Andrew G. Vajna, a Hungarian-American film producer behind blockbuster movies such as Terminator 3, died at the age of 74 in his Budapest home on January 20.
Vajna was the government commissioner in charge of the development of Hungary's film industry. He was also the co-owner of the Korda film studio in Etyek, Casino Las Vegas in Budapest and he was the main shareholder of commercial television TV2 and commercial radio Radio 1.
During the 1956 revolution, aged 12, he fled Hungary on his own and emigrated to Canada with help of the Red Cross, and later reunited with his parents in Los Angeles. He studied at the University of California Los Angeles and started working at the university's Educational Motion Picture Department.
Later he set up his own photo studio before establishing his own wig manufacturing company and operating cinemas in Hong Kong.
Vajna produced 59 films in all, including Evita starring Madonna and Sylvester Stallone's first three Rambo films. He worked with top-notch Hollywood directors such as Oliver Stone and James Cameron, and actors like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Michael Douglas, Robert de Niro, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, and Scarlett Johansson.
Vajna and his partner Mario F. Kassar were the subjects of a criminal investigation by the US tax authority the IRS in the late 1980s in relation to the defunct big-budget filmmaker Carolco Picture. At one point in 1996, the IRS was seeking $41.1mn from the Hungarian film producer, but he agreed to pay more than $6.5mn in back taxes but no penalties.
Vajna returned to Hungary in 2007 and launched a film studio complex outside of Budapest with Sandor Demjan, the late head of Hungary’s largest construction firm TriGranit. The studio attracted international filmmakers with tax benefits and low costs, helping to put Budapest on the map of the film industry.
His friendship with Arpad Habony, the powerful informal consultant and PR strategist of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, helped him to meet and establish friendly contact with Orban, who appointed him the commissioner for the film industry in 2010.
By setting up the Hungarian National Film Fund, he is widely credited for the renaissance of the country’s film industry. The overhaul in the structure and that of the financing of the film fund led to the creation of Oscar-winning motion pictures Son of Saul and Sing in the short film category. Hungarian films received 130 awards at international film festivals in the last eight years.
Vajna came under criticism for his involvement in the media. After the prime minister abruptly broke ties with Fidesz cashier Lajos Simicska four years ago, Vajna has acquired Hungary’s number two commercial channel Tv2, which has become a mouthpiece of the government since.
Local media reported a couple of months ago that Orban was not satisfied with the falling ratings and massive losses by Tv2 despite the inflow of billions in state ads.
In November an unprecedented right-wing media conglomerate was formed after businessmen close to Orban transferred their holdings to a non-profit holding. Industry observers said it was just a matter of time before Tv2 would be forced to join give up its stakes. Reports spoke of financial audits taking place at Tv2.
Thanks to his friendship to Orban, Vajna was granted the monopoly on Hungary's casino market. He operated six of the 11 casinos and he had exclusive right to operate online gambling platforms without having to pay additional concession fees to the state. The casino business generated him HUF6.5bn (€20.4mn) in profits in 2016.
"We are bidding farewell to the greatest Hungarian film producer. Hasta la vista, Andy! Thank you for everything, my friend!" Orban said on his Facebook page, a reference to the famous line in Terminator.