Nu Image Bulgaria has acquiredBoyana Film Studios and plans several major Hollywood productions for theformerly state-owned studios. The romantic drama Napoleon and Betsy, starring Al Pacino and Scarlett Johansson, thethriller The Code, starring MorganFreeman, and a remake of the zombie classic Dayof the Dead are scheduled to shoot in Bulgariathis year.

On January 13 the Bulgarian state privatisation agencyfinally approved the sale of 95 percent of Boyana Film Studios to Nu Image Bulgaria.The production company was one of three final bidders for Boyana, bidding $7.6million.

Nu Image Bulgariachief David Varod said Benjamin Ross would direct Napoleon and Betsy but could not release other details. He saidthat the film was one of 12 projects planned for the newly-acquired studiosthis year. The Code is scheduled tobegin filming in May and Day of the Deadis to begin shooting at the end of March.

"Boyana will be a serious service provider now, sothere will be more companies coming in, in addition to Nu Image", Varod told

Bulgariahad signed a draft contract with Nu Image in August 2005 but halted the salewhen local filmmakers expressed fears that Nu Image would dedicate the filmcentre to foreign productions at the expense of domestic projects. Othersraised concerns that a private owner would liquidate the studio and sell offits 100 hectares of valuable real estate.

"We want it as a film studio. That's what we wantedfrom day one," Varod said, adding that the studios would be serving internationaland local producers. "I see this buy first of all as a success for thelocal industry," Varod said. "I think [local producers] should wakeup and understand that the best thing that could happen to the local industryhere is Nu Image moving into Boyana.

Varod said Nu Image plans to invest $36 million in thestudios over the next two years. "I was waiting [to begin shooting The Code] to move into Boyana becauseI'm going to build American streets," Varod said. "I want to buildsome New York streets, but I wantto build them permanent."

Varod said Nu Image has not received any state support fortheir projects as yet and cited what he called a "lack of interest" inthe film industry among government agencies.

Under the terms of the sale, Nu Image is obliged to operateBoyana as a film studio, and is prohibited from selling or mortgaging the realestate 20 years after the sale.

Boyana includes production facilities, more than 2,000square metres of studio space, a film lab and an animation division.

Nu Image has been working in Bulgariafor seven years and has produced 47 features there. The company employs between300 and 600 people.