Big-budget productions save coin at state-of-the-art facilities

MOSCOW — The sinking of the Titanic is helping buoy the booming biz in Budapest.

While Hungary has been attracting foreign shoots for years with attractive financial incentives, the country’s production infrastructure has hit a level of maturation that’s brought more big-budget — yet budget-conscious — projects to Magyar than ever before.

Stern Film Studio and Media Center’s water tank, billed as Europe’s biggest, hosted the doomed ocean liner for U.K. broadcaster ITV Studio Global Entertainment’s $15 million mini “Titanic,” written by Julian Fellowes and involving international partners that include London’s Lookout Point and Canada’s Global TV. The 98-square-foot heated pool set in a 15,600-square-foot stage, built specifically for the production, can be also be used for regular shoots, says Robert Szabados, Stern’s founder and owner.

The studio — which opened four years ago on the site of a yarn mill Szabados had run for 12 years, before competition from cheaper Chinese textile factories forced him to rethink his line of business — have attracted productions looking to get bang for their buck.

“Hungary is much, much cheaper than England — even without the tax breaks,” Szabados says. “A production costs around a third of the price here” as it does there.

Exec producer Simon Vaughan of Lookout Point says Budapest was a convenient and cost-effective location, particularly for productions where major construction was needed.

Hungary had been chosen after scouting Northern Ireland, Ireland, the U.K. and South Africa. “If you need to build a lot of stuff as opposed to shooting the real world, Hungary is a strong contender for productions,” Vaughn says.

He adds that with the mini’s 80 speaking parts, that flying actors in and out from London — just two hours away by air — was convenient and cost-effective.

Korda studios — located some 20 miles outside Budapest, has six soundstages, including a new 63,000-square-foot superstage, production support facilities, workshops, offices, dressing and makeup rooms and backlot sets. It is fully booked through the end of 2011.

Two major television series, Tandem Communications’ German-Canadian $43 million eight-part TV adaptation of Ken Follett’s “World Without End” and Showtime’s “The Borgias,” the 10-part second season of the historic drama starring Jeremy Irons, have taken up residence at Korda.

“Except for some additional backlot space, there’s not an inch of free space at the studio; we are fully booked by both these major productions until the end of the year,” says Korda CEO Tamas Csapo.

It’s the same story at Raleigh Studios, which opened a $70 million, 45,000-square-foot facility boasting nine soundstages and 15 acres of backlot in Budapest last year.

Steve Auer, Raleigh’s topper in Budapest, says the facility was busy with a BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ novel “Birdsong.”

Other productions that have recently used Budapest include “Asterix: God Save Britain 3D” and “Strike Back” (for HBO).

A segment of a major new Paramount thriller will shoot in town in September.

International producers credit Budapest-based production partner Mid Atlantic Films, led by producers Adam Goodman and Howard Ellis, as being key to helping smoothing the way for Hollywood’s entry into the city. Mid Atlantic has worked on a slew of large-scale international co-production, and most recently was the local co-production partner on Universal’s “47 Ronin,” now in post.

Lookout’s Vaughan credits the two with “having the expertise to run a tight ship and manage multiple projects.”

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