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With much of the intricately choreographed action in Sylvester Stallone’s new installment of ‘The Expendables’ unfolding in urban spaces or out in the elements, ‘The Expendables 2′ filmed for 14 intense weeks, mostly in the spectacular and rarely seen Eastern European nation of Bulgaria, as well as in Hong Kong and New Orleans.
Situated in southeast Europe, bordering Romania, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and the Black Sea, Bulgaria offered the filmmakers a wide variety of practical film locations – from lush, densely-forested mountain ranges to picturesque Balkan villages untouched by time.
Notes director Simon West: “Bulgaria is a country that hasn’t really been shot very much so most of our locations will have never been seen before. As a result, I think the movie will have an incredible look. There are so many different types of landscape and locations we were able to use. I think people will be surprised by what they see.”
“The scope of some of these locations just took my breath away,” muses Stallone. “It was massive and the way that Simon shot it… it’s going to have extraordinary appeal.”
One of the film’s biggest set pieces took place at Plovdiv Airport, Bulgaria’s second largest, near the famed Bulgarian ski resorts of Bansko and Pamporovo, much to the delight of local residents and airport employees. The filmmakers loved the idea of choreographing chaotic, large-scale action in a place where no one is expecting it- a familiar, urban environment rather than a jungle or desert or someplace audiences would normally associate with mercenaries.
The location brought numerous challenges, but the team relished them. “We were very lucky to get permission to use a real airport. I never thought we’d actually be able to pull this off,” producer King-Templeton confesses. “We ran a huge action sequence, actually firing hundreds of guns and letting explosions off and having car chases inside a real airport. I don’t think that has ever been done before.”
Sets were constructed throughout the region. In fact, when the production built a real bridge over the river Osam for the film, they made it a lasting gift to the local residents.
In addition to shooting across the Bulgarian landscape, the production also utilized the stages and massive outdoor sets at the versatile Nu Boyana Film Studios near Bulgaria’s capitol city Sofia. (Here during a brief break, the former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the current Prime Minister of Bulgaria with the sword of Conan the Barbarian.)
Launched in September 1962, when Bulgaria was a socialist state, the studio known then as Boyana Film soon became one of the largest film producers in Europe. By the early 1980’s the studios were churning out some 50 feature films every year. After political change came to the former Eastern Bloc in 1989, the studios were ultimately privatized – and in 2006, Nu Image/Millennium Films became Boyana Film’s new owner.
After extensively refurbishing and modernizing the sprawling studios to leading-edge standards, Nu Image/Millennium renamed them Nu Boyana. Today Nu Boyana offers a lavishly detailed “New York Street” that can replicate Manhattan, a Roman Coliseum, an extensive armory, a leading-edge visual effects facility and a modern Kodak film lab. With a total of 13 soundstages, state-of-the-art production support, all situated against a wooded mountainside on over 75 scenic acres, it had everything needed for the soundstage work on ‘The Expendables 2′.
As creative as the production was, for Stallone the most special visual of all was seeing this group of high-flying film legends all joining forces for one movie.
“Maybe this is the beginning of a revival. Or, maybe it’s the end of an era. But one thing is for sure; it’s never happened before and we’ll never see it happen quite like this again,” Stallone summarizes. “Everyone in this movie has had a stellar career and to get all of us together at one time is a minor miracle. This is going to be quite an experience for the audience and one that took years in the making. We finally got it on film and it’s something that hopefully people are going to appreciate for years to come.”
Image Courtesy of Expendables