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Archive for June, 2015

In terms of promotional videos for Budapest, this may be an odd choice, but with close to four million views, this first-person POV video of an ambulance driving from the outskirts of Budapest into the city center has captured the imaginations of online thrill-seekers from all over the world.

The excitement of this mad rush through Budapest is reminiscent of the car chase scenes of Die Harder, Die Hard IV, which was also filmed in our city, only under much more controlled circumstances (and with a few more explosions). The story of that film was based in Moscow, but filmed in Budapest, which was chosen for its gritty facades and favorable costs and facilities.

Don’t look for much production value here, just keep an eye out for traffic.
Fact or fiction, as a promotional video for Budapest, it is hard to get more excitement out of five minutes, unless perhaps you add Bruce Willis.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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The local blogosphere was set a-twitter in the last few weeks as two international heavyweights of the culinary world visited and reported on their discoveries in and around Budapest. With four Michelin-star restaurants, Hungary has earned more of that top honor than any other country of the former Soviet Bloc, putting it in the spotlight for adventurous eaters, and turning it into a surprise high-end culinary destination.

anthony bourdain budapest

Anthony Bourdain, who is perhaps the most recognizable television personality covering international locations, made a stop in Budapest for his CNN series Parts Unknown (the full episode is embedded below). He was soon followed by top UK food critic, Elite Traveler Magazine writer Andy Hayler, who covered several of Hungary’s fine dining restaurants.

Bourdain – who is known for his adventourous eating habits (cobra heart, anybody?) played it somewhat safe in Budapest, keeping to the gilded confines of the tourist favorite New York Café for Hungarian goose liver, though he did venture out for a more local experience at an étkezde (lunch canteen), for a chicken liver crepe with bone marrow gravy, followed by a schnitzel big enough to swaddle a baby in.

Anthony Bourdain schnitzel

via @Bourdain/ Twitter

A stop to a butcher’s for sausage, which the personality got his mouth around more capably than the difficult Hungarian-language pronunciation, and it was off for a relaxing with a dip in fabled Gellért Baths with Academy Award winning legend of cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond. Bourdain came away from Budapest proclaiming his experience ‘deeply delicious’.

New York Café Budapest

New York Café via Wikipedia

Gellért Baths

Gellért Baths via Wikipedia

Hayler, perhaps less adventurously, stuck to high-end dining in Hungary, reviewing restaurants Ikon, Borkonyha, Olimpia, and Four Seasons Hotel eatery Kollázs. Hayer has the distinction of having eaten at ‘every three-star Micheleon restaurant in the world,’ which is fair to say makes him an authority on good food.

Calling Budapest ‘seriously elegant’ Hayler seemed most impressed with the country’s wine, citing Hungarian winery’s Szepsy 6 Puttnyos Furmit as the highlight of the trip. Each restaurant experience received praise for food and service, though Borkonyha (see our post on the restaurant here) fared best. No surprise there, if you like wine the ‘Wine Kitchen’ is the place to be, offering the best Hungarian wines along side Michelin star quality food. Hayler summed it up as such: “Overall I enjoyed the meal tonight, the food quite inventive, the wines excellent and the atmosphere relaxed.”

Fine Dining Budapest

Borkonyha in Budapest

Borkonyha via Lonely Planet

Long gone are the days when fine dining in Budapest meant a trip to Gundel or Vienna. Pull up a chair at the big table: with the likes of Bourdain and Hayler, you’re in good company.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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As we’re packing our suitcases for Cannes, we thought that it would be a good time to introduce ourselves. We’d love to get know you too, so feel free to say hi when we bump into each other at the festival or schedule a meeting right now at zita-at-ppm.hu

Meet Zita, our Executive Producer and a leading figure in the Hungarian commercial advertising world. For almost 20 years, she has been a producer of commercials and films as managing director of PPM, one of the top production companies in the region. Over the course of that time, she has worked with international clients like Nestle, Citbank, Kia, Sony and many more.

