I’ve spent this week at the new hub of big-budget action movies. It’s not in California. It’s not in London. It’s in… Bulgaria.
Whoever thought, given its ending, that 300 could even have a sequel? But it does, and it has just finished shooting entirely in green-screen on Nu Boyana Studios’ 13 massive sound stages. In October, Robert De Niro and John Travolta squared off here for Killing Season. Before that, Nu Boyana reinforced its floors for the musclebound casts of Expendables 2 and Conan.
And, for the last few months, it has stood in for Ancient Rome. I’ve been on the set of Plebs, an ITV2 sit-com slated for spring 2013, doing interviews with the terrific young cast, and it looks very impressive indeed. Nu Boyana, you see, just happens to have a fantastically detailed recreation of the Eternal City in its backlot, complete with forum, temple, bank, living quarters and Coliseum.
But that’s not all. As you can see from my snaps, it also has a realistic 1940s New York (except for misspelling “Veronika” Lake on the cinema marquee for This Gun For Hire); a war-torn Middle Eastern town; and some crashed fighter planes on a back lot. With Santa Claus painted on their fuselage. If someone can tell me why, please do.
The studios were built by the Soviets in 1962, inspired apparently by a trip to MGM, in order to churn out propaganda films. They have been in private ownership since 2005, and a heavy programme of investment is underway. The crew are hard-working, efficient and wildly experienced (they also specialise in Blowing S*** Up), and everything here seems to be half UK prices or less. Pinewood had better look to its laurels.