Palm trees have been planted outside the U.S. Embassy in Budapest's Szabadsag Square as the Hungarian capital is transformed into 1950s Buenos Aires for the movie "Evita."
Budapest is bracing itself for weeks of traffic jams as streets are blocked and fans try to catch a glimpse of Madonna, who is starring in the big-screen version of the award-winning musical based on the life of Eva Peron, wife of Juan Peron, the former president of Argentina.The film, one of an increasing number of foreign productions being filmed locally, also stars Antonio Banderos and Jonathan Pryce and is directed by Alan Parker.
As the cameras start rolling, the local film industry and city authorities are already beginning to add up the extra cash and jobs "Evita" will bring to Hungary.
The city of Budapest will collect hefty rental fees for the use of its pavements - it's charging $3.40 plus 25 percent value-added tax per square yard a day.
About 23 locations in and around Budapest will be filmed over the next four weeks, featuring some of the city's largest squares and best-known sites. The shooting also promises employment for about 3,000 local people, many of whom will appear as extras for street scenes.
"It's less expensive to film here than in many other countries, but Budapest was also chosen as it is less modern than Western cities. It has several buildings and streets which can be transformed into Buenos Aires of the 1950s with only minor changes," said Laszlo Helle, president of Transatlantic Media Associates, the American-Hungarian joint venture that is overseeing location shooting in Budapest.
The production team declined to specify how much of the film's total budget, estimated at around $50 million, will be spent in Hungary.
"I can only tell you it's a lot given that nearly half of the filming schedule is here," said producer Andrew Vajna. "We'll be spending fast and furiously in a short time. It will be a huge boost to the local economy."
As well as employing extras, the "Evita" team has rented around 130 hotel rooms, most of them in downtown luxury hotels, and hired local studios and a local film crew of 150 - a welcome boost to the country's beleaguered film industry, hit hard by the end of Communist-era subsidies.
In addition, shops and other companies will be compensated for lost business on filming days.