Outside sets re-creating streets of London, Paris and Berlin are being planned next year to join the 2.5 kilometres of New York streets currently in construction at Sofia's Nu Boyana Film Studios.

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily.com on the studio lot at the weekend, Nu Boyana's CEO and Chairman David Varod said that more than $7.85m (Euros 5m) had been invested in the New York set, which will have fully dressed restaurants, shops and apartment interiors that can be used with the streets outside as a backdrop.

Studio manager Shimon Sabbah added that the first project - Nu Image's Ninja, a ninja warror versus yakuza martial arts film - will start shooting on this new set towards the end of May.

Varod revealed that the studio is also planning 'in the next month or two' to start the building of another 10 sound stages which would provide the production centre with an additional 13,000 square metres on top of the existing 3,500 square metres at the lot. 'We have been waiting for a license to expand for a year, but the bureaucracy takes time here,' Varod explained, pointing out that Rambo 5 will be shooting at the studios from this year October after the complex previously hosted Rambo 4.

He said that the studio would be holding true to its commitment to the Bulgarian Government's wish that more European productions should be attracted to shoot at Nu Boyana's sound stages in the future. Among the projects coming to shoot here later this year will be the long gestating Pope Joan which Germany's Constantin Film will be producing with Soenke Wortmann as director and Franka Potente in the title role; and Antonio Banderas' fourth as yet untitled feature as director.

Among the productions which shot partly or in full at the studios in 2007 included Mimi Leder's The Code, starring Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas, Josef Rusnak's It's Alive, with Bijou Phillips and James Murray, Xavier Gens' computer game adaptation Hitman, Danny Lerner's Shark In Venice as well as the BBC's TV series Roman Mysteries II. In addition, the onsite CGI and special effects facility WorldWide FX has handled work on films ranging from Rambo 4 through the Al Pacino/Robert de Niro crime story Righteous Kill to the Nicolas Cage-starrer The Wicker Man.

Dimitar Dereliev, a member of Nu Boyana Film Studios' board of directors, pointed out that the studio is intensifying its collaboration with the local film industry and financing all of the final projects by students from the film academy in Sofia. Eight Bulgarian student films are already set to be backed through this scheme this year.

Last year had also seen Nu Boyana serving as a co-producer on two Bulgarian features: Zornitsa Sophia's Forecast, which was shown as work-in-progress at the Sofia Film Festival's Balkan Screenings at the weekend, and Docho Bojakov's My Little Nothing.

In addition, Varod has been negotiating with some Bulgarian producers for their films to be distributed internationally by Nu Images/Millennium Films sales arm.

However, the studio chief had some words of criticism to direct at Bulgaria's Minister of Culture Stefan Danialov. 'We don't find a good connection with the Minister of Culture. We could do a lot more if there was more cooperation,' he said.