With its rock-bottom prices, spectacular scenery and mesmerising medieval villages, US movie producers are flocking to make movies in Romania…
Until recently, Romania was known to the world mainly as home to the legend of Count Dracula, whose birthplace is said to have been in the province of Transylvania.
But the country’s recent willingness to welcome the Western film industry means it’s time to forget about scary vampire stories.
Major Hollywood productions are now being made in Romania, featuring stars like Nicole Kidman, Wesley Snipes, Donald Sutherland and Armand Assante.
US film studios prefer to shoot films in Romania rather than in the States or elsewhere in Europe thanks to the country’s low costs and beautiful, unspoiled landscapes.
Producers can also employ extras in Romania for far less money than they would pay their counterparts back in the US.
Local people who acted as extras in Cold Mountain, directed by Anthony Minghella and shot in Poligrafu, a small village in Transylvania, got a mere $150 each.
This amount was not only for accepting to appear in the movie but also for renting out their fields that were used as battle scenes in the production.
A modest sum of money, but considered “a gift from God to us”, as the village mayor put it. Most people in the region make a living earning little more than $30 a month.
Cold Mountain has given the Transylvanian village an economic boost, just as has happened with other American movies shot in different locations throughout Romania.
Director Anthony Minghella faced criticism back home for choosing Eastern Europe as a set for his movie about the US Civil War.
In an interview given just before the start of last year’s Berlin film festival, the director said he was dismayed by the charge that he "stole" the film from the US.
Minghella explained that shooting in Romania saved more than $30 million on production costs.
Romania has two major private film studios, Castel Film and Mediapro Studios. They both have seen a boom in business thanks to the American movies being shot there.
The $14 million film Modigliani with Andy Garcia in the role of the Italian painter was shot at Mediapro Studios, one of the largest media and entertainment groups in Eastern Europe. The $25 million film Highlander –Endgame, starring Christopher Lambert and Adrian Paul was produced at Castel Film.
Buts it’s not only American celebrities that come to Romania to shoot movies, the European film makers are also being attracted.
France’s most famous living male actor, Gerard Depardieu, has just arrived at Bucharest to begin the filming of a TV movie called Les Rois Maudits.
For its part, the BBC has chosen Romania too in order to produce Mary Queen of Scots this year, because it could not afford to shoot in Scotland, as planned.
While a Romanian technician has an average salary of $2,400 a year, Scottish technicians can earn more than $40,000 a year.
Some filmmakers turn to Romania as an alternative to the Czech Republic, whose beautiful architecture and well-preserved castles have long attracted filmmakers.
For the American Civil War epic Cold Mountain, Romania was preferred to the Czech Republic because the construction and labour costs were about 40 per cent less than in the neighbouring country, according to Bogdan Moncea, marketing manager at the Romanian Castel Film studio.
Many American celebrities who come to the country have fallen in love with the spectacular scenery, the friendly people and the beauty of women.
Wesley Snipes who came to Romania for his latest movie Seven Seconds, said he loved the country so much that he came back for a private visit to Dracula castle, in Transylvania.
Armand Assante’s passion for beautiful women has drawn him back to Romania.
After shooting a movie in Bucharest, he returned to the Balkan country several times, attending a beauty contest and spending time on the Black Sea coast, in the Olimp resort.
”The women in Eastern Europe are very sexy”, he said to the Romanian media.
When it comes to shooting films, American producers face the same problems as any foreign investor in Romania: poor infrastructure and a high level of bureaucracy.
However, Moncea says that the country’s potential is very high and he’s sure Romania can compete favourably in this industry.