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Hungarian Film Commissioner Csaba Kael on His Ambitious Plans for ‘Hollywood on the Danube’

Just months after assuming the role of Hungarian film commissioner, Csaba Káel has designs on revamping the film and television industries to boost content development and production, expand already formidable studio facilities and become a lynchpin for film and TV production and servicing that extends far beyond Budapest.

Káel took up his post in September, eight months after the death of former film commissioner Andy Vajna, the Hungarian-born producer who after a legendary stint in Hollywood in the 1980s and ‘90s returned to his native country, helping transform it into a thriving production hub while also overhauling its film financing system and introducing a cash rebate.

Káel is determined to build on that foundation, overseeing ambitious plans to integrate the Hungarian film and TV industries while boosting the capacity of what is already the second-biggest production hub in Europe, behind the U.K.

An important first step was taken at the start of the year, when the Hungarian National Film Institute was restructured so that decisions related to the production of films, TV series, and VOD content are all made under the same roof. The new system nearly doubles the amount of funding available to Hungarian producers, while also offering greater flexibility than the previous system. Under the new structure, for example, a project conceived for the big screen could be developed as a TV series instead.

It’s part of a wider effort to ensure that Hungary can continue to enjoy a creative flourishing that in recent years has produced such visionary works as Ildikó Enyedi’s Academy Award nominee “Body and Soul” and Laszlo Nemes’ foreign-language Oscar winner “Son of Saul.”

Káel hopes such changes will also have a knock-on effect that stimulates more co-productions around the region. “For us, it’s all a local market,” he said, citing common cultural and historical bonds among neighboring countries. “Not only Hungary, but Central Europe.” The film institute is also developing a VOD platform that could solve some of the thorny issues of distribution in a market of just 10 million.

No less important are plans to improve the capacity to service foreign productions in what’s been dubbed “Hollywood on the Danube.” Káel said that 0.15% of Hungary’s GDP comes from service work in the film and TV industries, noting that it’s “one of the highest proportions in Europe.”

That service work has come at a price, however, with Budapest studio space booked year-round. One way the new commissioner is responding to sky-high demand from large international productions is the expansion of the Mafilm Studio complex on the outskirts of Budapest, with two new soundstages expected to open in the next three years.

Another challenge will be remaining competitive in a region that has seen competitors like Poland and Romania introduce cash rebates as high as 45%. While Káel expressed an interest in raising Hungary’s 30% rebate, however, negotiations with the government are still ongoing.

On the agenda in the year ahead is the new commissioner’s first visit to Hollywood. Káel cited a rich tradition dating back to the days of trailblazers like Fox Studios founder William Fox and Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, both Hungarian immigrants. “It’s a good opportunity to develop our [relationship],” he said.

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