Zita Kisgergely

PPM’s Zita Kisgergely

Let’s see why she loves doing what she does:

1) What’s one advantage shooting in Hungary has over nearby areas like Romania or Poland?

Hungary is imbued with film culture and history, with luminaries like William Fox (founder of 20th Century Fox) and recent Cannes winner László Nemes being Hungarian. Budapest itself is overwhelming; it’s a simmering pot of history and visual excitement. You can see the most gorgeously restored Habsburg-era buildings alongside industrial urban grit. There is a reason Budapest is used as a substitute for cities as varied as Paris, Munich, and Moscow. In addition to all that, we have several world-class film studios in and around town. Not to mention, you have top-tier production companies like PPM.

State Opera House in Budapest

State Opera House via Wikipedia

Film production in Pest

Shooting in Pest

2) What are your favorite locations in Budapest and/or the Hungarian countryside?

I personally love to shoot around the State Opera House and the old pre-war villas of Buda. There is an elegance in these highly accessible locations that is distinctly Old World Europe. In the countryside the Eszterházy Palace is a pleasure to visit. Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Europe, is also a personal favorite. There you can find broad vistas of well-preserved countryside, ancient monasteries, and rolling vineyards.

Hills of the Hungarian countryside

The Hungarian countryside

Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton

Eszterházy Palace

Eszterházy Palace

3) What surprises filmmakers most about Budapest (as a city) when they arrive?

People are always taken aback by the space: our ancestors had grandiose ideas when they built the city. Also, how Budapest is so widely divided by the river Danube, which makes for expansive, photogenic bridges. There is a huge contrast between the hilly Buda side and, buzzing, cosmopolitan Pest. On one side of the city, you can go hiking and caving, while in Pest the nightlife attracts people from all over the world. For all these reasons, it is also a great place for film and ad production.

Skyline of Budapest

Budapest from the air

4) Is there a lot to recommend Budapest after work-hours?

We have internationally acclaimed restaurants from Hungarian classics like Gundel to the latest outpost of the chef Matsushisa Nobu’s chain of sushi restaurants, Nobu. We have high-end dining with three Michelin-star restaurants, and also low-key friendly places, lots of Vietnamese and Thai, all accompanied by our greatest secret: Hungarian wine.

Restaurant interior in Budapest

Dining in Budapest

5) If you had to sum up Hungary as a location in three words, what would they be?

Class, Quality, Transparency

Girl on a swing in Hungary

High expectations in Hungary

If you want to speak with Zita about all the advantages of commercial and film production in Hungary please write her at zita-at-ppm.hu

PPM Film Services is a premium, full-service film production company based in Budapest, Hungary.  For over 20 years, PPM has been sought after by those who want to take advantage of the wealth of atmosphere, beauty, history and technical expertise that are on offer when shooting in Hungary. PPM has proven itself time and again with dynamic solutions in creating exciting television advertising for some of the world’s most recognizable brands and companies. As one of the top regional commercial production companies, we have had enough success in this field that we are currently expanding into feature production.

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Prince Charle

Photo by Dan Marsh via Wikipedia

It’s a little known fact that Price Charles, Prince of Wales, owns an estate in the Hungarian village of Zalánpatak (Romanian: Valea Zalanului) in Transylvania, a place he returns to every summer for a visit. The village, now in Romania, was once part of pre-World War II Hungary, and is populated almost wholly by Hungarians. According to Wikipedia, the population of the town is but a mere 139, though it does not state if the Prince is included in that number.

Prince Charles's Transylvanian Estate

Hungary Today reported that on the Prince’s recent visit, he was met by local children and attended a mowing competition held in his honor. “The Prince is known to be an admirer of Transylvania and has said that the region has a connection between man and nature that is almost unique in Europe today. He purchased several houses in the villages of Zalánpatak and Szászfehéregyháza in 2008 and again in 2013.” With an almost magical medieval atmosphere, wild game including boar and bears, and strong traditions of Hungarian folk culture, it is no surprise that the Prince has found Transylvania so enticing.

