Andy Vajna, whose credits during his time as a Hollywood producer included movies from the “Rambo” and “Terminator” franchises, is sitting on a yacht in Cannes’ Old Port surveying the horizon, and all looks fair. His focus nowadays — as Hungary’s film commissioner — is on helping international producers navigate a smooth and successful shoot for their movies in his country, and propelling Hungarian films into the global market. He’s making waves on both fronts.
Hungary is the second-biggest production hub in Europe after the U.K., with international producers attracted by the 25% tax rebate, the skilled crews and the modern production facilities. “We were nowhere five years ago,” Vajna says. Six to eight major international movies shoot in Hungary every year, as well as 10 or so films with an above-average budget. Recent productions have included 20th Century Fox spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, and Lionsgate’s retelling of the English folklore tale “Robin Hood: Origins,” starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx. Next up is “Colette,” starring Keira Knightley, a period biopic set in Paris, from the same team that produced the multi-Oscar-nominated “Carol.”
Among major TV series shooting in Hungary this year are “The Alienist,” produced by Paramount Television for TNT, season six of HBO-Sky’s “Strike Back,” and season two of “Mars,” produced by Imagine Entertainment for National Geographic.
The productions coming to Hungary now are “better, bigger” than in previous years, Vajna says. “Budgets are increasing. The majors are realizing they can get the maximum value for their dollars in Hungary. The state system is very uncomplicated, simple to administer. They have now developed the confidence that it really works, so everybody is coming back.”
It is this streamlining of the bureaucracy that has helped underpin the country’s success in attracting producers to the country. “We are trying to perfect our service and reduce the bureaucracy. If you are a producer it is very helpful to be able to get to the people that make the decisions and have it done right away,” he says. “You apply for a location, and in three days you get an answer. If you want to apply for the tax refund, you turn in your accounting, it gets verified, and you get paid the next day.”
Other enhancements are in the pipeline. A number educational projects have been set up to improve both the crew base and creative resources. “We want to have a deeper selection of crews,” Vajna says. Whereas in the past during very busy periods there were too few backup crews now they have “a strategy for developing the backups.” A new film school is being set up that will produce more writers, editors and directors. Facilities are continuing to be improved, such as the addition of a huge water tank that almost rivals in size the one in Malta, and a range of standing sets are now available.
Vajna has also overseen an upturn in the fortunes of Hungarian productions. Last year, László Nemes’ “Son of Saul” won the foreign-language Oscar, and at this year’s Berlin Film Festival the Golden Bear went to a Hungarian movie, Ildikó Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul.” At Cannes this month the country had films in competition, Kornél Mundruczó’s “Jupiter’s Moon,” and Un Certain Regard, György Kristóf’s “Out,” and another local film, racehorse drama “Kincsem,” is tearing up the box-office turf on home soil.
Upcoming local film productions include Márta Mészáros’ period drama “Aurora Borealis,” Éva Gárdos’ crime thriller “Budapest Noir,” Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe winner János Szász’s crime story “The Butcher, the Whore and the One-Eyed Man,” Gábor Csupó’s musical comedy “Pappa Pia,” and “Kontroll” and “Predators” director Nimród Antal’s crime story “The Whisky Robber.”