HBO Hungary counters production drought

Former Sony exec to oversee Central European production

Despite a state budget crisis and a flagging economy that has ground scores of film and TV productions to a halt, HBO Hungary is launching two homegrown series under its new head of regional production.

Antony Root, former senior VP of European production for Sony Pictures Television, begins his first day on the job as executive VP of regional production for HBO Central Europe today. Root will oversee and co-ordinate production in all HBO CE’s networks and is expected to ramp up the biz.

HBO Hungary, part of the HBO Central Europe network, will begin shooting a local version of Israeli psychoanalysis drama “Be tipul” (aired as “In Treatment” in the U.S. and B’tipul in Israel) in Budapest on Nov. 22 for a fall 2012 premier.

HBO Hungary has greenlighted a 40-episode first season, based on the strong reception of the format in Romania, where the series is now entering its second season. Local versions of “Be Tipul” are about to preem on HBO Czech and Poland.

The network also will preem a Hungarian version of Israeli teen romance “When Shall We Kiss” on Oct. 23. A cult hit when it aired on Israel’s Channel 10 in late 2007, the format (originally produced by Abot Barkai Prods.) is also being considered for other markets in HBO CE, said Katalin Schulteisz, original productions executive for HBO Hungary.

According to the series’ Israeli creator, Dalit Kahan, this format is also being produced in Russia and the Ukraine. He credits the accessibility of the series’ characters for its adaptability. “It is a human story everyone can relate to,” Kahan told Variety.

In addition to documentary production — HBO Hungary produces three to four docs a year — HBO CE is now considering original scripted productions.

“We want to move out of formats and start producing our own material,” Schulteisz said. “We’re looking at lots of scripts and concepts.”

HBO’s production blitz comes as the recession, budget cuts and industry restructuring has created a slowdown in domestic filmmaking. “I feel like I’m on an island,” Schulteisz said. “It’s an exciting time to be at HBO. Not very many people are doing what we are doing in the market place. Not with this quality.”