Patrick Sandrin: Bulgaria is Virgin Soil for Movie-Making

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | September 12, 2006, Tuesday // 00:00
Patrick Sandrin: Bulgaria is Virgin Soil for Movie-Making Photo by Nadya Kotseva (Sofia News Agency)

He is one of the most popular and successful French film producers, the man behind East-West, Vercingetorix, The Last Bey on the Balkans, Vatanen's Hare. Says Bulgarians' conviviality, generosity and professionalism inspired him to found Sofilm. Ten years later, his company has offered complete production services in Bulgaria for films, TV movies, music videos and commercials. Yet, Patrick Sandrin claims it was not business that first drew him to Bulgaria.

Patrick Sandrin talked to Sofia News Agency Editor-in-Chief Milena Hristova

Q: When did you arrive for the first time in Bulgaria and how did you decide to work and live here?

A: I arrived for the first time in Bulgaria in 1989. After having been on the board of the CNC (National Center of Cinematography), I was a board member for the fund ECO for two years. Our mission was to support Eastern European cinematographers' co-productions with French production companies at times when the countries were facing a growing economic crisis. There were three Bulgarian films among those considered by the commission and that was how I started my work here.

Q: How do you see the country changed since then? In what way do these changes impact your work?

A: I see the changes the same way that you do - luxurious vehicles, world-known brands and big hotels are everywhere... Improvements in the country's infrastructure, logistics and accommodations make my work much easier now.

The biggest challenge that Bulgaria faces is to train its people well and up to the highest standards. Design, photography, advertising, cinema and communications are developing at a very fast pace and Bulgaria faces the risk of lagging behind in terms of training. Many young people may have to leave the country, get better training abroad and return well equipped with their knowledge. It is very important that the institutions in charge become fully aware of their responsibilities and streamline the communication process.

Q: Low costs and well-educated work force are the most often cited competitive advantages that Bulgaria offers as an outsourcing destination. Are these the only reasons why foreign businesses should choose Bulgaria?

A: The cinema is closely connected with all channels of communication and the media. A small industrial niche, which, because of its huge media potential, brings lots of information about the country, in our case, Bulgaria. The more films are shot in Bulgaria, the more intensive its communication with other countries will be.

The famous directors and actors that we bring here are media celebrities and what they say has huge resonance abroad. This adds a different flavour to the common talk about Bulgaria, be it positive or negative. We, cinema people, talk about Bulgaria through its geography, people and culture and are much more positive.

Q: How does Bulgaria compare to its rivals on the cinema market in Eastern Europe?

A: Cinema productions always follow the steps of the best available shooting locations. The most developed Eastern European country in this respect is the Czech Republic. Prague is a wonderful city, full of ready for shooting sets, good experts and good studios. During the communist regime the country was not devastated to such an enormous extent as Bulgaria, but after its accession to the EU in 2004 film production costs jumped high. The same applies to Hungary and Poland.

Bulgaria's closest rival on the cinema market is neighbouring Romania. It's overtaking Bulgaria as far as cinema is concerned due to its larger market, faster privatisation of studios and the easier communication with other countries, France in particular.

What drove me to Bulgaria was the country and its people. I felt a strong connection to the country, its history and its people.

Q: How do you explain this?

A: Personally for me Bulgaria and France complement each other perfectly. France is a country of booming development, urban pressure, fast pace and severe competition, which one could even call an economic war.

Bulgaria, on the other hand, is a country between two worlds - the nature and the modern world waiting on its threshold. What grabbed my attention first was its culture, rather than the prospects of doing business. I discovered here unknown to me closeness to nature, tranquillity and peacefulness, which to my mind, are born out of the hardships that the people have gone through.

I also felt needed - I created jobs, brought films and stars. To feel needed is a wonderful thing and a very good reason for me to be here.

Q: Is it easier to shoot here films, which escape from the vanity of the modern world?

A: The natural scenery is exceptional, but the conditions for set construction are even better. This is what we know how to do best. At the moment we are building a small town in the village of Bistritsa, huddled at the foot of Vitosha mountain. It will be the set of a Western movie we are going to shoot, featuring children in the leading roles.

Unlike Prague, Argentina and South Africa, which are hotspots for shooting capricious advertisements, Bulgaria is still a virgin soil. This is not a bad thing as the shooting of movies is distributed among the countries, each of them specializing in a different "species".

The films shot in Bulgaria are of competitive quality and price. The weakness are its state institutions, which should devise financial tools - subsidies or tax relieves - for movie companies.

Q: Can you describe what Bulgaria is for you in three words or sentences?

A: Bulgaria helped me rediscover myself and become an accomplished personality. It gave me as many things as I gave to it. Even the stars say Bulgaria and I are the perfect match - I am a Cancer, it is - a Capricorn!

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