka Alíz Francisck

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