Is there more to Bulgaria than low costs and a stunning New York City film set? And a case study of Kon-Tiki

Long a haven for low-budget action thrillers, Bulgaria has the potential to explode as an international film hub if a proposal for a 30% rebate structured much like Hungary’s tax incentive is taken up by the government.

“It would be very full,” says producer Jeremy Thomas, fresh off a seven-day shoot for European co-production Kon-Tiki in the capital Sofia. Attracted by Nu Boyana Studios’ New York set, Thomas rejected a similar set at Korda Studios outside Budapest and Hungary’s 20% rebate. “Bulgaria was attractive anyway,” he says.

Nu Boyana’s set presented Thomas with an affordable solution just three-hours flight from London; the studio claims to offer services one-third cheaper than anywhere else in Europe. “We tried to make the film an epic in another economy by using production intelligence,” Thomas says. “We are going to locations but we’re trying not to shoot the film across the Pacific and on desert islands and in New York and Peru.”

The local industry has talked up an incentive for more than a year but proposals have failed to gain traction. The Bulgarian finance ministry criticised a measure submitted to parliament last year as being at odds with European standards; the proposal was subsequently withdrawn.

‘We tried to make the film an epic in another economy by using production intelligence’

Jeremy Thomas, producer, Kon-Tiki

Even if such a measure moved through the legislature and past the president’s desk — prime minister Boyko Borisov is supportive of producers’ attempts to lure inward investment — it would still be subject to EU approval. And possibly short-lived. Similar production subsidies throughout the region will be re-evaluated by Brussels before the end of 2013.

In the meantime, Nu Boyana is doing steady trade thanks to its connections to Nu Image and Millennium Films.

Lionsgate’s Conan The Barbarian shot in the country last spring. Bulgarian crew are preparing to shoot The Expendables 2 this summer, with productions on Millennium Films’ Kane & Lynch and Rambo V tentatively scheduled for later this year.

Case study: Kon-Tiki

Jeremy Thomas’ London-based Recorded Picture Company shot Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning’s $19m seafaring tale Kon-Tiki for a week in mid-June at Nu Boyana Studios, Sofia. The production is also shooting in Malta, Sweden and Thailand. It is a co-production with Germany’s DCM Mitte Productions and Denmark’s Nordisk Film, with backing from the Norwegian Film Institute.

Why did you choose to shoot in Bulgaria?

Jeremy Thomas: Pure and simple, because of the standing set of New York at Nu Boyana, which is very well done.

Where else did you consider?

JT: We didn’t look elsewhere. Bulgaria was attractive enough.

What were your savings?

JT: It’s apples and pears. To set up a unit and shoot in New York is a different scale. Plus in Bulgaria, we don’t have to travel [far from London] and we don’t have to get jet lag.

Did you bring in crew or use local crews?

JT: We brought our key crew, principally from Norway, and picked up the labour grades and lighting grades we needed [in Bulgaria].

What advice would you give other producers who are considering a shoot in Bulgaria?

JT: It is a very professional, seasoned operation. Boyana has a tradition and history and it is a place where you can make a film. Most of the skills are there.

Would you shoot in the country again?

JT: For the right production. We were totally satisfied and we got what we expected.