Chimerica filmed Bulgaria as US story settings

Political drama Chimerica shot largely at Nu Boyana Studios in Bulgaria, using standing street sets as doubles for US story settings.

Political drama Chimerica shot largely at Nu Boyana Studios in Bulgaria, using standing street sets as doubles for US story settings.

The series stars Alessandro Nivola as an American photojournalist who in the present day revisits a bid to identify ‘Tank Man’, an unknown individual who was photographed standing in the way of a convoy of Chinese tanks the morning after the infamous Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in mid-1989.

Playground Entertainment produced the Channel 4 drama, which was written by Lucy Kirkwood as an adaptation of her own 2013 stage play.

Key story settings included the US and China, but neither country was a feasible filming location.

“The real challenge was finding somewhere that we could double for the US,” says Noelette Buckley, head of production for Playground, in comments to KFTV. “We knew we’d be able to do a small amount of filming in the US but that would be for establishers, second-unit material and plate shots, and we wouldn’t have sufficient resources to schedule main scenes with cast in the US.”

Playground had previously doubled Ireland for US story settings for an adaptation of Little Women, set in Massachusetts, so Buckley knew that suitable European locations would be available for Chimerica.

“Our co-producer Alex O’Neal suggested Bulgaria, having worked there previously,” Buckley says. “I must admit I was dubious initially but what we discovered was a treasure trove of standing sets of US streets and I’d like to publicly thank Alex for his suggestion, as, looking back, I’m not sure how else we would have done it elsewhere so convincingly.

“What we didn’t expect was to also find several locations around the city of Sofia that could also double for China, so Bulgaria was really key to everything and allowed us to have a very tightly controlled schedule with minimum moves.”

Malaysia was initially considered as a stand-in for China in the early stages of production.

Chimerica filmed Bulgaria as US story settings
Chimerica
Chimerica

The country is increasingly used by British producers and has appeared in dramas such as Indian Summers and Strike Back, but the Chimerica team never got as far as physically scouting there.

Playground ended up making extensive use of Nu Boyana Studios outside Bulgarian capital Sofia, which offers standing sets of New York streets among its facilities, while one set was even suitable for a Syrian story setting.

“The shoot was a total of 55 days over 11 weeks so not losing time to significant travel was a key factor,” says Buckley.

“We wanted to put as much money on the screen as we could without losing valuable resources to travel and associated costs.”

Locations in the UK and Bulgaria were shot to create Tiananmen Square. Dunsfold Aerodrome, 40 miles outside London, was composited with a square in central Sofia, together with a flourish of subtle visual effects.

Numerous scenes were also shot in and around London itself, and interiors of characters’ homes were built as sets at Twickenham Studios.

“I think I’ve developed an instinct for knowing what we can get away with, location wise, and, when you have the right team working with you, which I’m glad to say we did, I think we made the right decision,” Buckley says of the Nu Boyana shoot.

“It’s all about having the courage of your convictions and having sufficient prep to do your homework.”

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in Bulgaria.

Images: Playground Entertainment

Chimerica filmed Bulgaria as US story settings
Chimerica

Political drama Chimerica shot largely at Nu Boyana Studios in Bulgaria, using standing street sets as doubles for US story settings.

The series stars Alessandro Nivola as an American photojournalist who in the present day revisits a bid to identify ‘Tank Man’, an unknown individual who was photographed standing in the way of a convoy of Chinese tanks the morning after the infamous Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in mid-1989.

Playground Entertainment produced the Channel 4 drama, which was written by Lucy Kirkwood as an adaptation of her own 2013 stage play.

Key story settings included the US and China, but neither country was a feasible filming location.

“The real challenge was finding somewhere that we could double for the US,” says Noelette Buckley, head of production for Playground, in comments to KFTV. “We knew we’d be able to do a small amount of filming in the US but that would be for establishers, second-unit material and plate shots, and we wouldn’t have sufficient resources to schedule main scenes with cast in the US.”

Playground had previously doubled Ireland for US story settings for an adaptation of Little Women, set in Massachusetts, so Buckley knew that suitable European locations would be available for Chimerica.

“Our co-producer Alex O’Neal suggested Bulgaria, having worked there previously,” Buckley says. “I must admit I was dubious initially but what we discovered was a treasure trove of standing sets of US streets and I’d like to publicly thank Alex for his suggestion, as, looking back, I’m not sure how else we would have done it elsewhere so convincingly.

“What we didn’t expect was to also find several locations around the city of Sofia that could also double for China, so Bulgaria was really key to everything and allowed us to have a very tightly controlled schedule with minimum moves.”

Malaysia was initially considered as a stand-in for China in the early stages of production.

Chimerica

The country is increasingly used by British producers and has appeared in dramas such as Indian Summers and Strike Back, but the Chimerica team never got as far as physically scouting there.

Playground ended up making extensive use of Nu Boyana Studios outside Bulgarian capital Sofia, which offers standing sets of New York streets among its facilities, while one set was even suitable for a Syrian story setting.

“The shoot was a total of 55 days over 11 weeks so not losing time to significant travel was a key factor,” says Buckley.

“We wanted to put as much money on the screen as we could without losing valuable resources to travel and associated costs.”

Locations in the UK and Bulgaria were shot to create Tiananmen Square. Dunsfold Aerodrome, 40 miles outside London, was composited with a square in central Sofia, together with a flourish of subtle visual effects.

Numerous scenes were also shot in and around London itself, and interiors of characters’ homes were built as sets at Twickenham Studios.

“I think I’ve developed an instinct for knowing what we can get away with, location wise, and, when you have the right team working with you, which I’m glad to say we did, I think we made the right decision,” Buckley says of the Nu Boyana shoot.

“It’s all about having the courage of your convictions and having sufficient prep to do your homework.”

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in Bulgaria.

Images: Playground Entertainment

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