Budapest, where Hollywood dreams are made
Spotting Hollywood hunks is no big deal any more in Budapest, Hungary. It is now one of Europe's top hubs for foreign film productions thanks to attractive tax breaks and cutting-edge facilities.
Some of the biggest US blockbusters in recent years were filmed here, including last year's thriller Inferno with Tom Hanks.
Budapest was back in the headlines when heartthrob Ryan Gosling, 36, was in town to film the follow-up to the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.
The cover story of glossy US men's magazine GQ showed Gosling posing in the Hungarian capital's most beautiful spots. A marketing triumph for the government, except for a minor jarring note.
In one photo, Gosling is lazing in a bed with a copy of the Magyar Nemzet newspaper, which is owned by the nemesis of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The PR glitch was swiftly fixed by pro-government broadcaster TV2, which blurred the paper's name. The owner of TV2 is Orban ally Andy Vajna, who has been state film commissioner since 2011.
He spent most of his career in Hollywood and produced numerous hits including the Terminator films.
Mr Vajna is one of the masterminds credited with boosting Budapest's reputation as a world-class film capital, notably by co-financing the state-of-the-art Korda Studios, opened nearly a decade ago in wine-making Etyek town.
During the Cold War, the site was a base for communist forces. Now the conflicts played out there are produced on one of Europe's largest sound stages.
For box office sensation The Martian with Matt Damon, the studio brought 4,000 tonnes of red earth to turn it into Mars. Even Budapest itself featured in the movie, disguised as Beijing. It has also "played" Paris, Vienna and Moscow in other films.
Such high-tech facilities, fiscal incentives and cheap skilled labour have made Budapest "the second major film platform in Europe after London", said Mr Daniel Kresmery who runs Korda's production and development department.
"And we've only reached 75 per cent of our capacity."
In 2004, Hungary introduced a tax law enabling film-makers to recover up to 25 per cent of their costs.
It paid off. This year, both foreign and national productions injected over 270 million euros (S$412 million) into Hungary, compared to 105 million euros in 2011.
"The sector makes up 0.15 per cent of Hungary's gross domestic product, the highest ratio any where in Europe," Ms Agnes Havas, the director of the National Film Fund put in place by Mr Vajna, told AFP.
Around 100 companies work in the Hungarian movie industry, employing about 4,000 people.
The industry also has home-grown talents like director Laszlo Nemes whose Holocaust drama Son Of Saul won an Oscar for best foreign film.
Fellow countryman Kornel Mundruczo received a jury prize at the 2014 Cannes Festival for his film White God.
"The services provided by the industry are at the top of their game," he said, adding he was "proud" of his city where he recently finished shooting another movie. - AFP