Budapest hungry for Hollywood

Low prices, tax rebates help; Raleigh Studios sets up shop in city

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, saying, "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.