When producer Robert Lantos began developing the big-budget historical drama series “Rise of the Raven,” adapting Hungarian author Bán Mór’s series of bestselling novels presented obvious challenges. “It’s an 11-volume novel, each volume being 500-600 pages long,” says Lantos. It took several writers and the better part of a decade to find a way forward, something the producer describes as “finding a creative solution to a jigsaw puzzle.”
With a budget that Lantos describes as “competitive with English-language productions of that scope and that size,” financing the series was the second challenge, with the producer determined to secure the majority of the show’s financing from the host country. “It’s ambitious. It’s certainly by far the biggest thing done in that part of the world, not just in Hungary,” he says. The last puzzle piece finally fell into place when Hungary’s National Film Institute (NFI) issued its first ever funding call for television and online content in early 2020.
That decision from the state-backed funding body has given a boost to the growing Magyar TV biz, at a time when domestic film production is hitting all-time highs. Along with “Raven,” another hotly anticipated series is “Balaton Brigade,” a prestige historical spy thriller series produced by Budapest-based Joyrider and Film Force and co-produced by Germany’s Flare Entertainment. The eight-part series, which will be directed by Oscar nominee Ildikó Enyedi, was recently boarded by Newen Connect, a further reflection of how Hungarian TV series are finding traction in the international market.
It’s been a banner year as well for a domestic film industry that’s celebrating its 120th anniversary, beginning with the Berlin Film Festival, where for the first time two Hungarian titles – “Forest – I See You Everywhere,” from veteran auteur Bence Fliegauf, and “Natural Light” from feature debutant Dénes Nagy – competed for the Golden Bear. The successful run continued in Cannes, where Enyedi’s “The Story of My Wife” competed for the Palme d’Or and Kornél Mundruczó’s “Evolution” bowed in the Cannes Premiere section, while this week director Gábor Fabricius will present his feature debut, “Erasing Frank” (pictured), in Venice Critics’ Week.
Hungarian film commissioner Csaba Káel believes the growing domestic film and TV output is beginning to echo the production services boom in what is Europe’s second-largest hub for international shoots. “The last two decades, we became better and better on the side of service work. We have wonderful colleagues below the line who work on these productions,” he says, noting the success of films like Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” which was the talk of the Lido after its premiere this week at the Venice Film Festival. “We would like to develop the above-the-line activities, too.”
Government funding for the National Film Institute has increased in recent years, leading to initiatives such as the Incubator Program, which supports emerging filmmakers developing their first feature films. “It’s really helpful for the young generation,” says Viktória Petrányi of Proton Cinema, who recently produced “Wild Roots,” from first-time director Hajni Kis, which premiered this summer in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West competition. “It’s a very important scheme…[and] has great outcomes.”
The NFI provided nearly $50 million in financing in 2021 for film, TV and online productions, an amount that has helped to jump-start domestic production. Nineteen feature-length films were being readied for domestic and international release this year, including “The Grandson,” the debut feature from Kristóf Deák, who won an Academy Award for best live-action short. Oscar winner László Nemes (“Son of Saul”) is among the established names prepping their next features.
Still, financing on the whole remains a challenge, while some industry players suggest that not every script in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary has an equal shot at government funding. “Even if there’s more money in the system, it’s not so easy to get,” says one producer. “Difficult projects or edgy dramas…[are] very fragile at the moment,” says Petrányi, adding, “I really do hope that we can keep talking about important things, and we can keep presenting social problems or life dramas on screen.”
A growing trend toward international co-productions offers a way forward for both risqué projects and producers trying to round out their budgets. A 30% cash rebate – which can rise to 37.5% with qualifying non-Hungarian costs – is an attractive incentive to lure foreign partners.
István Major, of Budapest-based Film Team, received an estimated $1.4 million from the tax credit and an additional $600,000 from the NFI as a minority co-producer of “Get Lost,” a young adult film directed by Daniela Amavia and starring Ella Bleu Travolta. The bulk of the $5.5 million budget was financed by Michael Mendelsohn’s Patriot Pictures. “It’s not so common that the National Film Institute is supporting an American movie,” notes Major, yet another sign that the Hungarian industry is growing beyond its borders.