It almost feels like Hollywood.
Hungary’s studios and streets are populated year-round with film crews these days as, increasingly, international partners team with local producers on ambitious series and film projects. And each production includes players who bring unique strengths to the table, whether in terms of local knowledge or global connections.
Yet, oddly enough, the vast majority of non-Hungarian shoots in Hungary still involve a foreign producer hiring a local service company rather than co-producing with one.
A handful of exceptions show how Hungarian shingles can and do partner with incoming companies to mutual benefit. In one closely watched example, Budapest’s Korda Studios is now co-producing the second season of hostage drama series “Ransom” from Entertainment One, Canada’s Corus Entertainment and Sienna Films, and Frank Spotnitz’ Big Light Productions (“The Man in the High Castle”). CBS and Global announced the season 2 renewal on Oct. 10.
And regular fest honoree Gyorgy Palfi (“Hukkle,” “Taxidermia,” “Free Fall”) is currently in post-production on “His Master’s Voice,” a cunning sci-fi story co-produced with Canada’s Quiet Revolution Pictures based on a Stanislaw Lem novel. In it, a thirty-something Hungarian journalist follows the trail of his father, who disappeared in the U.S. and puzzles over a possible connection to a space program that listens for signals from outer space.
Meanwhile, Kornél Mundruczo’s “Jupiter’s Moon,” which won attention in competition at Cannes this year, is a magical realist refugee story co-produced by Hungary’s Viktoria Petranyi and Germany’s Match Factory.
Another project, animated feature “The Legend of King Solomon,” by Albert Hanan Kaminski, is the first joint Israeli-Hungarian co-production, with Budapest’s Cinemon Entertainment on board for the youth-oriented saga.
Other Hungarian production companies are looking outward regionally on ventures that cover a healthy mix of genres for diverse target audiences.
Poland’s eminent director Krzysztof Zanussi, for one, was won over by the Oscar-winning work of Budapest’s Laokoon Film, which produced “Son of Saul” in 2015 as a wholly Hungarian film. Zanussi approached them with his idea for a Faustian tale of a military doctor who conducts medical experiments to gain special powers.
The new project, “Ether,” is a victory of sorts for Laokoon, acknowledges producer Judit Stalter, who says her earlier venture “Saul” wasn’t able to attract a single foreign partner. That film’s bold stylistic approach — employing extensive close-ups and backgrounds largely blurred, among other techniques — was enough to give the jitters to potential partners who were approached.
“Ether,” on the other hand, has attracted not just Poland’s Studio Filmowe TOR (Agnieszka Holland’s “Spoor”) but also Ukraine’s Interfilm Production Studio and Lithuania’s Studio Uljana Kim.
Stalter says the key to making this joint project work was the mix of complementary artistic contributions from each partner, adding that the Hungarian Film Fund came on board after a meeting at the Berlinale, resulting in fast-tracked financing that took about three months.
“When we saw the kind of diversity that would be there I was convinced it was a great package,” says Stalter, adding that the compelling story and Zanussi’s name prestige were also important factors.
Poland is lead partner of the project, getting the most shooting days there, while Hungary gets some too in November along with a meaty role for an actor; Ukraine also gets shooting days while Lithuania provides gear.
Another instructive co-production, “The Carer,” a tender comedy starring Brian Cox as a fusty British film icon with a feisty young Hungarian caregiver, came together using a combination of the U.K. tax credit scheme and Hungary’s similar incentive — an attractive 25% rebate that has made the country very popular with filmmakers over the past few years.
As Steve Bowden of U.K.’s Vita Nova Films says, “The film was set in the U.K. so shot in the U.K., but with camera and grip, sound, lighting and art department coming from Hungary. We crewed the film primarily with Hungarians, shooting wholly in the U.K. and post-produced the film in Hungary.”
Under the European Union’s formal co-production rules, Bowden adds, “The Carer” met both British and Hungarian cultural tests, but the process “meant that compromises were made on that road to qualification. These compromises,” he continues, “can create an energy that fuels the production and adds to the creative process or it can sometimes result in a so-called ‘Euro pudding’ where the film doesn’t quite achieve its artistic intentions. This can create extra pressure on an already difficult and high-stakes endeavor.”
Bowden also notes that everyone is still learning. The contrasting production norms of U.K. and Hungarian crews offered a key lesson. “I think we tend to underestimate the differences in our approaches to filming,” he says.
But as co-production activity rises, and the lessons are learned, everyone benefits.