Just six months after the expansion of the European Union into a club of 27, the latest players from the East are rolling out new studios, incentives and services aimed at grabbing their share of the foreign production pie.
In the spirit of burgeoning new markets, all of the significant expansion is coming from the private sector. The $124 million Korda Film Studio, on a former missile base outside Budapest, and PFI Studios in Serbia, a slick facility just outside Belgrade, constitute the first new, purpose-built major stage complexes in the region.
PFI, which with 452,000 square feet of space eclipses most for sheer scale, was launched by Pink Media Group, one of the largest such conglomerates in the region and which was already leasing television studios from state studio Avala.
PFI, still in its first phase, features five stages, a 30-acre back lot, and loads of office space; a further expansion is planned for next year, says topper Barbara Sandic.
Despite the weak dollar, Sandic says, Western projects in Serbia are “mostly likely to use local crews,” which have also been helping build the reviving country’s location rep.
Korda adds a badly needed 38,000 square feet, four soundstages, and support buildings to Hungary’s capacity and plans to beef things up with two more stages (one a 60,000-square-foot floodable “superstage”), screening rooms, post-production, film lab, restaurant and sound studio by year-end.
Owned by a group including Hungarian real estate mogul Sandor Demjan, with minority investors such as the Hungarian-born producer Andrew Vajna, Korda made the difference for Universal’s “Hellboy 2,” which shot its first installment in Prague but moved south to Hungary for cost reasons and because the new hall opened months early to accommodate the pic.
When Adam Goodman, topper at service provider Mid Atlantic Films, was charged with finding the best deal for U, Korda, he says, though new, fit the bill: “It was about getting the number down, a combination of Hungarian rates and the 20% rebate.”
Despite caution about moving in with a not-yet-proven player, “We met with the principals of Korda, and due to their entrepreneurial foresight, they pushed up the opening,” he says. Now Mid Atlantic has moved its own offices to the facility. “They’re still building around us.”
Managing director Laszlo Krisan says he believes the boost in space, in combination with Hungary’s 20% cash-back incentive, will mean enough business for everyone. The Hungarian Film Office agrees, estimating the country’s foreign film spend at $172 million for 2007 with seven or eight major shoots.
In addition, Hungarian- and Canadian-owned Film Studio and Media Center in Pomaz, north of Budapest, has two soundstages of 23,500 and 16,000 square feet. It opened at the end of 2006 and has already landed the $65 million fantasy musical “Nutcracker — The Untold Story,” with John Turturro, Nathan Lane and Elle Fanning. Andrei Konchalovsky-helmed pic is set for July start.
Upgrading old studios, meanwhile, is boosting business in many locations. Prague’s venerable Barrandov has had its new $9 million soundstage Max booked since it opened in December, hosting “Babylon A.D.” with Vin Diesel, followed by “Wanted” with James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman.
One new Prague studio, Gatteo, which has also done a good deal of the construction for both the Barrandov pics, is doing well enough to have launched its first self-produced Czech pic, “Darkness,” by veteran helmer Juraj Herz, which will shoot at Gatteo.
Bulgaria’s former state studio, Boyana, now NU Boyana Film Studios, has finally been bought out after a complicated purchase by American David Varod, who has invested substantially in updating it.
“What we are doing here,” he says, “is a complete renovation and modernization of the current structures and infrastructure.”
The work includes retrofitting offices and work space, tripling “all the basic equipment we have right now,” launching a new lab with Kodak, setting up a CGI studio, hiring 200 people, upgrading all departments and expanding the back lot with more than a mile of city streets, plus a Roman and European street set.
Boyana is also adding 14 stages to its original four, making for 12,000 square meters (130,000 square feet) of space.
Another U.S. production facility, Raleigh Studios, is moving into Hungarian space, having opened offices in the Mafilm Studio lot in Budapest and offering production services. One Raleigh selling point is the connection to its Hollywood know-how. Raleigh also plans to build a soundstage and production facility in Budapest.