Cinematic City

more than a year ago
Some call it Dunawood – In the last few years Budapest has become Central Europe’s hot spot for big budget films and TV series.

At practically any time of the year it's possible to turn a corner to find yourself on a film set. Some section of a Budapest street dressed to resemble belle epoque Paris or 1950s Berlin, cordoned off with white ribbon and blokes wandering around with walkie-talkies. Spots like the Brudern Ház (or Caterpillar House currently under restoration at Ferenciek tere 10) you might recognise from the assassination scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Eövtös utca in the 6th district, where the armoured car chase took place in Die Hard 5. You might even get a glimpse of a star - in fact if you're a regular at upmarket establishments like Nobu, chances are you will.

“A Good Day to Die Hard was the largest street show I think that’s ever been done in Hungary. And given that with so many layers of officialdom, the police, the BKK, BKV, I was worried it would be difficult to achieve anything in the time needed. Yet to the city ’s credit, without exception, we took meetings in the City Mayor’s office, and local districts, who were incredible. I mean truly, they opened doors that had never been opened before, and really understood the value of what a film like this would bring to the city. This doesn’t mean there weren’t a dozen contracts and a lot of paperwork to get there, but it worked.”

Adam Goodman, Mid Atlantic Films

In the last decade or so Hungary’s capital city has stood in for Moscow, Buenos Aires, Washington, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna and Baltimore, among others. In 2013, another series of the big budget action series Strike Back was shot here, as was the 150 million dollar blockbuster Hercules, (with Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson as the mythical muscleman). So too was the new NBC series Dracula (a reboot starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Houdini with (Adrien Brody in the titular role) and Fleming, another biopic, this one about Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

It's tempting to romanticise the film and TV business, but the reasons for so many big budget productions choosing Hungary are practical as they come. These days there are half-a-dozen such sound stages in and around Budapest either hosting international film productions. The big names include Origo Studios and Korda Studios. Origo Studios, which opened in 2010, is a $70 million, 45,000-square-foot facility boasting 15 acres of backlot and nine soundstages. Korda Studios, 30 kilometres out of Budapest in Etyek has six sound-stages, including a 63,000-square-foot super-stage, as well as production support facilities, workshops, offices, dressing and makeup rooms and back-lot sets.

The Hungarian government gives international productions a 20% tax rebate on their spend in this country. But even without the refund, filming in Hungary is significantly cheaper than in, for example, the UK perhaps especially for productions that need to build big sets as opposed to shooting on actual locations. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the city itself is just dripping with cinematic sex appeal. With so many films and TV shows (particularly historical mini-series) with multiple speaking parts being shot in Hungary, flying actors in and out especially from London, is both convenient and cost-effective. Yet nowadays there's even a small troupe of English-speaking Hungarian and expatriate actors living here who you will see popping up in various productions.

If you're curious about the film business in Hungary, you can even visit the themed attraction, Korda Filmpark, home to sets and sound stages from feature films such as Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and Season of the Witch, and TV mega-productions like The Borgias and World Without End. They offer individual and group visitors alike throughout the year. After the two-hour exhibition and studio tour you can even take a meal in the same restaurant used by crews, and visit their souvenir shop. That’s Korda Filmpark, Open Wed-Sun 10:00-18:00, for group reservations.
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