Developing the Most Extensive Database of Hungarian Film and Photo Shoot Locations
Thanks to its cultural and architectural diversity, Hungary and its capital, Budapest offers a unique variety of locations, making it possible to execute almost any creative concept or script here. Thus for us at Progressive, as a Budapest based film and photo production services company from the very beginning it has been an important goal to build an extensive location library that enables us to present vivid location options for almost any kind of inquiry. Building our own location database was also part of our mission of sharing the beauty of our country with the world, making more people familiar with the opportunities that Hungarian locations can offer.
Because discovering and providing locations always played a fundamental part in our work, the idea of establishing an in-house location department was born soon after Progresive was founded. But in our first international commercials, such as Norwegian, Dubai and Italian projects, we worked with freelance location managers. An important step came with a 2012 production when we were asked to manage a very exciting shoot for USA Network’s show Covert Affairs. The producers of this series had chosen Budapest as a location to double as Moscow in two episodes. Since Covert Affairs is a spy story with a lot of action scenes, it was a very demanding project in the aspect of location management. Locations had to be found for complex scenes, for example for a car chase scene or for one which consists of running on platforms in a large train station, then escaping the chasers by jumping on the tracks in front of a fast moving train. These scenes had very complicated dramaturgy and needed to be structured with the use of very thorough location scouting and management, which led us to do all scouting and to manage the closing down of the platforms of Budapest’s biggest and busiest train station all by ourselves. This was our first big step in creating Progressive’s own location database and developing our in-house location department.
The next turn was brought a year later, also by another project for USA Network. This time they were looking for locations for some specific scenes for the series called Royal Pains. More specifically what they needed were two luxurious and representative balconies. One balcony had to have the feature of a fantastic view of an European city while the other one had to be spacious and elegant, also located in historic European scenery, as well as having to have a view of a street underneath it, where according to the script a murder happens. They had been looking for these balconies all over Europe from Prague to Vienna without success so this meant an exciting challenge for us both in terms of location scouting and location management. We had to find two fabulous balconies, then we had to close down an entire street in downtown Budapest in order to shoot the murder scene underneath the balcony. In addition, we were working with a short deadline, because after they had been searching in vain for these kind of locations in other countries, the deadline was not far off by the time they found us in Budapest. Also, this was in 2013, before the time when the new, film friendly public permission system was step up, which is in action in Hungary today. Now applications for permits to shoot in public spaces can be dealt with under three working days. But back then we had to deal with the administration separately with each district’s local government. This is also why Progressive decided to do all location management of the project ourselves. Staying in contact persistently, dealing with responsibilities and cooperating was so fruitful and successful, that in the last minute we were successfully granted the permit, so we could secure these two beautiful European locations in Budapest - a balcony in the Buda Castle and another one on the street next to the Opera House, which is a much-loved location of the city. This project meant the birth of our own location department in a way, since from then on we manage all location scouting and management in-house.
Of course building up our location library requires a lot of pro-active work, therefore we put huge efforts into finding and photographing locations. At the same time scouting is also a passion for us. During the years we have explored almost every corner of Budapest and we also have worked hard on collecting locations outside of the capital city. We have been roaming across the whole country in order to discover all the locations it can offer from its baroque palaces to its hidden natural treasures. There are even such locations of which we have photographs of in all the fours seasons, or in various times of the day. We aim to show the locations’ creative possibilities and potentials while staying objective in order to truthfully show the place’s traits. We are enthusiastic about photography, so we pay special attention to ensuring high-quality photographs of our locations taken with an artistic eye.
Today there are thousands of locations in our database, and about 300.000 photographs all together, making it an extensive library, with multiple terabytes of data. But our goal was not just to create a diverse database, but a really precise one, making it easy to search so that it can make us truly competitive since it enables us to react quickly to all requests and to reflect on the minutest detail of each brief. We tag each location with keywords and tags in order to make searching extremely fast and easy. Since our entire location library is cloud based, it is accessible anywhere in the world and our locations can be shared with anyone in a blink of an eye. A thoughtfully structured collection of locations is now available on our website. Of course, it does not at all feature the entirety of Progressive’s location database, but it is still uniquely expansive library, with a well operating search system, that enables searching within our online collection of thousands of photographs.
One of our most memorable photo shoot was for Nikon back in 2014. We were contacted by a production company from Singapore to work together on a global campaign for Nikon’s D610 camera. They had an exciting creative concept: they planned a large scale campaign with one single photograph, taken in a beautiful old train station, where the stories of two couples are present at the same time. Moreover they wanted to shoot the scene in the magic hour, during the few minutes of sunrise. Of course we already had images of all the train stations in Budapest in our location library so we could have replied straight away, but we decided to show our most beautiful station in its full glory. So we woke up the next day at 4am and went to take photos of the 130 years old Keleti train station at dawn. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather so we were able to take stunning photographs. This, combined with the fact that Progressive has experience in closing down Budapest’s most busy train stations’ arrival platforms made our offer very promising. They took a look at stations all around the world but soon the project landed with us and a few weeks later we did a very successful shoot together for Nikon. We couldn’t have been more lucky since even if it was late autumn, during our shoot we had the very same clear morning as we had on our scout and the Sun appeared in the huge windows of the old station in the golden ratio!
But of course in our database we do not only keep files on the most popular locations of the country. Our enthusiasm of discovering locations leads us to some really special places which proves to come very handy for projects with special location needs. For example, we were contacted to make a promo shoot for Houdini, History Channel’s mini series featuring Adrien Brody. After contemplating many options, the project accumulated into a one location shoot, which is why that one location had to be very characteristic. We met that criteria with the completely unique, art-deco style control room of a power plant from the ‘20s, that we had scouted just a few weeks before the enquiry came in. This place fitted the mystery of Houdini and proved to be very effective but it required remarkable location management from us, since it was an unheated, abandoned power plant, where we had to create conditions fit for an oscar winning actor in the middle of winter. The whole thing had to be heated, we had to light up the large roof windows with cherry pickers and we also had to build in a special lift for the equipment which was too heavy for the old stair structure so it became quite a large production by the end, but it was worth it because the result looks brilliant.
So this is how Progressive’s location department developed over the years and projects. Keeping our database updating and growing is a fulltime job and a never ending story. There are always new challenges and new areas to develop in, so we need to be constantly active. Budapest is a specially brilliant city because it is perfect for faking many other European cities. It has a very rich texture of European architecture and can also offer surprising locations. Furthermore, ever since we expanded our services to Austria, a huge new amount of potential film locations are now out there for us to find and document as well.