‘Dune’ Oscar Haul marks high water for Hungary’s booming production industry


If Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony was validation for Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros., whose $165 million bet on Denis Villeneuvethe sci-fi tentpole”Dunespaid off in the form of six Oscars, it was no less of a triumph for the Hungarian film industry, which hosted the blockbuster for much of production in 2019 and 2020.

The trophy haul, which included an Oscar for production design duo Patrice Vermette and Hungaryby Zsuzsanna Sipos, further cemented the status of an industry that broke records last year with $650 million in total production spend.

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Herb Gaines, head of physical production at Legendary, says the country has ticked all the boxes to accommodate production on such a massive scale. “We were looking for a production base that could support a film of this magnitude and be logistically feasible to access our desert needs,” says Gaines, citing the convenience of a hub in the heart of central Europe. once Jordan became the favorite for the sprawling desert sequences of “Dune”.

Budapest has a number of world-class studio facilities – including Korda Studios and the state-owned Mafilm Studio complex – but Origo Studios quickly emerged as “by far the best choice for ‘Dune'”, says Gaines . The studio, which also hosted Villeneuve’s dystopian sci-fi epic “Blade Runner 2049”, was able to meet “all of our needs in one facility”, hosting production during principal and additional shots in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

“We were able to secure six large sound stages plus a huge area for a backlot as well as enough workshops to accommodate large manufacturing departments such as dressing, costumes and special effects,” says Gaines. “Plus, we were able to have our entire production office and art department on-site.”

The highly skilled local crew were instrumental in building the distinctive world of “Dune” from the ground up. “The quality of craftsmanship in the construction of our sets was quite impressive,” says Gaines. “Creating a futuristic world is no small task and every interior decor and every piece of trim has been entirely built by local Hungarian carpenters, sculptors, painters and fabricators.”

This know-how was essential to the visual requirements of director Villeneuve. “With Denis, we see that he… wants to have a brick-and-mortar feel: to touch it, to feel it, to feel the sizes,” explains Mihály Tóth of Origo. “That’s why the end result is so huge and spectacular. When you see Timothy [Chalamet] walking down a hallway, that hallway existed. It was not a green screen or a blue screen. You felt the atmosphere, and I think that helped the stars get into character.

Mid Atlantic Films’ Adam Goodman, who provided principal photography for “Dune” in 2019, sees it as proof of the continued growth and evolution of Hungarian talent below the line. “Back then, we had a lot more foreign construction elements brought in to support a show. Now there are relatively few,” he says. “I think it’s a testament to the abilities of local companies…to make increasingly complicated, conceptual and technically challenging films.”

None of this would have been possible without the continued support of the Hungarian government, which has always put its muscle behind the industry through measures such as a 30% cashback (which can rise to 37.5% thanks to to the addition of eligible non-Hungarian costs) .

The government has also been instrumental in helping Hungary become one of the first countries to restart after the coronavirus pandemic halted global production last spring. The strict COVID-19 protocols used on the set of “Dune” – including mandatory mask use; a rigorous daily testing regime; and a health and safety team entirely dedicated to monitoring the cast and crew – would later set the stage for further productions in Budapest.

Given the challenges, pulling off a scale production of Villeneuve’s epic was a monumental achievement – one that would not have been possible without the buy-in from all parties involved, Vermette said after he and Sipos received their award on Sunday.

“It was such a collaborative effort across all departments,” he said. “There was very little drama. In collaboration, everyone had their doors open. It was quite an extraordinary experience at this level of collaboration between VFX, cinematography, costumes, hair and makeup.

Sipos, who confirmed that she would be part of the production of the “Dune 2” films in Hungary, cited the contributions to Hollywood made by Hungarians such as Adolph Zukor, a Hungarian-American film producer and co-founder of Paramount Pictures. She said she hoped her Oscar triumph would be an inspiration to other Hungarians like her, adding: “I hope it will open doors for many people who don’t believe they can achieve what I realized.”

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