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Location Spotlight

Location Spotlight: Bulgaria

Icon Films’ Emil Rangelov takes us on a tour of Bulgaria’s high points and hot spots

Location Spotlight: Bulgaria

With its phenomenally varied and beautiful landscape as well as ridiculously well-equipped studios, it’s no wonder that Bulgaria is attracting all sorts of Hollywood blockbusters and creative commercials to shoot there.

It’s such an exciting location that one of Romania’s biggest production service companies, Icon Films, has recently opened an office in Sofia. We caught up with Icon’s Emil Rangelov to find out what you need to know about producing in Bulgaria.

Why Shoot Here?

LBB> How would you pitch Bulgaria to any production companies or agencies looking to shoot in your region?

ER> Bulgaria is one of the most attractive European filming destinations with its beautiful nature, four seasons, rich culture, and good prices. As a European member, the country offers VAT free services to other members and a fixed 10% flat rate for personal and corporate income tax. Bulgarian costs are as much as 30% lower than central Europe and much lower than western European nations, the US and Canada. 

LBB> What are the main qualities of the region?

ER> Bulgaria has world famous expertise with more than 50 years of filmmaking. We have developed an internationally respected team of English-speaking, highly experienced and motivated professionals, skilled in every aspect of the process, from set design to filming, logistics and post production. It’s all here. 

LBB> What would you say are the most interesting locations in Bulgaria? 

ED> Bulgaria’s geography is dominated by two great valleys and two great mountain ranges. Rila and Pirin are the highest mountains with peaks covered in snow for half of the year. The wooded mountainside of Vitosha is in the outskirts of Sofia capital rising up behind to a spectacular height of 2,290m.

We also have crystal clear rivers and lakes, lush green fields stretching out across the midlands and wild sandy beaches merging with idyllic views of the picturesque Black Sea. 

All of this beauty is within a relatively small area, with nothing more than a five-hour drive away, helping to keep logistics simple and costs down.

LBB> Which Bulgarian location would you describe as the biggest advantage to local production?

ED> There’s a variety of pre-built sets at Bulgaria’s huge Nu Boyana studio, including New York City, London streets, Ancient Rome, Western Towns, and more.

In general, Bulgarian authorities and citizens are welcoming and encouraging international film crews. Filmmakers do not often face restrictions in relation to where they can film, unless there are exceptional circumstances to take into account; some specific high security or protected areas such as border zones or power stations will require additional permits. Within two to four weeks, permits for filming in public areas in Bulgaria can be secured by contacting the responsible authorities.

When flying drones. Bulgaria is still a very drone friendly country and we don’t have any restrictions flying them unless we are not very close to airports, government institutions and police departments.

LBB> What’s the climate like and the best/worst times to shoot in Bulgaria?

ED> Bulgaria’s climate varies from a seasonal, continental climate in the interior lowlands to temperate along the coast. There are four well-defined seasons: white, snowy winter; fresh and blossomy spring; warm sunny summer and rainy golden-leafed autumn.

In winter, from December to February, temperatures vary between 0° and -7°C. There’s plenty of snow in the higher altitudes. Very rarely temperatures may drop 20°C below zero.

Summer, from June to August, is warm, or even hot, especially in inland plains. Highs are normally around 30/32 °C (86/90 °F), and hot days, with peaks of 40 °C (104 °F), are not so rare.

LBB> What specific work permits/visas are required to shoot in Bulgaria?

ED> Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. EU citizens, as well as citizens of EEA countries /Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway/ and Switzerland do not need a visa to travel to, reside or work in Bulgaria.

Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for Bulgaria for up to 90 days:
• Canada
• Australia
• Japan
• Republic of Korea
• Israel
• Taiwan
• Singapore
• Moldova
• United Arab Emirates
• Malaysia
• Most Central and South American countries 

Foreigners from third-country nationals may stay in Bulgaria for a short period of time (90 days from the date of entry); long stays (one-year) and long-term residence under conditions for issuing visas relevant to the certain type of the visa.

