New studios bullish on volume amid tough times

Raleigh, Korda openings put strain on little guys

With the recent opening of Raleigh Studios just outside Budapest, Hungary now boasts so much production capacity that it may actually become a problem, at least for studios and other facilities who find themselves having to compete harder than ever for a limited amount of foreign coin.

Not that anyone’s in any immediate danger of shutting their doors. Production profits in 2009, based heavily on foreign shoots, reached north of $147 million, setting a 20-year record. And the proactive Motion Picture Public Foundation of Hungary (MMK) has just secured a three-year deal with the Ministry of Culture, which sets a long-term planning framework for producers — and not just those Westerners planning to take advantage of the country’s much-vaunted 20% cash-back incentives.

Some E19 million ($25.2 million) are in place to support local productions, which translates into more features and docu output than any other country of its size in the region.

And with the full-service Raleigh offering a 4,373-square-meter stage and partnering with an established Hollywood entity, the country now features two huge studios with backlots and top-line high-tech toys. The other, Korda, opened with a coup by stealing “Hellboy II” away from Prague in 2007 and, though it has been quieter since, is picking up again with a mix of respectable projects.

The pair represent “two of the newest purpose-built soundstage studios in Europe,” says Raleigh topper Michael Moore. “To our knowledge, there isn’t a full-service facility like ours anywhere. To have FotoKem on the lot, representing some of the latest in post-production technology, is a great addition and is being very well received by potential clients.”

Add to that the smaller but respected studios of Astra, Mafilm, Stern and even the formerly state-run Fox, and it’s clearly a buyer’s market.

“Exceptionally incredible deals” — that’s how Adam Goodman, topper at service provider and sometime co-producer Mid Atlantic Films, describes the bonanza, citing low hotel rates amid the recession.

Mid Atlantic, which acts as gatekeeper and facilitator to foreign crews shopping for studios in Hungary, finds itself in the enviable position of being able to guide the money to the market without having to recoup a massive capital investment as some studios do.

Tamas Csutak, head of industry guru Abacus-Consult, points out that those who racked up major debts to upgrade or open are indeed nervous now. While bullish on Hungarian studios’ value for money proposition, he predicts that some may yet have to shut down.

Foreign shoots would just about have to double to keep them all above the break-even point, he says.

But betting against Hungarian success is never wise, says Raleigh topper Michael Moore, who points out that filmmaking is deeply ingrained in the country’s culture and history.

If not enough Western coin can be found, Hungary is fine with hosting more European co-productions — or Asian ones, says Gabor Boszormenyi, head of sales at Mafilm.

Besides, he adds, smaller can be better: “We target the medium-budget productions from the States and Europe, which intend to get as much for their money as they can. Raleigh and Korda might have bigger and more complex studios than ours, but these features are usually not exploited by a medium-budget production.”

Come what may, Goodman claims, Hungary’s rep for can-do crews, studios and promotional orgs has placed it firmly among Eastern Europe’s most attractive locations.

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