According to transylvaniancastle.com, his property “is composed of several buildings, and has a patch of forest and extensive flower meadows with mineral springs and small brooks belonging to it. The property is characterized by its rich biodiversity of plants, mushrooms, insects, birds and large mammals including bears (sometimes crossing the back yard). Wolves can be heard howling at times in winter nights.”

Prince Charles' Estate TransylvaniaPrince Charles' Transylvania Estate

Undertaking the restoration of the prince’s abodes is Count Tibor Kálnoky, a descendent of the founders of Zalánpatak, and an entrepreneur who has made a mission of restoring old homes in the area and sparking an interest in sustainable rural tourism in the Szekler land. Count Kálnoky stated that the heir to the British throne was taken with Transylvania because, “it was a place where the local population still lives in total harmony with the environment, with nature…it is the perfect co-habitation of man with nature.” In the video at the bottom of the page, you can take a tour of the Prince’s fully restored estate. It’s worth pointing out that the restoration to this and Kálnoky’s properties is done after extensive research into each house’s original look, which extends too all furniture and materials. Count Kálnoky describes the process as ‘painstaking’ and it shows in the results, which are museum-piece quality.

Prince Charles' Transylvanian Estate

Have a look below, and take a tour of a Transylvanian location fit for a prince.

(All photos, unless captioned otherwise, are used with permission by transylvaniancastle.com)

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“A person learns more from their mistakes than from their successes”

Janos Kende

Hungarian film received significant attention at Cannes this year: László Nemes’s drama Son of Saul (Saul fia) was screened at the grandiose festival, where they also presented a remastered version of The Round-up (Szegénylegények). In memory of Miklós Jancsó, who passed away last year, there will also be a three-day retrospective in Frankfurt, focusing on the director’s foreign co-productions. Among the guests invited to take part in the series will be the director’s past collaborators. We spoke with cinematographer János Kende (Silence and Cry [Csend és kiáltás], My Love, Elektra [Szerelmem, Elektra]) about his work with Miklós Jancsó.

Interviewer: People often say that Miklós Jancsó’s films are had to digest and that this can deter viewers. What do you think about this?

János Kende: I would say that it really doesn’t matter to me who thinks what about the films that I have made. For the first film we worked on together, Silence and Cry, I was concerned with that, but since then, not so much. For me, my relationship with a film ends when they put the print in the box. Maybe I go to the premiere to take a bow. The size of the audience no more concerned me back then than it does now. I consider it far more important to have ten intelligent viewers than to attract greater financial returns, which, if the audience likes the film, would only cover about a quarter of the cost of making the film, anyways. My only real experiences with criticism are tied to my university years, when we discussed films within a smaller, more vocational context.

Interviewer: Do you find criticism to be more inspirational than praise?

J.K.: The praise for a cinematographer takes up two sentences in a review. People don’t usually analyze a film from a cinematographic point of view, with a couple of exceptions. I personally haven’t had much of a history with reviews, but I must say that when David Robinson published an article about My Love, Elektra in the Times stating that he considered me to be one of the best cinematographers in the world, it felt good. The first time I heard praise regarding my film work I was on my way home from Venice, still in Italian territory. At first, when I realized that it was my name that I was hearing, I was worried for a second, because I thought that there was something wrong; the political business with Gyuri Konrád (George Konrad) was going on and that’s why I was listening to Radio Free Europe. As I listened on, I was relieved when I heard what they were talking about. I’ll tell you a secret: I used to tell my university classmates that I was going to start spreading the word about what a good cinematographer I was, so that by the time the Times said it, no one would realize that it was me who started the rumor in the first place. I’m glad that it actually worked out that way in the end.

Interviewer: Miklós Jancsó often mentioned his collaboration with Gyula Hernádi in interviews, but rarely brought up his cinematographers. Why is that?

