South-East Europe

(Star Wars: The Last Jedi image: John Wilson/Lucasfilm 2018. Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved)

Stunning locations and an attractive incentive have made Croatia one of Europe’s leading shooting hubs. Meanwhile Bulgaria’s studios are hugely popular, Serbia and Slovenia now offer filming incentives and Turkey boasts spectacular buildings.

Nestled on the far-eastern border of Europe, Bulgaria’s chief production asset is Nu Boyana Film Studios, which offers 13 sound stages and standing sets just 10 minutes outside capital city Sofia. The studios also offer underwater production facilities and has opened a new 1,200-square-metre water tank this year.

Recent productions to have used Nu Boyana’s facilities have included Patrick Hughes’ action-comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard, starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson, Donovan Marsh’s submarine thriller Hunter Killer, starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman, and heist thriller 211 starring Nicolas Cage.

Bulgaria will get a profile boost in early 2019 with the planned release of Neil Marshall’s Hellboy, a comic-book adaptation starring David Harbour as the demonic superhero. The film is the latest iteration of the character first popularised on screen by director Guillermo del Toro and actor Ron Perlman in 2004.

Alongside the production facilities, Bulgaria offers the wooded mountainside of Vitosha, situated just beyond the backlot at Nu Boyana. Elsewhere in the country, filmmakers will find a diverse range of locations — including sandy beaches and picturesque views of the Black Sea — that are all within five hours’ drive of each other.

Sofia has a striking mix of architectural styles. Roman, Byzantine and medieval sites can be found in the centre of the city alongside neoclassical styles and Eastern Bloc-era apartments.

Turkey is perhaps most famous internationally for the city of Istanbul, which is considered one of the most iconic and romantic in the world, and is traditionally seen as a gateway to the continent of Asia. The city has long been a popular filming location, and earlier this year Netflix announced its backing of fantasy drama series Protector, shot in Istanbul with production company O3 Medya.

It has been several years since director Sam Mendes filmed James Bond movie Skyfall in the city’s Grand Bazaar with star Daniel Craig, in what was one of the highest-profile visits to Turkey in recent times. The Skyfall sequence follows the secret agent as he chases a villain first across the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar on a motorcycle, before crashing through a high window into the narrow alleyways of the market itself. Organising the shoot required lengthy negotiations with local authorities, though the producers still were not able to secure the same degree of control they would expect in other cities in Europe.

Skyfall also filmed scenes at Varda Viaduct near Adana in the south of the country for climactic pre-credits scenes that see Bond squaring up to a villain on top of a train.

Turkey has further work to do in the coming years to appeal more directly to international producers, with Turkey-set stories having recently been filmed in places such as the UK and Spain. Turkey does not yet offer formal filming incentive support, but producers can ease their expenditure in the country with VAT returns from various government departments.

Beyond the iconic architecture of Istanbul, Turkey offers a broad range of location options, ranging from the Eastern Black Sea mountain chain in the north to the Taurus mountains in the south and the high plateau region of Anatolia in the centre.

Slovenia has a new cash rebate scheme, which is attracting international shoots. Enderby Entertainment’s Intrigo: Death Of An Author, directed by Daniel Alfredson, was one of the first features to access the scheme, along with South Korean TV series The Black Knight. Slovenia is also popular with commercials. In 2017, Chuck Norris shot one for an Italian car manufacturer. His Instagram posts revealed he was impressed by Ljubljana, which he referred to as “a beautiful city with beautiful people”.

Landlocked Serbia made a statement earlier this year by boosting its formal filming incentive offering from a 20% rebate to 25%. There is no per-production cap but the incentive programme has an overall fund of $8.2m (rsd800m) for 2018.

The incentive increase should help raise the overall production profile for this small nation of around 7.3 million people and could help the country establish itself as a true location filming hub in Eastern Europe. Serbia is better known internationally as a visual effects provider: Crater Studio, for example, worked on projects such as Netflix’s Vancouver-filmed TV adaptation of A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Australia-shot shark thriller The Shallows.

Producers tempted to film in Serbia can get support from the Serbia Film Commission, which is on hand to assist with location scouting, as well as production and legal services.

The oldest parts of capital Belgrade date back to the 18th century but the city has been steadily modernised, though parts still recall the brutalist designs of Serbia’s communist rule. Producers shooting in and around the capital will find production facilities including Avala Studios and PFI Studios, which is mostly used by local producers. International filmmakers usually bring in their own heads of department but otherwise crew can be hired locally, while specialist production equipment can be easily imported from elsewhere in Europe. Serbia routinely hosts half-a-dozen commercial shoots on any given day.

Serbian locations range from gentle hills and rivers in the centre of the country through to the Dinaric Alps in the west, and the Carpathian mountains and Balkan mountains in the east.

