The question of whether Hollywood stars will light up the Lido this week has roiled the film industry in the run-up to the Venice Film Festival. “Poor Things” lead actress Emma Stone was among the marquee names that were holding out for a SAG-AFTRA exemption allowing her to promote the Frankenstein-inspired period film from Oscar nominee Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”), which bowed in competition Friday to a lengthy standing ovation and rave reviews.
Such guild-negotiated workarounds have offered a lifeline to Budapest, where the Victorian-era drama was filmed, with industry insiders insisting that the ongoing Hollywood strikes are yet to put a noticeable damper on the booming production hub.
“We’ve been affected, but the town continues to have activity,” says Adam Goodman of Mid Atlantic Films, which is currently servicing Lionsgate’s “The Killer’s Game,” starring Dave Bautista and Ben Kingsley. The action-comedy is among a host of independent productions in Budapest that received a SAG-AFTRA waiver to shoot during the strike, including A24’s “Death of a Unicorn,” starring Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega, and “Dust Bunny,” starring Mads Mikkelsen and Sigourney Weaver.
Meanwhile, British TV productions, such as Peacock and Sky’s spy series “The Day of the Jackal,” starring Eddie Redmayne, which primarily rely on members of the U.K.’s Equity actors union, have brought a steady flow of business to Budapest.
Other productions are getting creative: For one long-running TV show setting up shop in the Hungarian capital with a mix of U.S. and U.K. actors, scenes involving SAG-contracted cast were pushed to the end of the shoot, with the producers hoping for a break in the Hollywood impasse by then, according to Ildikó Kemény, managing director of Pioneer Stillking Films.
On the whole, however, business is “definitely down,” says Kemény, who provided production services on “Poor Things” as well as the Kate Winslet-starring biopic of American photojournalist Lee Miller, “Lee,” which premieres in Toronto. “It’s easier to find stage space, it’s easier to find crew,” she says.
Mihály Tóth of Origo Studios, which is currently hosting Max’s series “Dune: The Sisterhood,” adds that for every strike-impacted production that’s had to pull out of Budapest, there’s another waiting in the wings. “The whole industry is somehow reshuffling now, and they are looking for solutions.”
Last year, Hungary hosted more than 300 productions and generated a record-breaking $690 million in total value for the country — a 20% jump from 2021 — and industry professionals again expect production to ramp up quickly once the strikes end. “Much like COVID, there will be a rush to production once there is an end in sight and producers and studios can see that a resolution is coming,” says Goodman. “Stages, crew base will get sucked up very quickly, much like they did after the pandemic.”
For the time being, Goodman and others are patiently waiting for a breakthrough. “If we’re still in the same place in Q1 next year, it’s a different story,” he adds. “But we can weather the storm without too much fallout for the rest of this year.”
As the rain clouds parted over the Lido when the Venice Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday, however, Stone was a no-show.