Small-town America has been recreated in detail on a Bulgarian backlot. Theodore Schwinke visits the set of Hero Wanted.
The traffic lights are always green and the theatre posters promote only Nu Image pictures. Otherwise Nu Boyana's Ilientzi set, on the ourtskirts of Bulgaria's capital Sofia, is a convincing replica of small-town America.
The 500-square metre set, designed by Oscar winner Dante Ferretti and costing $750,000, first played 1940s Los Angeles in Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia and has since housed a further eight features. Most recently, it stood in for a Michigan town in Millennium Films' Hero Wanted, a $10m action movie, directed by Brian Smrz, and starring Cuba Gooding Jr and Ray Liotta, which finished filming this month.
Speaking during a break in filming, Smrz explained the value of the newly built set. 'You don't see many cable-cam shots in an independent film of this size,' he says with pride. 'We've got three.'
Shooting in Sofia allowed the producers Johnny Martin and Danny Lerner to save significantly on labour costs. With the exceptions of DoP Larry Blanford and first AD Matthew Dunne, most department heads and crew were Bulgarian.
Instead of maintaining a pool of vehicles, Nu Boyana hired Bulgarians who own US-model cars to drive their vehicles on the set. And a municipal waste-removal vehicle borrowed from the city of Sofia became a Michigan garbage truck.
But there were limitations. 'We've had to overuse some locations more than I'd like,' Smrz says, adding that it was hard to find US extras in Sofia.