David Holzer talks to György Rajnai, the man who runs the Korda film studios, to find out how Hungary has become so successful in attracting foreign film productions to the country.
The HBO series “Succession” centers on the amoral, backbiting Roy family as they fight for control of a global media and leisure empire created by patriarch Logan Roy. A few weeks ago, the family and their acolytes went on a supposed team-building retreat in the Hungarian countryside.
Curious to find out why, I spoke to György Rajnai, CEO of Korda Studios in Etyek, about 30 km west of Budapest. The studios are named for Hungarian-born film producer and director Sir Alexander Korda. It has seven state-of-the-art soundstages, including one of the biggest in the world, nearly 6,000 sqm to accommodate productions, and almost 7,000 sqm of warehouse and workshop areas.
There’s also plenty of space for set construction as well as themed backlot sets. The studio began by providing facilities for other production companies, but has been producing its own movies for more than two years.
Rajnai, who has a degree in banking and finance, spent more than 15 years outside Hungary working in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France. He has been running Korda for the past five years.
“I’m more of an operational guy than a passionate movie person,” Rajnai told me. “But it’s certainly not a boring industry. And, of course, I appreciate the fun it provides.”
The number of big budget movies made in Hungary, including this year’s “Gemini Man”, is impressive. What is the studio’s role in the films it is involved in?
“We mostly work for foreign studios via two large local production service companies. We have just done our first major co-production as a production service provider, a USD 30 million project with CBS that will put us in the major league.”
And why do filmmakers choose Hungary? “There are a number of reasons. The system the country has in place to service foreign productions is extremely solid. Our currency doesn’t fluctuate much. If it does, it gets weaker, giving filmmakers a better return. It’s safe to film here. There are plenty of comfortable places to stay. We have excellent, affordable production facilities. There are between three and five companies to choose from for each service needed and our crews are fantastic. We now have around 15 Oscar and Emmy award-winners heading departments. Hungary can also play different seasons, unlike somewhere like LA, and it can double for cities like London, Paris, Moscow or Berlin.”
To give you an idea of just how versatile the Korda facilities can be, HBO’s “Succession” is set, broadly speaking, in modern day America. The Netflix series “The Last Kingdom”, which has just finished shooting its fourth season at the studios and is now in post-production, is set in ninth century Anglo-Saxon England.
Apart from all the other advantages of filming in Hungary, the key reason is the country has a very strong tax rebate system. In June 2018, this was increased from 25% to 30%.
To explain what this means in more detail, Rajnai put me in touch with Károly Radnai, a partner in Hungarian firm OrienTax Zrt., who contributed to a 2016 study of the film industry’s economic impact on the country.
The lengthy report looked at what the film industry means to the economy, what return the government gets on what it spends on film production and the benefits of positive PR from film production. I’m not an economist, so I’ll put what Radnai told me in the simplest terms possible.
The rebate has a big impact on GDP. Overall tax income as a result is significantly more than the rebate itself. But, since the report was published, other taxes have been reduced so the impact is not as profound as it might have been. In 2016, the number of people working in film in Hungary was around 10,000. Transportation, rental and construction companies and hotels all benefit.
BrodyLand, which provides boutique accommodation and a popular members club in central Budapest, is one of the organizations that has benefited from the film industry.
Co-founder Peter Grundberg told me, “At BrodyLand, we’ve hosted, accommodated, fed and watered numerous local and visiting film cast and crew. It’s been a privilege and great fun, with wonderful friendships being formed. We’ve noticed how many of the international film community return to Budapest and the warm affection that so many of them have for the city and their local colleagues. This speaks volumes about the hard work put in by local players to put Budapest so indelibly on the world film map.”
From a PR point of view, it’s hard to measure impact. But it is clear that the fact that big productions shot in Hungary are in the news adds to the positive image of the country and has a knock-on effect on tourism.
The good times for Budapest seem set to continue for now. Production expenses were HUF 125 billion in 2017/2018 and are expected to be roughly the same in 2019.
All available crew and sound stage resources were used. This meant prices went up, but it also increased the danger of the Hungarian film industry losing its competitive edge at a time when Poland and Romania are keen to attract film industry big money.
It’s good to see that Korda Studios is reinvesting some of its profits into a film park which will shortly re-open to the public. The revamped park will show how films are really made, from how producers get money to what happens in production.
Visitors will be able to role play as, among other things, producers and writers but perhaps not stuntmen or women. According to Rajnai, the concept has already been praised by foreign filmmakers.
The studio also takes part in schemes to encourage young Hungarian filmmakers. One of these, created by the Hungarian Film Find and funded by 0.5% of the budget of foreign filmmakers, provides training for people who work in film, from cameramen to accountants. The studio offers its facilities free of charge.
Let’s hope we’re about to see a new generation of Hungarian filmmakers make their mark on the world scene.
Find out more about Korda Filmpark at kordafilmpark.hu.