Croatia is a small yet diverse country, with a wide range of landscapes and architecture. Numerous projects have come to the country since the introduction of the Production Incentive Programme in 2012, which now offers a 25% cash rebate on qualifying expenditure. Last year, Lionsgate used Dubrovnik to recreate the ancient walls of Nottingham Castle in Otto Bathurst’s Robin Hood, and the island Vis was a key location for Universal’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, standing in for a Greek island. AMC’s thriller The Terror, BBC/AMC series McMafia and HBO’s Game Of Thrones have also shot extensively in the country.

This autumn, Croatia has hosted German movie The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, a period story set in the aftermath of the First World War that tells the story of a German butcher emigrating to the US Midwest. The movie is the first to take advantage of Croatia’s boosted 25% filming incentive and indeed secured an extra 5% on top for shooting in a less-developed part of the country near the northern city of Sisak, where a western town set was built. The producers had prior experience of working in Croatia and the 5% uplift support payment encouraged them to venture beyond the country’s established locales.

The Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC) is now exploring opportunities to build modern film studios.

The Lowdown – Bulgaria

Financial incentives

Bulgaria does not yet offer formal filming incentive support but local production costs are generally accepted as being as much as 30% cheaper than elsewhere in Europe, which is viewed as a significant attraction.

Infrastructure and crews

Nu Boyana Film Studios is the country’s primary production asset, and Bulgaria also offers a skilled crew pool that gained its experience on many of the international shoots that use Nu Boyana as a production base.

Size matters

Bulgaria is easily accessible from all Europe’s main travel hubs and multiple international airlines fly to Sofia Airport. The country offers 12,000 miles of roads and highways, and a high-speed rail service.

First person to contact

The Bulgarian National Film Center:

The Lowdown – Turkey

Financial incentives

Turkey does not offer any formal filming incentive support but does give discounts on VAT expenditure, as well as deductions on income and corporate tax.

Full details:

Size matters

Istanbul is easily accessible from airport hubs across Europe and, as a country, Turkey offers more than 10,000 kilometres of roads and highways.

First person to contact

Turkish Film Commission:

The Lowdown – Slovenia

Financial incentives

There is a cash rebate of up to 25% of expenses incurred in Slovenia, including for post-production, up to approximately $1.2m (€1m) per project. Applicants must submit applications at least 45 days before they start shooting (or producing, in the case of animated films).

Full details on financial incentives in Slovenia: Slovenian Film Centre

Infrastructure and crews

The Slovenian Film Centre offers extensive logistical and technical support. There are few restrictions when it comes to shooting in public spaces. It typically takes up to five working days to secure permits in the cities.

Size matters

Promoted as ‘Europe in a nutshell’, Slovenia has four geographic and climate regions within a 90-minute drive. Diverse backdrops include Alpine peaks, Mediterranean-style coastlines, meadows, hills, pine forests, lakes, rivers, beaches, castles, palaces and caves. These are all within reach of capital Ljubljana, which has some beautiful old buildings including a castle and cathedral. Notable architecture can also be found in the coastal and medieval towns.

First person to call

Dragan Mladenovic, RAW Production:

The Lowdown – Serbia

Financial incentives

Serbia offers a 25% cash rebate with a fund totalling $7.7m (rsd800m) for 2018. Feature films must spend at least $343,000 (rsd35.4m) to qualify, while the figure falls to $114,000 (rsd11.8m) per episode for TV shoots and television commercials. Full details from Film In Serbia.

Infrastructure and crews

Serbia has studio facilities near capital Belgrade and crew can be hired locally.

Size matters

Belgrade is accessible from 60 cities and ports throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and is no more than a two-hour flight from most of them. Nikola Tesla International Airport is the country’s main entry point, which is situated 20 minutes from the centre of Belgrade and a 45-minute drive from second city Novi Sad. Air Serbia is the country’s national carrier and services 29 destinations throughout Europe — the airline is one of two dozen international airlines that operate in the country.

First person to contact

Marija Ristić at Film Center Serbia:

The Lowdown – Croatia

Financial incentives

Croatia offers a 25% cash rebate on qualifying expenses for features, animations, docs, TV films and TV series. The rebate can rise to 30% for productions that film in less-developed parts of the country. There are minimum spend requirements of $310,000 (hrk2m) for features, $46,000 (hrk300,000) for feature docs, $155,000 (hrk1m) for TV films and $116,000 (hrk750,000) per episode of high-end TV drama. It is administered on a first-come, first-served basis and capped at $619,000 (hrk4m) per project (exceptions are considered)

Full details on financial incentives in Croatia: Filming in Croatia

Infrastructure and crews

The country has a long track record in international production and there are a number of full-service production companies. Crews are highly skilled and reliable, speak English and are able to service even the most demanding production.

Size matters

Croatia lies between central and eastern Europe bordering the Adriatic coast. It extends over 56,594 square kilometres and is split into three geographically distinct zones: the Coastal region (including 1,244 islands, of which 48 are inhabited), the Mountain region and the Pannonian region, all well connected by road.

First person to contact

Tanja Ladovic Blazevic, Filming In Croatia 

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