It's Hungary for prod'n

New tax breaks, facilities key draws

Sweeping fields of sunflowers dotted here and there with the smaller enclosures of Chardonnay-producing vineyards roll away from a sun-baked hilltop that sits above this small village 16 miles northwest of Budapest.

The chalky soil is good for the grapes — the white wines of Eytek are among the best in Hungary — and the panoramic vista from the hilltop offers uninterrupted views of green below and blue above stretching to the Buda hills far on the horizon.

Once home to Soviet ballistic missile silos, today the hillside has been cleared of its Cold War contamination of bunkers, machine oils and munitions and a new world is taking shape.

On an 84-acre site that broke ground last September and is still under construction, Central Europe's latest new film studios are open for business, with Universal's "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" shooting in its four complete soundstages (totaling a combined 69,000 square feet) and outdoors on its back lot since early June.

The studios are the brainchild of locally born property magnate Sandor Demjan, who owns the hillside and much of the land around it. Investors in the $127 million Korda Studios include Demjan, Hungarian-born Hollywood producer Andrew Vajna, financier Nathaniel Rothschild and Canadian businessman Peter Munk.

The studios are named after Hungarian-born filmmaker Alexander Korda, who built England's Denham Studios in the 1930s and is credited with reviving Britain's depressed pre-World War II film industry (he was knighted by Britain's King George VI in 1942 for his services to the film industry). When completed next year, the new studios at Eytek will boast the world's largest indoor water tank, with graduated depths of up to 20 feet and a clear height of 65 feet.

Dubbed the "superstage," today the 69,000-square-foot filming facility is just a shallow depression in the sun-baked clay and chalk construction site that surrounds the completed soundstages, props and facilities buildings where "Hellboy" — starring Ron Perlman as the eponymous anti-hero — will be filming until the autumn.

The developers brought forward the opening of the studios by three months to accommodate the Universal production, employing an army of 500 laborers on triple 24-hour shifts to finish in time.

"Hellboy's" backers are more than happy. "We had dates to hit and Korda was able to do that, which was fantastic, as otherwise we would be shooting in warehouses," executive producer Chris Symes says.

The decision to shoot at Korda was driven in part by Hungary's much-publicized new 20% tax break on production, Symes adds.

"We all know that studios are bottom-line businesses and costs are paramount," he says. "Hungary has a great advantage over other places because it is a very simple tax credit and that makes all the difference."

Laszlo Krisan, managing director and CEO of Korda Studios, says Demjan is already eyeing new opportunities — in Russia.

"Mr. Demjan is in talks to participate in building new studios in Moscow. Although there are many studios in Russia, they are mainly for the domestic market. Mr. Demjan sees opportunities for studios aimed at the international market."