J.K.: With Jancsó’s films, the actual filming wasn’t the creative process, but rather the discussions that took place in the preceding three or four months, at which time he would decide with Hernádi what the film would be about – even if it was just in principle and not as an actual screenplay. I was often present at their meetings, but afterwards I didn’t really discuss the film itself with Miklós.

Interviewer: Do you mean that on set the contents of the film weren’t discussed?

J.K.: During filming, we spoke about how to realize the film, but it was no longer necessary to discuss the film’s fundamental message or intrigue. All I knew about that I found out in the course of Miklós and Hernádi’s discussions at the Intercontinental or the Astoria hotel.

Mari Törőcsik in My Love, Elektra

Mari Törőcsik in My Love, Elektra

Interviewer: Considering such a compact film as My Love, Elektra, that’s difficult to believe. The way the story is told is wonderfully visual and camera-centric. It seemed like the two of you were really in sync.

J.K.: At that time, we were still in a world where it was impossible to replay the footage on the cameras; because of that, Miklós really had to trust me with the image. In effect, My Love, Elektra was the most perfect of that kind of Jancsó film, of which Silence and Cry and The Red and the White (Csillagosok, Katonák) were the precursors. It was during the making of Elektra that I really became an adult, and I clearly understood both what Miklós wanted and what I wanted. We worked with increasingly complex tools, cranes, and 12-minute takes, but we didn’t really have to discuss anything; with that film, everything was already figured out in advance.

Interviewer: For My Love, Elektra, how many takes did you need for each shot?

J.K.: Usually, we would practice for a 12-minute take all day. That time was not just for rehearsal; we needed that much time to experiment with the camera movements and practice those. Afterwards, we would record it three or four times, and usually the second and third takes would be good. The first take would be full of technical errors, while the last one would have started to become too mechanical. With Allegro Barbaro, for example, where we could hardly afford to complicate our lives, we took eight days to capture one image. On the first day of recording, we got it perfect, but unfortunately one of the actors was standing in one of the window frames taking a photo. Today, that wouldn’t have been a problem because we could have corrected it digitally, but back then (1979) it wasn’t possible. The recording was also made more difficult by the fact that in the eighth minute a parachute team had to jump to the right place just as the sun was going down. We filmed this same 300-meter take for eight days, and by the end everyone knew what they had to do so well that the whole scene ended up being two and a half minutes shorter than in the first recording.

Interviewer: Were you there for the editing of the films?

J.K.: I went into the editing room, but more as a friend. My presence didn’t really have an effect, especially since with such long shots the editing didn’t really change the material much. The audio post-production had a greater impact, since these films were always overdubbed in post-production.

Interviewer: Who’s work inspired you when you were working with Jancsó?

J.K.: We talked about books and films, but for me, the biggest inspiration was of a more technical nature, for instance, when I found a camera that could fit twelve minutes of film instead of five on one cartridge, or when we discovered that the camera didn’t have to stay at one height – on one track – on the dolly, but that we could also add a hoist; we always complicated our lives a bit. When we finally got television monitors for the filming of The Tyrant’s Heart (A zsarnok szíve) and Miklós could finally see what we were filming, that created a whole other way of working, because we didn’t have to argue about the footage after the fact. This development really simplified my work, because Miklós could offer his opinion right away as to whether the shot should be tighter or wider.

Miklós Jancsó and János Kende during the filming of Winter Wind

Miklós Jancsó and János Kende during the filming of Winter Wind [Sirokkó], 1968. Photo: Gyula Szóvári

Interviewer: You teach at the University of Theatre and Film Arts (Színház- és Filmművészeti Egyetem). Do you take part in the admissions process? If so, what criteria shape your decision?

J.K.: The admissions process is very long; it takes three months. Many people don’t make it past the general knowledge test. Then, closer to the entrance exam we start discussing and reviewing the admissions materials. You need to be able to sniff out talent. There are a couple of people who clearly display a talent for visual thinking, but they are few and far between – usually only one or two in a class. With others, it is not so clear, and the committee has discussions throughout the admissions process in order to come to a decision. I make recommendations and listen to the opinions of the others. When it comes down to the last couple of people, more serious arguments break out.

