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Eastern Europe: where Oliver Twist and James Bond meet

What do Oliver Twist and James Bond have in common? The answer is: Eastern Europe’s newly developing film studios.

Low costs, skilled film professionals, a well-preserved scenery and communist-era architecture have turned the region into a favorite filming destination for both European and US film companies. Foreign film-makers have also rushed to buy local studios, vowing to turn the region into a new Hollywood.

„Next year, this will be the biggest studio in Europe: biggest not only as a matter of size, biggest as a matter of activity,” said David Varod of the US Nu Image/Millennium Films company that bought Bulgaria’s Boyana Studios in 2005. The studios built in the 1930s were rather neglected before Nu Image privatized them but Varod plans to invest €30 million over the next three years and turn Boyana into a prime filming spot in the region.

A new Hollywood production, starring Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman, „The Code,” is already in full swing at Boyana. Shooting here is six times cheaper than in the United States, 35 percent less expensive than in the Czech Republic and still a bit cheaper than in neighboring Romania, Varod explained. „A good reason to come to Bulgaria are the natural sets here in terms of historical buildings from the communist era and well-preserved natural scenery,” French producer Patrick Sandrin told AFP.

Sandrin, who also owns a studio in Sofia, already brought here Regis Wargnier’s film, „East-West,” starring Catherine Deneuve and Sandrine Bonnaire, and Mark Riviere’s „Vatanen’s Hare” with Christophe Lambert. Foreign companies are still slow to enter the studios in neighboring Romania but there is no shortage of film-makers willing to shoot there, like Francis Ford Coppola who recently finished his return to personal film-making „Youth without Youth,” adapted from a novella by Romanian writer Mircea Eliade.

„Good production capacities, qualified film-making staff, varied scenery and competitive costs” draw foreign movie companies to Romanian studios,” said Bogdan Moncea of Castel Film Studios, who own the largest studio in Europe and work with Paramount, Miramax Pictures et HBO. Costa-Gavras’ „Amen,” Antony Minghella’s „Cold Mountain,” Christian Carion’s „Happy Christmas” and David Yates’ „Sex Traffic” were all shot in Romania, either by Castel or another studio, MediaPro. But cost is not all, said Christian Dubois of Prague’s Blue Screen Productions: „Prague remains a good choice even if other countries like Bulgaria or Romania are dumping the prices.

The Czech film-making professionals are more expensive but they are better qualified.” Roman Polanski, who filmed his „Oliver Twist” at Prague’s Barrandov Studios, said it was „among the best” in the world. Barrandov also recently opened the largest soundstage in Europe. Another Czech company, Stillking, owned by a British expatriate, has worked on the latest James Bond sequel „Casino Royale,” starring Daniel Craig. Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie also finished shooting at Stillking their still to be released film „Wanted.”

Other famous productions in the Czech Republic include Disney’s „The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and „Prince Caspian.” In Hungary, a law passed in 2004 also encouraged foreign producers to shoot in local studios by giving them a 20 percent cash rebate on production costs. Hungary’s Korda Studios is currently filming Universal’s „Hellboy-2.” Lithuania’s major Lithuanian Film Studio also draws 85 percent of its revenues from foreign productions.

„Defiance,” a movie about Jewish resistance fighters in Poland directed by Oscar winner Edward Zwick and starring Daniel Craig, is currently filmed in Lithuania. In 2006, Vilnius also became home of a new co-production of Tolstoy’s „War and Peace.” „The foreign companies help us to survive and to retain our cinema production specialists, who otherwise would have left abroad long time ago.” (