Nu Boyana Film Studios, the Bulgarian production hub that’s serviced Hollywood blockbusters like the “Expendables” franchise and the upcoming “Rambo V,” is preparing to break ground on a studio in Thessaloniki, Greece.
The partnership with John Kalafatis, CEO of the New York City-based York Studios, will be dubbed Nu Boyana Hellenic, and will highlight the growing cooperation between the neighboring countries, as the introduction of Greece’s 35% cash rebate last year has a ripple effect across the region.
“With Greece announcing its tax rebates, we started looking a lot more seriously at what opportunities are there,” says Nu Boyana Film Studios CEO Yariv Lerner. “We realized it’s a great country with great locations, but not much infrastructure.”
The studio is the latest investment by Nu Boyana in a Greek industry that’s gotten a boost from its new incentive scheme. Last fall Lerner announced a partnership with the Greek National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME) to train young Greek film professionals in Sofia, something the Nu Boyana topper says is sorely needed. “There’s a lot of good professionals that are Greek, but a lot of them work outside Greece. There’s no real base in that industry,” he says.
The initiative is part of a wider strategy to boost the capacity of the Greek film biz by growing the local crew base. That would also serve to benefit Nu Boyana Hellenic, which Lerner hopes will be up and running by the end of the year. “It’s a long-term approach that will take a successful studio [model] here in Bulgaria and replicate it,” he says.
Lerner cites a number of factors behind the choice to build the new studios in Greece’s second city. Just three hours from Sofia by car, Thessaloniki is ideally located to move equipment from the original Nu Boyana facility. An international airport makes it easy to bring talent into the country. And the elegant seaside city, which boasts a thriving cultural scene and a long-running film festival, is also an easygoing alternative to Athens, Greece’s bustling capital. “It seems like an easier place to film,” says Lerner.
Housed in the former state-owned film studio built as Bulgaria’s main film and TV production facility during the communist era, Nu Boyana has a long track record of producing and servicing Hollywood films both in Bulgaria and across Europe. It’s currently prepping “The Legend of Sinbad,” directed by “The Wedding Singer” and “Around the World in 80 Days” filmmaker Frank Coraci, and the female-driven action-comedy “Jolt,” starring Kate Beckinsale.
Lerner says Greece is poised to become one of the region’s hottest production hubs. “Looking long-term at the industry in Greece, the rebate is one factor, but it’s not the only factor,” he says. The country boasts striking locations, including ancient ruins and miles of idyllic coastline, along with plentiful sunlight year round. It also has a particular allure as what Lerner describes as a “magical, mystical holiday destination.” “It’s an easy sell to get a major star to come to Greece,” he says.
Production in the Mediterranean nation has picked up since the launch of the rebate. Among the high-profile projects to shoot in Greece in the past year are the John David Washington starrer “Born to Be Murdered,” a political thriller directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino and produced by Marco Morabito and Luca Guadagnino, and director Michael Winterbottom’s “Greed,” a satire starring Steve Coogan.
That show of confidence in Greece is exactly what Lerner is banking on with Nu Boyana Hellenic. “It takes a couple of movies that are successful, and then they sort of pave the way for the future,” he says. “There’s a lot of talk, a lot of interest, but very few have actually taken that leap of faith.”