Hungary is having another impressive year after a stellar 2021, attracting several high-profile productions, including Netflix series All The Light We Cannot See and Legendary/Warner Bros sci-fi epic Dune: Part Two. The first part of Denis Villeneuve’s blockbuster was shot partly in Hungary, and the Canadian filmmaker is set to return to the country to shoot the second half at Origo Studios in Budapest.
Netflix series All The Light We Cannot See is an adaptation of Anthony Doerr’s epic Second World War novel, produced by Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps Entertainment, with Levy directing. The adaptation is written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) with Aria Mia Loberti in the lead.
Other big projects to choose Hungary this year include Netflix and Carnival Films’ The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die, a feature version of the popular TV series; season four of Amazon and Paramount’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski; season two of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone; season four of Netflix and Yes Studios’ Fauda; and CBS/Wolf Entertainment/Universal Television series FBI: International.
These follow a record-breaking $658m (huf227bn) production spend in Hungary in 2021, according to the National Film Institute of Hungary. Major projects to shoot in the country last year include Marvel series Moon Knight; Lionsgate and Starz project The Continental, an event series expanding the John Wick universe; Mikael Hafstrom’s sci-fi thriller Slingshot, produced by Astral Pictures and Bluestone Entertainment; Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, a co‑production between Canada’s Film Forge Productions, France’s Celluloid Dreams and Hungary’s Hero Squared; and Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, backed by Searchlight Pictures, Film4 and Element Pictures.
“It is electrifying to witness the post-Covid boom in our screen industry,” says Hungary film commissioner Csaba Kael. “Local expertise is growing, and the country is completely safe for international filmmakers.” This was due partly to the industry enacting strict Covid protocols quickly to create a climate of confidence.
Another to choose Hungary was Sky thriller The Fear Index, starring Josh Hartnett, produced by UK outfit Left Bank Pictures. “We were looking for somewhere to double for Geneva [where the action is set] and Budapest felt like a great option because a lot of the architecture was a good match,” says Sharon Hughff, executive producer at Left Bank Pictures. “The Hungarian crew are fantastic. They are very adaptable and experienced and are used to being very busy with international productions, so they are versatile and never phased by our needs.”
You are spoilt for choice in Hungary. The variety of landscapes is incredible. In popular Budapest alone you will find everything from dramatic history and flamboyant architecture to healing thermal waters, opera houses and sports stadiums.
All location palettes are on offer in the capital city, from classical to modern, industrial to upscale, hipster to retro, with castles and rural landscapes.
The locations are varied and offer many look-a-like locations to most European cities making it an attractive place to shoot your next production. Budapest is often called Little Paris for good reason, but you may find a lot of London look-a-like locations as well. The city has stunning bridges over the river Danube, says Attila Horvath, founder and managing director at Abroad Films.
“There are also abandoned old buildings, factories and army barracks that can be used as locations,” says Gergely Varga at Shooteasy Production Services. “And the seaside of Croatia, mountains of Transylvania and the Alps are just a few hours drive away from Budapest.”
“You can find several variations of Europe within Budapest city centre,” says Cait Collins, a producer on The Last Kingdom. “Location wise on the street, you pay per square footage, which they have down to a fine art. This is great because you can adjust it according to your budget.”
Hungary’s countryside attractions include Lake Balaton, the largest in Central Europe, where The Last Kingdom was partly shot; Lake Héviz, the second largest thermal lake in the world; and Hortobágy, the largest natural grassland in Europe.
All locations are within a few hours of each other, and thanks to a mild four-season climate, the country can host productions all year round.
Permits to shoot are generally easy to obtain. You contact the person or institution owning/operating the actual location to gain permission. If it is a street or public space, you contact the local government,” says Juan Amin, a producer at Filmreaktor, which assisted with the Emmy nominated Documentary Now! series, starring Cate Blanchett, that shot across Budapest, from the Opera House to classical apartments. “Process times vary from three to five days, or up to three weeks for full closure permits.
Hungary offers an abundance of great studios and hugely experienced crew who speak fluent English.
Korda offers six soundstages, the largest of which is 6,000 sq meters with a net buildable height of 20 metres. There is also 100,000 sq m of pre-existing backlot sets – New York, Renaissance and medieval – and a water-tank facility with two underwater side windows.
Origo (formerly Raleigh Studios) is one of Hungary’s main filming facilities — and among the largest in Europe — and is only a short drive from central Budapest. There are nine sound stages and a greenbox stage for filming, VFX or still photo shooting. Plus, equipment rentals and post-production services.
Mafilm Studios, just outside Budapest, already offers the largest outdoor water tank in continental Europe, and an expansion currently underway (and set to be completed by end of 2023) will see four new 2,500 square meter soundstages built. The complex already has three soundstages, the largest of which is 1,800 square meters. It also has medieval town and Second World War barrack backlots, 100,000 pieces of wardrobe and accessories, and a large inventory or weapons.
Conveniently, leading camera rental company Arri also has a base in Budapest.
Crews speak English and are highly rated. There has been a long history of major productions shooting in the country that have educated a new generation of professionals to fill the need of productions. They can even take heads of department positions.
The crews are very flexible and there's an absence of trade unions, says Horvath at Abroad Films. They tend to have six working day weeks with 12 hour days as standard, and overtime rates gradually apply every two hours after that.
International producers are advised to use the services of a local company to make the whole shooting process smoother.
The team behind Villeneuve’s major film, Dune, found local service providers Sparks invaluable. “Big sets and multiple locations made for a long and complicated filming schedule,” James Grant, unit production manager for Dune, tells KFTV. “Having not shot in Hungary before, I was not aware of [local outfit] Sparks, but I am happy to say that I now am. Whilst having lighting, grip and camera equipment, they looked after our ever-growing camera demands and did not skip a beat.” Getting the support of a local company is key to a smooth shooting experience.
Flights from most major US cities have a connecting stop to Budapest. New York can connect via Amsterdam or London.
Public transport is well developed in Hungary, there are plenty of ports, and ferry systems available in Budapest and at Lake Balaton. Plus taxis are plentiful on the streets of most Hungarian cities.
If international productions are planning on bringing equipment in from outside the EU, the ATA carnet system would be the best approach.
First person to contact
Csaba Kael, Hungary film commissioner @ firstname.lastname@example.org
There are direct flights from New York to Budapest and those flying from Los Angeles can connect via Amsterdam or London.