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Tax Rebates and Thermal Baths

Tax Rebates and Thermal Baths

Filming in Hungary offers everything from a massive amount of production space and a 20-year strong tax rebate to eight symphony orchestras and thermal baths.

On a panel during the Cannes Film Festival at the Marche du Film, film commissionaire Csaba Kael, and producers Ildikó Kemeny, Robert Lantos, and Mike Goodridge spoke about the experiences of filming in Hungary.

Kael noted that commercial film production began in the country in the early 1900s. “It is built into our DNA,” said Kael of filmmaking. Only the U.K. has more film production than Hungary, he said. This year, Hungary is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its offered tax rebate program, which offers films produced in Hungary a 30 percent rebate based on their expenditure.

Lantos, who has been filming in the country since the 1990s prior to the tax credits, said, “Whenever I have a project that needs a European-looking city, my direct path is to Budapest.” He added: “I can say that of all the places in the world where I have made films where the rebate is most guaranteed to function smoothly is in Hungary.”

According to NFI, the total spending on production hit a record high in 2023 in Hungary, reaching $910 million, almost 4 times more than in 2018’s $183 million. As for production capabilities, the National Film Institute is undergoing an expansion at their studio complex, adding four new 2500 sq. meters soundstages, increasing total studio capacity to 12,670 sq meters.

Kemeny served as a producer on Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things that shot in Hungary, building out everything from a fantastical Lisbon town to a luxury cruise liner. “We had hundreds of Hungarians working on that film. There was a big competition amongst many countries of where they would be filming [Poor Things] and we won out because of the economics.” Said Kemeny of the pace of production in the country: “Now, we are up to four or five production this year, just our company.”

And the Hungarian film industry has been building up its local talent. Big-budgeted international productions would often fly in talent but that has changed. Now, more than 80 percent of the production crews on large international features are formed by Hungarian talent. Notably, Hungarian production designer Zsuzsa Mihalek took home the production design Oscar at this year’s Academy Award for Poor Things.

The Nation Film Institute is currently hosting a below-the-line training program so that pool of local talent can continue to expand. The series includes practice-oriented workshops and free open lectures for junior industry professionals, as well as internship opportunities. NFI is also working with film schools, to help train students on the latest in LED wall technology, which was used in the Poor Things.

Lantos’ production Rise of the Raven, a massive middle ages-set epic 10-hour series, shot entirely in the country despite the story taking place everywhere from Serbia to Turkey. “Any production that needs castles or a fort in the 15th, 16th, and 17th century, it’s there now,” he said of the built sets. “The construction and carpentry in Hungary is unlike any place I’ve ever work. So, we made the decision to build and, boy, did we build.” Kael also noted that for any production in need of a castle, there is a larger country-wide initiative to restore and preserve old castles in the region.

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Then, there is post-production. Kael shared that Francis Ford Coppola traveled to the country to record part of the score for Megalopolis (the country boasts eight symphony orchestras), while Lanthimos processed his 35mm celluloid locally at the Hungarian Film Lab/Magyar Film Labor in Budapest.

Goodridge, who will soon begin filming in the country on Son of Saul director Laszló Nemes’s next film, also noted the importance of the country’s easy access to the rest of Europe and larger hospitality industry. The panelists offered their favorite local attractions, including the food, wine and thermal baths.

Said Goodridge: “Look at the big stars and talent that have worked in Hungary. They are comfortable there and that is an important thing. You can have all the tax incentives you like but you also have to have a base of comfort for demanding foreigners.”

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