Hungary is one of the most popular shooting destinations in the world, attracting major films and TV series over the past year, including Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros’ Dune, Lionsgate’s The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent starring Nicolas Cage, Amazon Studios’ Birds Of Paradise, Amblin’s comedy film Distant, Showtime series Halo and Netflix’s The Last Kingdom. Director Yorgos Lanthimos, meanwhile, is setting up Element Pictures, Searchlight and Film4’s Poor Things, starring Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, at Hungary’s Origo Studios.
Sky has also brought thriller The Fear Index, starring Josh Hartnett, to the country, filming around Budapest from April for 10 weeks. The series is being 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.”
eOne’s Mrs Harris Goes To Paris, starring Isabelle Huppert and Lesley Manville, filmed in several locations across Budapest in October and November 2020 under tight Covid-19 protocols. Xavier Marchand (Moonriver Content), Guillaume Benski (Superbe Films) and Anthony Fabian (Elysian Films) produced the feature, with Daniel Kresmery and Jonathan Halperyn of Hungary-
based production services company Hero Squared co-producing.
“The film was originally due to shoot in Bucharest, Romania, but we positioned Budapest as advantageous with its secure 30% incentive and slightly better locations, particularly doubling for Paris,” explains Halperyn. “Andrassy Boulevard doubles for a fashionable Parisian street, and the stairways in Buda, below the castle, can easily pass for Montmartre.”
In addition to the 30% incentive, Mrs Harris Goes To Paris received $976,000 (huf280m) co-production funding from the National Film Institute Hungary.
Hero Squared is also co-producing Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, alongside Toronto-based Film Forge Productions and France’s Celluloid Dreams, which is set to shoot in Hungary and Croatia this year.
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,” agrees Collins. “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 is planning to expand its complex to 12,200 square meters. It will have four new 2,400 sq m soundstages built [which could be used in pairs as two 4,800 sq m stages], making it Hungary’s largest state-funded film studio development project. The Studio complex already has three sound stages, the largest of which is 19,375 square feet, as well as a medieval town and WWII barracks backlots, and 100,000 pieces of wardrobe, accessories, and a large inventory of weapons.
Other smaller complexes include Stern Studios in Pomáz and Astra Studios in Mogyoród.
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.
There are direct flights from New York to Budapest and those flying from Los Angeles can also 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