Budapest, hungry for Hollywood


Any executive going to the Festival de Cannes this month might want to think about staying in Europe a little longer and make their way east to Hungary, where the capital of Budapest is turning into one of the summer's filmmaking hot spots.

The country always has enjoyed a strong filmmaking culture, but it wasn't as high on Hollywood's list as such other eastern European locations as Prague or Bulgaria. But with Universal Pictures' "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army," directed by Guillermo del Toro, prepping for a June start, and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," an adaptation of John Boyne's Holocaust novel, now shooting, Budapest is enjoying a new Hungarian revolution.

The latest move is Raleigh Studios' opening of an office in the capital to offer production services. Raleigh Film Budapest is situated on the MAFILM Studio Lot and will serve as the company's European base of operations as it expands into the region. On top of serving up local crews and craft, facilities and English-speaking keys, the office will have in its corner the advantage of a 24/7 connection to its North American operations.

Raleigh Studios president Michael Moore has hired Los Angeles-based executive producer Jonathan Miller to serve as managing director and brought in Hungarian producer Gabor Varga and Hungarian production manager Peter Seres as key production executives.

"It makes sense for us geographically and just as a production hub," Moore said. "They've got great crews there, great access to equipment there, it's very central, and it's got a great Western sensibility to it."

The two major factors in Budapest's newfound popularity are rising prices in competing Prague and Hungary's muscular 20% tax rebate on all film production dollars spent in the country.

"The tax break that Hungary offers has helped reduce the costs. ... Prague offers no tax break and has become more expensive," "Pajamas" producer David Heyman said.

Moore agreed: "Hungary is still a very good value, even without the tax incentives."

Another plus singled out by Budapest supporters is the diverse architecture of the city, which can double for Paris, London or even a medieval setting. It's also where Steven Spielberg shot part of "Munich."

For "Pajamas," Heyman said the filmmakers "were able to find a concentration camp that was already in existence, and parts of Budapest serve as a good double for Berlin in the '40s, which was exactly what we needed."

The city is seeing quite a bit of construction of state-of-the-art studio space, and Raleigh plans to join the building boom. It is working on plans in conjunction with Origo Studios to open a studio and production facility that will join the ranks of its operations in Hollywood and Baton Rouge, La.

Dewey Decimal System no help here

If you were a historic landmark, you wouldn't appreciate a bunch of whippersnappers rollerblading on your marble floors, but that is exactly what the venerable New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue faced when the new ABC drama "Traveler" came a-knocking.

"Traveler," which debuts at 10 p.m. Thursday, follows two men who are framed for blowing up a New York museum after they are seen fleeing the scene on rollerblades. What they actually were doing, according to the script, is participating in the latest fad of skating down staircases.

The original script called for rollerskating in the Guggenheim Museum, as the boys pay homage to a scene in 1991's "L.A. Story," but when execs scouted the location, they found that museum covered in scaffolding.

"You couldn't even shoot the exterior of it," said David Nutter, who directed the pilot. "And there were lots of issues with respect to clearances availability. So we basically said, 'Where else can we try to do this?' "

They found the 96-year-old library amenable to their needs, though strict precautions had to be taken. On the steps and staircases, the production rolled out adhesive hard matte tape. On landings and floors, workers unfurled marble laminate. The normal hard wheels of the rollerblades were switched out for a softer, cushier material. The production leaned away from normal lighting gear, whose stands could scrape the floor, instead relying on helium balloons with soft lights, which protected any artwork that could be damaged by normal hard, hot lighting.

The safety of the location was just as important to the production crew as was the safety of the stuntmen on rollerblades.

"It was a situation of being really sensitive," Nutter said. "This is a historic landmark, and we needed to treat it with the utmost respect and not damage it, not even a scratch."