NEW TORK - It will be pairing of a New York-based film production studio owned by a Greek-American with a Bulgarian company that's already lured big Hollywood movies – the new business going to break ground on a studio in Thessaloniki.
Bulgaria’s Nu Boyana Studios, which has serviced blockbusters like Sylvester Stallones' The Expendables franchise and the upcoming Rambo V, is preparing to break ground for the new studio in Greece's second-largest city as the country tries to change its reputation as being unfriendly to film makers – even losing the Mamma Mia sequel.
Nu Boyana will team with John Kalafatis, CEO of York Studios, in a venture that's being called Nu Boyana Hellenic to reflect the heritage of both countries, and their work in preparing settings for films, with hopes more will be coming to Greece which is offering movie makers cash rebates of up to 35 percent after keeping them away with an unfriendly attitude.
“With Greece announcing its tax rebates, we started looking a lot more seriously at what opportunities are there,” Nu Boyana Film Studios CEO Yariv Lernerr told Variety magazine. “We realized it’s a great country with great locations, but not much infrastructure.”
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. “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 said.
Indeed, one of the new darlings of Hollywood is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, but he got so little cooperation in Greece in his early years that he's moved to London and even the BBC had trouble getting permission to film part of a TV series at Cape Sounion, one of the country's prime archaeological sites – the kind of spot filmmakers prefer and which sets Greece apart.
The two studio heads said their plan aims to upgrade the Greek film business by training a bigger local crew base and that they hope to have the business going 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 said, giving directors a place to shoot on sets and locations.
Lerner said Thessaloniki’s location only three hours from Sofia by car was a prime factor in going there, along with an international airport and its oft-photographed waterfront location known for its famed White Tower.
Thessaloniki is also a hip, young city with a booming cultural scene and home to a major international film festival that draws the crowds and celebrities and an alternative to Athens. “It seems like an easier place to film,” said 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 handled a long line of films from Hollywood and across Europe.
Lerner said Greece is ready to take its place as a key production hub. “Looking long-term at the industry in Greece, the rebate is one factor, but it’s not the only factor,” he told the magazine, the bible of film makers and the industry.
He cited Greece’s ancient ruins, islands, coastline and constant sun and a place where it’s easier to interest top talent in coming, calling it a “magical, mystical holiday destination.” He added: “It’s an easy sell to get a major star to come to Greece,”to film.
Since the rebate was offered and Greece said it was ready to embrace films, a few have already been shot in the past year, including the political thriller Born to be Murdered, starring John David Washington, from the TV series Ballers.
Lerner said Nu Boyana Hellenic will keep them coming. “It takes a couple of movies that are successful, and then they sort of pave the way for the future,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk, a lot of interest, but very few have actually taken that leap of faith.”