Hungary Production Boom Builds on ‘Special Film DNA’ in Magyar Industry: ‘There Is a Huge Tradition’ of Cinema in the Central European Country

When it comes to the wild success of the film industry in Hungary, which is the largest production hub in continental Europe and second in Europe only to the U.K., film commissioner Csaba Káel is quick to credit a rich cinematic legacy dating back more than 100 years. “There is a huge tradition,” he said. “We have a special film DNA in Hungary.”

The industry’s ongoing success, however, as well as its hopes for the future, is just as reliant on sound policy and investment from the country’s National Film Institute, along with a deep pool of world-class talent that is the envy of industries twice its size.

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Those were among the takeaways of a panel during the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film that included Káel, Hungarian producer Ildikó Kemény (“Poor Things”), Hungarian-born and Canadian-based producer Robert Lantos (“Crimes of the Future”), and the U.K.’s Mike Goodridge (“Club Zero”), who spoke about their experiences of filming in the country. The event was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Mia Galuppo.

While focusing on the Magyar industry’s proud past, Káel began by looking toward the future, as he highlighted the long-anticipated expansion of the state-backed NFI Studios, which will add four new sound stages totaling 12,000 sq. m. by the end of this year. The complex is one of four studios located within a 20-minute drive of the center of Budapest, underscoring the convenience of shooting in the Hungarian capital.

Budapest — a beautiful, versatile city that’s doubled for Paris, Rome, Munich and countless other places — also offers geographical proximity to a rich trove of locations, including historic sites dating back a thousand years. “We’re making a film set in medieval England next year, and I think the only medieval village we could find is in Hungary,” said Goodridge, who’s set to begin production on Oscar-winning “Son of Saul” director László Nemes “Orphan.”

The panel took place as Hungary celebrates the 20th anniversary of its cash rebate system, which was introduced when the country joined the European Union. “Hungary was the first in Central Europe, and we are very proud of it,” said Káel. He pointed to the ease and efficiency of the 30% cash rebate, which comes with no cap and can be used on both Hungarian and some international spend, describing it as “very simple but very effective.”

“Of all the places in the world where I have made films where the rebate is most guaranteed to function smoothly, it is Hungary,” said Lantos, who’s currently teaming up with Beta Film for the 10-part epic series “Rise of the Raven,” which is filming in the country. “Whenever I have a project that needs a European-looking city, my direct path is to Budapest.”

The producers hailed the skill and professionalism of Hungary’s deep crew base, which Goodridge praised as “extremely experienced.” “There’s a huge pool of below-the-line talent that are respected throughout the world,” he said. Kemény, who served as a producer on Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” recalled how the production relied on Hungary’s elaborate construction and set design to bring the notoriously meticulous and demanding director’s madcap vision to life. The film scooped four Academy Awards, including three for Hungarian below-the-line talent, while coming in at a fraction of what it would have cost the producers elsewhere.

The skill level of Hungary’s crew base has grown exponentially with the continued influx of international productions; whereas a Hollywood or U.K. production might have brought close to three-quarters of its below-the-line work force from overseas two decades ago, that split is now closer to 80-20 in favor of Hungary, according to Káel.

That’s a credit, too, to the wide range of NFI-backed training programs that continue to spur the industry’s development, as it contributes to world cinema in a variety of ways. Lanthimos used the NFI’s film lab in Budapest to process the 35mm celluloid for “Poor Things,” while Francis Ford Coppola touched down in Budapest to record part of the musical score for his $120 million Cannes blockbuster “Megalopolis,” taking advantage of Hungary’s eight symphony orchestras.

Perhaps most importantly, noted Kemény, Budapest feels like a “home away from home” for the many foreign filmmakers and stars who come to shoot there. “It’s very comfortable,” Goodridge agreed. “Look at the talent, the American big stars and directors, that have worked in Hungary. They’re very comfortable there. That’s a very important thing. You can have all the tax incentives you like, but you also have to have a base of comfort for demanding foreigners.”

Pictured (from l. to r.): Mike Goodridge, Ildikó Kemény, Csaba Káel, Robert Lantos, Mia Galuppo

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