Interviewer: What personal characteristics does a good cinematographer need to have? You were younger than Miklós Jancsó, yet he still took you on as a cinematographer.

J.K.: I was 20 years younger than him. It is difficult to put your finger on the secret of a good working relationship. With Miklós, for example, he didn’t need to tell me when something was good. Nor did we have to praise ourselves or each other. We just looked to see whether we had done something wrong, and if so, we figured out how to fix it. Of course, there are those directors who expect the cinematographer to say something wonderful after the filming, but I was never willing to do that. It depends on the person. It’s like smoking a cigar: there are those who smoke the best cigars and those who smoke the worst, but the box is the same. Miklós and I were alike in that respect that we didn’t give each other praise, so much so that when we were no longer working together, but still good friends. Zsuzsa Csákány said to Miklós, “You’ve still never told Kende that he’s good.” Miklós asked me whether this was true, to which I replied, yes, but it’s fine, because I knew he was satisfied and that’s why he asked me to work on subsequent films. I never missed the praise; it would have been a burden on him. I studied alongside a French cinematographer who, when he finished filming, always said, “pas mal,” in other words “not bad.” I really like that attitude, but there’s no formula as to what will work for every director.

Interviewer: Do you think it’s important for a cinematographer and a director to have good chemistry? Do you try to teach your students the ways in which they can approach a director?

J.K.: No, I encourage my students to be independent. I want them to always think freely and try to realize their own vision. As a teacher, I am not outcome-oriented. It doesn’t matter to me whether their final film project is ruined or less than successful. In my experience, a person learns more from their mistakes than from their successes. I can list all of the bad shots I’ve put together since college; the beautiful and good takes don’t always stick in my mind, so much so that sometimes when I’m watching TV, I’ll see a film that seems familiar and it will turn out that I shot it. For a long time, I was the assistant to my mentor Sándor Sára, for Father (Apa), Ten Thousand Suns (Tízezer nap), and Current (Sodrásban). Sanyi thought through the images in different way – he dreamed of a geometrical world; that’s what he wanted to achieve. That kind of compositional rigor was really foreign to me, but to this day, we are good friends. Actually, there were times when we actually traded places, for example with the film Twelfth Night (Vízkereszt), which he also directed, I recorded some of the geometric images while he followed the actors with a handheld camera.

Interviewer: So what you did with Miklós Jancsó grew out of the French New Wave: a freely moving camera, a freely told story…

J.K.: It grew out of it, but with Miklós one shot was never constrained by time and space: you could step out of the world that had been created in the film thus far and return to it; you could die in it and be resurrected; it could begin in the twentieth century and end in the nineteenth. A 10-minute take doesn’t really unfold in real time, but rather is an abstract agglomerate of many thoughts.

tumblr_nkzso3QdSV1u0ngmzo1_500

Interviewer: Do you follow current developments in film or the industry-related press?

J.K.: Not so much the industry-related press, but I do follow current developments in film. It’s kind of unavoidable, since I am often a judge or advisory board member at cinematography competitions. Luckily, I am able to assess the films from a cinematographic point of view and gloss over the other aspects. Often, the cinematographic work can be good even if the film isn’t.

Interviewer: Was it difficult for you to transition into being a teacher or evaluator at a certain point in your career?

J.K.: No, as I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I have many years of experience; I was on the advisory board for both the National Cultural Fund (Nemzeti Kulturális Alap) and the Hungarian Academy of the Arts (Magyar Művészeti Akadémia), so I have read a ton of screenplays. It has never been difficult for me to offer criticism; in fact, I’m pretty quick to say if I don’t like something.

This interview with cinematographer János Kende was originally published in Hungarian on Kulton.hu. Interview by Yvonne Kerékgyártó. English translation by PPM Hungary.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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