Hollywood Loves Hungary


By Diane Dobry


BIG BLEND RADIO INTERVIEW: Diane Dobry discusses the longtime connection between Hollywood and Hungary. Watch her interview below in the YouTube player or download the audio podcast on PodBean or SoundCloud.

The U.S. may lay claim to Hollywood, but truth is, it often takes a global village to make a movie. Going as far back the early days of film, world events often forced actors, technicians, set decorators, costume designers, and cinematographers from Central and Eastern Europe, most notably Hungary, to seek refuge in Hollywood.

Actors such as Tony Curtis, Béla Lugosi, the Gabor sisters, and even Paul Newman and Drew Barrymore are more familiar names that give just a hint of Hungarian Hollywood, but talented filmmakers and cinematographers from Hungary also contributed to classic films that have stood the test of time.  Some are Michael Curtiz (Mihaly Kertesz), director of “Casablanca,” Zoltan Korda, a producer and director who worked with Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, and Sidney Poitier. His brother, Sir Alexander Korda, is said to have been a founder of the British film industry, working with stars Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Orson Welles. 

More recent Hollywood Hungarians have included cinematographer László Kovács, who worked on “Ghost Busters,” and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, whose work included “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Today, Hollywood heads to Hungary for much of its filming and production needs, where there is support for the film industry through tax incentives and the Hungarian National Film Fund.

Classic European or Communist-era architecture, as well as modern structures, have been used for films such as Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy, in which scenes shot in Budapest represented locations in Paris, Rome, and Bulgaria, as well as Hungary. More than just a location for background scenes, which some producers and directors have said offers a generic European feel, several large sound stages with talented production crews have been established to provide a professional back-up to the location shots. It’s not unusual to hear about celebrities like Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis being spotted at local shopping malls and restaurants. Don’t forget SNL’s Kate McKinnon who showed off her Hungarian rap skills on the Tonight Show.

Film studios, including Korda Filmpark, in the village of Etyek, have been established. Opened in 2008 a half-hour from Budapest, Korda has been dubbed “Etyekwood,” and is continuing in the tradition of the filmmaking Korda brothers. This studio and others—like Origo Film Group, Mafilm Studios, and Stern Studio—offer filmmakers enormous hangars for interior shots and large outdoor sets to which they add digitized backdrops to expand exteriors. Korda’s New York City set is a street where scenes from “Hellboy II” were shot, and a large and complex outdoor set of Medieval and Renaissance structures is the backdrop of “The Emerald City” and “The Borgias” TV series. Other familiar productions from Korda include “The Martian,” “Inferno,” “Season of the Witch,” and, recently, “Blade Runner 2049.”  

At Korda Filmpark, tourists can sign up for a 90-minute guided walk through an indoor exhibition area that has green screen demonstration activities, the chance to play with sound, digital and visual effects, exhibits of special effects make-up and costumes, along with a 30–to-40-minute tour of film sets. Check their website for details, which are available in English. 

The latest Warner Bros. Pictures movie “Dune,” based on Frank Herbert’s fiction novel, was partially shot in Budapest at Origo Film Studios. Origo boasts of having worked on more than 50 films in its 10-year history. Stars of Dune—Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, and Jason Momoa—were also reportedly spotted hanging out in the city.

Hungary also contributes animation to the film industry. One such studio, Kecskemétfilm Ltd., in Kecskemét, is only about an hour southeast of Budapest.  Ferenc Mikulás, the studio’s founder and director, and Laszlo Toth, project manager and associate producer, have been in the animation business for a long time. The film studio staff oversees the Kecskemet Animation Film Festival (KAFF), an international event held every second year. At this year’s film festival, in August—a change from their usual mid-June schedule—the animation studio will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The free event features a week of movies and networking among artists and filmmakers, many from Europe and Hungary, who show their films around the world. 

Mikulás originally created the film festival during Communism, when artists in Hungary could not participate in most other festivals. By locating KAFF in Hungary, he sought to bring in foreign filmmakers to network with Hungarian artists, and bring Hungarian artists together to share their work.

In 2017, the Academy Award-nominated film The Red Turtle was not only screened at KAFF—in a theater and outdoors at a city center wine festival—but the film’s Dutch Animator Michaël Dudok de Wit gave its introduction. Dudok de Wit, who is invited to hundreds of film festivals, personally attended the Kecskemet event because Kecskemetfilm studio provided a good part of the film’s artwork and clean-up.

Hungarian filmmakers are not only working for Hollywood. They also produce Academy- Award-winning films in their own right, such as “Son of Saul,” which won for Foreign Language Film in 2016, and “Sing,” which won for Best Live Action Short Film in 2017.  

Look closely next time you watch a film supposedly set in France or Italy; it could actually be the generic Europe that Budapest offers. And, if you happen to be traveling in that part of the world or planning a river cruise out of Budapest, consider a film festival or a tour of a studio where Hollywood movies and TV series are being made these days.  And, while you’re there, keep your eyes open; you might just run into Arnold Schwarzenegger as you stroll through the city. He said he’d be back.

For more information see:

Kecskemetfilm Ltd  https://www.kecskemetfilm.hu/en/homepage

Korda Filmpark https://kordastudio.hu/   

Dr. Diane Dobry lives to eat, teach, travel and tell stories. With a special interest in Hungary, home of her ancestors, she imported their wine to the US for three years. She’s writing a memoir—Getting Hungary—and a book on Hungarian wine—Thirsty for Hungary. Combining her interest in food, wine and travel with an interest in “spirits,” her websites are www.GettingHungary.com and a new age website www.HungarianAquarian.com.  She is a member of IFWTWA, received a Fulbright Award, a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Internationalization and a COIL Award to create an online global wine class, and she speaks Hungarian…conversationally.



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About the Author:

Dr. Diane Dobry lives to eat, teach, travel and tell stories. With a special interest in Hungary, home of her ancestors, she imported their wine to the US for three years.

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