LBB> How is the infrastructure in Bulgaria for supporting large productions? 

ED> Equipment and studios can be rented from a number of independent rental companies mostly in the city of Sofia, including:
• Latest cameras and accessories
• Anamorphic & Spherical lenses
• Cranes, dollies
• Cable cam
• Drones capable to carry 4K camera & anamorphic lens
• Motion control – Bolt High Speed Cinebolt & Modula by Mr. Moco 
• Camera cars/ Tracking vehicles
• Water tank in Studio – 20 m x 20 m x 6 m deep. Studio size 1200 sq.m 
• Sound stages from 400 sq.m to 1800 sq.m 
• State of the art Post-production facilities.

DOs and DON’Ts in the Region

LBB> As an outsider, what would you say are the biggest Dos and Don’ts in the country? For example: religious sites, language, attire to be worn, how to speak to the locals etc.

ED> In general, Bulgarians are famous for their hospitality, friendly and open-minded behaviour to all foreign nationalities and do not support any racial or religion prejudices.

The religious communities in the country coexist peacefully. In fact, the capital Sofia is known for its so-called Square of Religious Tolerance: the St Nedelya Church, St Joseph Cathedral, Banya Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue are located within metres of each other in the downtown of the capital. Sofia is a safe city. However, like in any big city, an outsider should take precautions measures as not leaving purses, phones, cameras or wallets on the table while dining at sidewalk restaurants and cafes.

LBB> Where would you suggest a foreign production stay while they are in Bulgaria? 

ED> The most popular and convenient hotels in Sofia's downtown are:

1. Sense Hotel Sofia - 5* - great location, amazing rooftop bar, preferred by the industry. A bit on the expensive side. 

2. Grand Hotel Sofia - 5* - top location, busy hotel, right in the middle of the city vibe. Preferred hotel by the industry. 

3. Crystal Palace Boutique Hotel - 4* - top location, busy hotel, right in the middle of the city vibe. Preferred hotel by the industry. 

4. Hotel Marinela Sofia - 5* designed by the renowned Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, a large indoor pool, 6 restaurants, 4 bars, a fitness club, also a great choice.

5. Hilton Hotel Sofia-  5* located in the city centre and just over a mile from Sofia attractions, next to South Park shopping centre and the National Palace of Culture (venue for Bulgarian EU Presidency 2018)

6.  Arena di Serdica Residence Hotel - 5* - centrally located in downtown Sofia,  an elegant modern facility, which hosts one of Sofia's most precious treasures – the remains of the roman Amphitheatre of Ancient Serdica 

LBB> Where are the best bars/restaurants? Any hidden gems you could suggest?

ED> Bulgaria is famous for its delicious cuisine and great entertainment.  You can find a place for any taste and any occasion. 

Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine is influenced partly by the culinary customs of the other Balkan nations and shares common features with the Greek, Turkish and the Serbian cuisines. Some of the best restaurants in Sofia are: The Pod Lipite Restaurant (Under the Linden Trees), Vodenitzata (The Watermill) and Veselo selo (Happy Village).

There are lot of excellent restaurants with an international menu and cosy atmosphere. Here are some of them: The View, Umami Japanese Food and Garden, Shtastliveca and many others.

After dinner you can have a drink with friends in some of the best cocktail bars like: The Beach Bar (only in the summer), The Cocktail Bar, Public Bar, Cache, One More Bar, Jasmine Gastro Bar and many others.

For your unforgettable night experience you can visit some of the best night clubs not only in Sofia but in Eastern Europe: 

LBB> Any other tourist recommendations?

ED> From a tourist perspective, Bulgaria has various popular destinations: summer, Ski, Spa & Wellness resorts. 

The Black Sea Coast is famous with places such as Sunny Beach, Golden Sands, Sozopol, Albena and Balchik, which are serviced by the two main airports of Bourgas and Varna.

The most trendy mountain destinations are: Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo. Skiing is also available near Sofia at Vitosha Mountain. 

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