Bulgaria has become an increasingly popular location for many international feature filmmakers. The country has many appeals, including its varied scenery that can pass for Canada, Alaska and Russia in the winter, and France, Middle America and even more tropical locations in the summer months.
The greatest draw for filmmakers, however, is the low cost of filming in Bulgaria compared to the more traditional locations such as Los Angeles.
There have been a number of big budget American and European films which have been shot predominantly in Bulgaria in recent years. Most recently, these include:
Ghosts of War, a supernatural psychological thriller set in France during World War II, was heading for a late spring shoot in 2017. The film stars Brenton Thwaites and comes from the writer of The Final Destination, Eric Bress.
The reboot of the horror franchise, Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen starring David Harbour and directed by Neil Marshall, was set to film in Sofia in the autumn of 2017.
In the summer of 2016, Millennium Films shot action feature Hunter Killer partly in Bulgaria, starring Gary Oldman, Gerard Butler and Billy Bob Thornton.
Autómata (2014), a Spanish production starring Antonio Banderas and Winona Ryder, which shot in Sofia, Bulgaria. Also using the capital city for shooting in early 2014 was Survivor, a thriller starring Milla Jovovich, Pierce Brosnan and Angela Basset.
Getaway (2013), an action film starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, and a co-production between USA and Bulgaria. Filmed in Louisiana and Sofia. In the same year, director Noam Murro shot the epic 300 - Rise of an Empire in the country.
Conan the Barbarian (2011), this American action film was shot at several locations within Bulgaria including the Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia; the nature reserve at Bolata; the impressive natural rock formations of Pobiti Kamani; the ancient village of Bistritsa; the ‘stone river’ Zlatnite Mostove; and Vitosha Mountain.
The Expendables 2 (2012) was yet another American film in which filming took place largely in Bulgaria. Shooting locations included the Nu Boyana Film Studios, the city of Plovdiv and the town of Bansko.
Permits for filming in public areas in Bulgaria can be secured by contacting the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in writing. This can be done through your country’s Embassy. Information must be provided informing the government of the sites in which you wish to film, the names and passport photos of any international crew that will be visiting, and information about when and for how long you will be staying in the country.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will then assess your request, and will produce accreditation cards for the members of the crew who will be coming to Bulgaria. These passes will allow you and your team to film in most areas of the country, but some specific high security or protected areas such as the border zones or power stations will require additional permits.
On the whole, Bulgarian authorities and citizens are welcoming and encouraging to international film crews. Filmmakers do not often face restrictions to where or when they can film, unless there are exceptional circumstances to take into account.
A visa is not required for filmmakers who intend to stay in Bulgaria less than 30 days. However, for stays that continue for over 30 days, a visa will be needed and so it will be necessary to submit an application to the Bulgarian Embassy.
Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia is home to Nu Boyana Film Studios, the largest film studio in Eastern Europe.
The studio opened in 1962, and in 2005 they were sold to the California-based studio Nu Image. Since then they have developed significantly to provide all the necessary facilities required for every step of the film production process.
The Nu Boyana Films Studios are built on an area comprising 75 acres, and the complex features 13 sound stages and has several standing sets including replicas of New York City, Ancient Rome, a Japanese Dojo, Wartime Italy, and an Arabian set which was used in the filming of Conan the Barbarian.
Bulgaria has a range of versatile landscapes and both historic and modern urban areas, which can be effectively used to substitute a variety of different countries and cities around the globe. This is highly attractive to filmmakers who seek to keep costs down.
During the warmer months of late spring, summer and early autumn, Bulgaria’s mountains, forests, lakes and wide valleys resemble American states such as Northern California and Colorado, or even New Zealand and South America.
In the winter months the landscape becomes snowy, making low lying areas look similar to areas of Russia, and mountainous regions like the French Alps or even the Canadian Rockies.
The Black Sea coastline can easily be transformed on film to resemble the French Riviera or coastal areas of the Mediterranean.
Many urban areas in Bulgaria contain housing and architecture which is very similar to Moscow and other Russian cities. Since filming in Moscow can prove to be expensive and troublesome to organise logistically, this is a particular attraction for many filmmakers.
The capital city of Sofia has also been used to mimic Los Angeles, as was done in the 2006 American feature film Black Dahlia. It is also said to be able to pass for Vienna.
The country also contains many ancient ruins and buildings from the age of the Roman Empire, for example the Plovdiv Roman Stadium that can seat 30,000 people.
On top of all this, there are also numerous sites such as religious buildings, bridges, air fields (both abandoned and fully-functioning), industrial areas and railways. There’s even areas of the country which can be used to film desert scenes.
State of the art equipment can be rented from the Nu Boyana Film Studios, as well as a number of independent rental companies in the city of Sofia. For a full list of film equipment and services available in Bulgaria see the KFTV production services page.