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Studio bulks up in Bulgaria

Outfit has produced more than 45 low-budget titles

LONDON — Nu Image/Millennium is bolstering its production power in Bulgaria with plans for an expanded studio.

Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort’s Hollywood-based production and sales outfit have been using the former Communist country on the Black Sea as its low-cost backlot for seven years now, producing more than 45 low-budget, mainly straight-to-video titles.

Two years ago, Nu Image decided to make a move into bigger-budget titles. Simultaneously, the distrib decided to give its Bulgarian arm a more permanent foothold by purchasing the former state-owned Boyana studio complex.

After fending off competition from Blighty’s Ealing Studios, which had wanted to buy Boyana together with Teuton Bavaria Films, and deflecting protest from local filmmakers, Nu Image finally finalized the purchase of Boyana from the Bulgarian government in February.

This month Nu Image wrapped the $9 million canine period pic “Finding Rin Tin Tin,” the first production on the Boyana lot since the sale closed. It’s now ramping up to renovate and expand the facility.

Having already re-created 1930s L.A. in Bulgaria for the Brian de Palma-helmed “The Black Dahlia” last year, Nu Image currently is preparing to build several present-day Manhattan city blocks for Morgan Freeman starrer “The Code.”

“Boyana has a lot of land,” says “Rin Tin Tin” and “The Code” producer Les Weldon, adding, “We’re also going to build parts of L.A. and a small town in the U.S.”

“The Code” will be Freeman’s second stint with Nu Image in Bulgaria, after filming “The Contract” alongside John Cusack in Sofia last year.

In March, Nu Image starts principal photography on the Jean Claude Van Damme starrer “Til Death,” to be shot in and around Sofia.

However, whether “Rambo IV” will be shot in Bulgaria is still up in the air. Currently the script is set in Mexico and New Mexico. According to Weldon, “It wouldn’t be a problem to do Mexico or New Mexico in Bulgaria, but we’re still working on the script.” Also still to be discussed is whether Sylvester Stallone wants to do Mexico in Bulgaria.

Rambo or no Rambo, Nu Image’s Bulgarian topper, David Varod, has pledged to invest in Bulgarian productions and to support local filmmakers.

“David Varod is currently meeting with Bulgarian producers and directors,” says Weldon. “He’s made a commitment to help rebuild the Bulgarian film industry and find a good medium between noncommercial and commercially driven films.”