In February 2002, not long after graduating from Rutgers, Daniel Kresmery boarded a plane with “all my important things in one suitcase and no intent of returning to the States,” he says. He landed in  Hungary, the nation that his father had left after the failed uprising against the Communist government in 1956.

“People in Hungary still don’t really get it. They feel like, why would you want to move here from America?” says Kresmery RBS’01, who has lived there ever since. “Today, Budapest is easily considered one of the coolest cities in Europe. But back then, it was still undiscovered and underground.”

And among the things that raised Budapest’s coolness quotient was the rapid growth of an industry that was in its infancy when Kresmery arrived, and one in which he soon found a prominent role: filmmaking. The movie industry is always searching for cheaper places to film, and the tax incentives that Hungary began offering in the 2000s started luring productions from all over the world.

“We’re the second-biggest production hub in Europe  at this point,” says Kresmery, head of production and  development at Korda Studios outside Budapest. “It’s gotten to the point where once London fills up, Hungary’s pretty much the next on everybody’s checklist.”

At Rutgers, Kresmery majored in marketing, minored in art history, and discovered in the library “all the Beat generation literature one could dream of,” he says, reading “all the Ginsberg, Holmes, Kerouac, and Burroughs books in the collection.” He grew up in Warren, New Jersey, but spent boyhood summers with his family at Lake Balaton in Hungary and spoke the language fluently. After moving to Hungary, he taught English and worked as a translator, a DJ, and then at a small production company before  landing a job at Korda, which opened in 2007.

Korda Renaissance backlot


A Renaissance backlot set was built for the television series The Borgias. It portrays regions of historical Italy, from the Vatican to the city  of Florence. The sprawling Korda Studios is located outside Budapest.

courtesy Korda Studios

Korda was built outside Budapest on what was once a military base, one that defended the very government that Kresmery’s father was eager to leave behind. It has six large soundstages and 62 acres of backlots, with huge medieval, Renaissance, and New York City sets and more space to build temporary simulacrums, or backdrops, of whatever locales a film requires. Korda is not a studio that, like MGM, makes movies itself; it is a sprawling facility where other studios come to make their movies. The first major movie filmed there was Hellboy II: The Golden Army, in 2007.

“They built a huge New York street on the backlot at the time, and I remember standing there on a night shoot seeing the yellow New York taxi cabs a few kilometers outside of Budapest,” says Kresmery. “At that moment, it felt like we had really come a long way.”

New York City backlot at Korda Studios


For the movie Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a New York City set was deployed, with all the details common to urban street life. The studio has 62 acres of backlots that depict different times and different places.

courtesy Korda Studios

Several other film studios have since opened in  Hungary, where, he says, “physical production costs come in around 20 or 30 percent less” than in the United States or England. Among the movies more recently filmed at Korda were Blade Runner 2049 and The Martian, for which soundstage 6—“the Superstage, Europe’s largest soundstage,” Kresmery says—was filled with a football field’s worth of red sand, 3 feet deep, to become the surface of Mars. The extraplanetary illusion was sufficiently convincing that the National Geographic television series Mars subsequently filmed there, too.

“Hungary’s got lots of minerals and sand,” he says. “You’ve just got to find the right color and ship it in from the sand mine.”

Hungary also has lots of locations that can stand in for other places. “Budapest is just so versatile,” Kresmery says. “It has so many different styles. It can be Paris. It can be Vienna, New York, Moscow, London.”

Last fall, he was scouting locations in Budapest to stand in for several other cities for the globe-trotting CBS television series Ransom, the start of a nine-month shoot. Korda is more deeply involved in the production itself, a business expansion that Kresmery is leading. A movie he produced on his own while on a three-year hiatus from Korda—Fekete Leves (Black Soup), a Hungarian gangster film—was considerably less elaborate: it cost $10,000 for a 14-day shoot. He is also developing two other projects on his own: a historical drama that he’s pitching to American television and a “steampunk animation live-action hybrid film” called Henry Waltz.

“It’s the first of a trilogy; that’s our plan. It’s a big  fantasy world, and we see a lot of potential for developing it,” he says. “Those are a labor of love.” •