Bulgaria has worked hard to attract a steady stream of major international projects in recent years. Now the government is poised to approve a cash rebate of 25% of qualifying costs up to $1.2m (€1m) per project that will boost the country’s appeal further still. It will be a huge boon for state-of-the-art Nu Boyana Film Studios, owned by the US’s Nu Image and Millennium Media.
Situated just outside the capital Sofia and spread over 30 hectares, the complex features 10 soundstages, an underwater production facility and plenty of standing sets — some left over from recent shoots including Rambo: Last Blood and London Has Fallen. Millennium provided assurance in May that it has cleared and refitted Nu Boyana to accommodate and comply with the latest health and safety protocols for productions.
“The facilities are world class and I have never come up against a location or logistical issue that hasn’t been made achievable by the production staff and local authorities,” says US-based line producer Matt O’Toole, who has shot 12 movies at the studios. “They have great stages and incredible backlot street-sets that we have used many times to double for London and New York.”
Millennium Media’s high-concept thriller ’Till Death, starring Megan Fox, was the first US production to shoot at the studio since the start of the pandemic shutdown in August and September. Protocols included mandatory tests before and during production, split departments and a three-day quarantine. They also used guidelines developed by US union SAG-AFTRA. Roughly 10% of the cast and crew flew in from the US.
Pre-pandemic shoots at the studios included the indie action spoof Kung Fury 2, starring Michael Fassbender, and the UK broadcaster Channel 4 and producer Playground Entertainment recreated the majority of its Beijing and New York City settings for the four-part drama Chimerica in Sofia and Nu Boyana in 2018. The production spent three of its 11-week shoot in Bulgaria. “We were able to afford a bigger crew there than in the UK,” says Chimerica series producer Adrian Sturges. “We weren’t a stunt-heavy production but the ones we did have, we did all of those scenes there including an air strike set in Syria that featured at the start of the series.”
Even before a formal incentive, line producer O’Toole insists “economically, the cost of set construction, shooting, crew and equipment is incredibly competitive. Bulgaria holds its own against other countries in the region, regardless of incentive.”
First person to contact
Jana Karaivanova, executive director, Bulgarian National Film Center
Aside from the Nu Boyana Film Studios, there’s also a vast array of natural shooting locations, including the wooded mountains of Vitosha, nestled beyond the backlot of the studios.
Elsewhere in the country, there’s everything from sandy beaches with picturesque views of the Black sea to lush green fields stretching out across the midlands, and crystal-clear rivers and lakes, all of which are within five hours’ drive of each other.
The capital Sofia has a striking mix of architectural styles. Roman, Byzantine and medieval sites can be found in the centre of the city, alongside neoclassical styles and socialist-era apartment blocks. “The country has endless looks in some stunning places — cities, towns, mountains, forests, lakes and coastal locations. It’s a dream place to work,” says O’Toole.
Nu Boyana Film Studios is the jewel in Bulgaria’s crown. Situated just outside the capital Sofia, and spread over 30 hectares, the complex features 10 soundstages, an underwater production facility and a 1,200 square metre water tank. As well as various standing sets, including New York, London, a Middle Eastern street, St Paul’s Cathedral and a large ancient set, complete with Roman Coliseum.
“They also have a huge array of equipment, props, dressing, costumes and vehicles, which has saved our productions from having to ship in from other countries,” says line producer Matt O’Toole. “Plus, the crews are world class across all departments so there are no issues with bringing in US and UK talent and technicians.”
While productions are recommended to bring a key team — director, camera operator, producer — “everything else in Bulgaria can be found”, claims producer Daniel Delchunkov from local outfit Timeless Production Group.
“It is easy to access Bulgaria with short direct flights from all European capitals and outside Europe too. We have superb locations, excellent valuations from worldwide companies and very low operating costs,” enthuses Daniel Delchunkov from local outfit Timeless Production Group to KFTV.
The only important thing is that the production comes with a key team - director, operator and producer, “everything else in Bulgaria can be found,” adds Delchunkov.