New EU states: Membership has privileges

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Romania and Bulgaria are hoping to attract more film production as a result of their Jan. 1 induction into the European Union.

The two Balkan countries are positioning themselves aggressively as venues for foreign shoots, which already make ample use of facilities and locations in Eastern and Central Europe.

Bogdan Moncea, marketing manager of Castel Film — one of Romania's two major studio complexes, along with MediaPro Studios — said he expects Romania to boost production after joining the EU.

"We should expect a more significant proportion of European co-productions to take place here," he said, adding that, compared with neighbors like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Romania remains about 30% cheaper.

"Romania and Bulgaria have already provided an attractive environment for filmmakers to film in," added Christopher Marcich, the MPA's senior vp and managing director.

Romania served as a substitute for Civil War-era U.S. in Anthony Minghella's "Cold Mountain." It has a wide variety of locations, from the spectacular Carpathians mountains to the Danube river, the Black Sea coast, forests, glaciers and Transylvanian castles. It even provided Borat's supposed home village in Kazakhstan.

EU membership means tapping into existing aid funds and programs, including the Media 2007 system of aid for filmmakers and the Council of Europe's Eurimages fund for co-production and distribution. It will be particularly significant for co-productions, a European specialty and an important qualifying condition for Media aid.

"Being part of the EU helps bonding with other countries, who can help with co-productions. In turn, this helps private broadcasters locally and then spurs television production," Marcich said. "It will lead to an internationalization of production in the region, and we'll see films and programs developed with wider global appeal."

"Romania already is a success story as a shooting venue, and it can only improve," said Ross Biggam, director general of the Association of Commercial Television in Europe. "They played a clever game in building the infrastructure. And since shooting works on reputation, it has generated strong word-of-mouth from people who come back from shoots there and rave about the landscape and the skilled work force."

Bulgaria also is making a name for itself as a low-cost production destination. It should see a boost with the recent merger of the country's oldest and biggest film studio, Boyana, with rival Nu Image Bulgaria, a unit of Nu Image/Millennium Films.

David Varod, who runs the merged studio, Nu Boyana, points out that Bulgaria has attracted more than 40 international shoots in the past five years, including Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia" and Wesley Snipes vehicle "Nine Lives."

"We expect to benefit from enlargement," Varod said. "With fewer borders, more movement and more skills, our studios should offer a great option for filmmakers. I really believe Bulgaria will be able to take a big bite out of European productions."
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