Hungary resumes filming after weeks of lockdown

Netflix series The Serpent is expected to return to Budapest soon

By Chris Evans 19 May 2020

Hungary resumes filming after weeks of lockdown
BBC Series The Last Kingdom filmed at the Korda Studios' medieval backlot

Hungary has lifted coronavirus restrictions in its capital city, Budapest, as filming slowly resumes across the country.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced that authorities have succeeded in controlling the spread of Covid-19 in the capital. “Therefore, we can shift to the second phase of defence in Budapest as well, cautiously ... and thus we lift the lockdown.”

Film crews of under 50 have already started working in the country, but these are still mostly local series and soap operas. “All the producers ask for a negative covid-19 test from all crew members and cast at the beginning, and they test them every week,” Gergely Varga, CEO of local outfit Shooteasy production services, told KFTV.

The expectation among the industry is that international productions should be able to start pre-production in the country from June or July, with shootings to commence in July or August.

At present, only citizens from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and South Korea are allowed to enter Hungary for business purposes without the need to go into two weeks of quarantine.  

One of the productions hoping to return to the country is the Netflix/BBC true crime series The Serpent, which tells the story of French con-man and mass murderer, Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim), who is discovered and trailed by a young embassy official (Billy Howle) in Bangkok in the 1970sAll the prep had been done, including choosing shooting locations across Budapest, when the coronavirus struck.

“The plan is still to return there, doubling the city centre for Paris,” explains Cait Collins, line producer on The Serpent, to KFTV. “Budapest is half the price of a Paris location and half as stringent in terms of the hoops you have to jump through to get the permission. We were told in Paris it would be four weeks minimum and we would have to submit everything in Paris to the finest detail we could provide. Whereas in Budapest, they could be more flexible and it only takes about three weeks for permissions.”

To help make shooting happen “in conjunction with the National Film Institute, we are working on various new initiative to get the industry back up and running, including a new training program for health and safety supervisors with Covid-19 international guidelines,” Ildikó Kemény at Pioneer Pictures, the local production service providers for The Serpent and The Witcher, told KFTV. “Studios and rental houses are also investing into all necessary safety precautions so that we can get back to work as soon as possible.”

Hungary has proven hugely popular as a shooting location in recent times with Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi tome Dune one of the biggest productions to shoot there recently, taking over the Origo Studios in Budapest last year. Villeneuve is clearly a fan having already shot Blade Runner 2049 there.

But he is not the only one to be drawn in by the enticing 25% filming incentive, cheap and efficient crew, and state-of-the-art studios. Other recent productions have included Netflix drama The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill, which also filmed at Origo, as well as the backlot at Mafilm Studio; historical movie The King, featuring Timothée Chalamet as English monarch Henry V; and Carnival Films’ major BBC Two historical drama The Last Kingdom, which doubled the country for ninth-century Britain.

“We filmed on the backlot owned by Korda Studios about an hour outside Budapest, where they had a medieval town ready constructed out of wood, so a lot of the infrastructure was already there,” enthuses Collins, who line produced series three of The Last Kingdom.

“There’s also a great freedom and flexibility to their approach at the studios. If you go to more western studios, they have a system, how they want to do it and certain structures in place. But I found in Budapest they say, ‘what can we do to make it work for you’.”

The Last Kingdom shot several action sequences, involving Vikings, some of which were filmed in the forests and lakes surrounding the studios. But, despite temperatures dropping to minus 15 degrees at times, this didn’t prove too much of an obstacle.

“The local crew are brilliant, and because the basic labour and transport are so cheap and efficient (and used to doing this), it is all very easy. When we had to climb the hills to get the best shots, they never questioned it. No drama, no madness.”

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