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Director/co-writer Bruce Campbell stars as William Cole, a wealthy industrialist and ruthless businessman who goes looking for a tax shelter in the former Eastern European bloc, only to wind up the guinea pig for a mad scientist, who merges Cole's brain with that of Yegor (Vladimir Kolev), a former KGB operative. The two couldn't be more different, but they share one thing—both were killed by the same woman (Tamara Gorski). William and Yegor form an unlikely partnership to track down their common nemesis. Co-stars Ted Raimi, Stacy Keach, Antoinette Byron and Remington Franklin.
 

 What Is It Really Like To Film In A Different Country?

As a filmmaker, the issue of where you shoot is a critical part of the process. What audience members don’t always realize is the extent to which a filmmaker must adapt his or her piece when producers, in their interest to save money, shoot in countries that don’t necessarily service the needs of a given story.

Over the years, economic conditions have pushed productions away from the U.S. As a result, I’ve worked on TV shows and films in Mexico, Canada, South Africa, France, and I spent six years on and off in New Zealand. But of all the distant locations, Bulgaria was by far the most challenging. My film, Man with the Screaming Brain, became a good example of “adaptation by necessity.”

The answer to the question “why shoot there?” lies in the simple fact that the average Bulgarian worker earns $110.00—a month. The U.S. can’t compete with that scenario, so producers wind up taking even average stories to the strangest places.

When we were in Bulgaria, there were at least half a dozen other film productions going at the same time. Demand for English-speaking, “American-like” actors was so huge, talent was pulled from nearby U.S. military bases. One American fellow who worked for the Peace Corps jumped on the Bulgarian film train and quickly racked up some 18 credits—playing anything from a marine to a sonar technician—and almost always getting killed.

I ran into this very busy, self-described “non-actor” on the streets of Sofia and mentioned that he looked very dapper.

“Oh, thanks,” he said, confidently. “I just had an audition for Hallmark as an F.B.I guy—and I don’t even get killed!”

Aside from incredibly cheap prices, Bulgaria had little to offer my story, which was originally set in East Los Angeles. Part of the former Soviet Bloc, Bulgaria was ironically one of the “whitest” places on earth. Where was I to find people of color? Would I have to cast Gypsies as Latinos?

It seemed like a bad idea all the way around, so to prevent a sociological train wreck, I decided to embrace the unknown, adapt my story to match the location, and make the best of it. In the end, re-writing Man with the Screaming Brain for Bulgaria worked in our favor. I was able to capitalize on post-communist locations that would be otherwise unavailable to the average film (like an abandoned airport terminal and an incomplete subway system), and thankfully, my Bulgarian cast didn’t have to pretend they were from California.

During production, communication was a huge issue. One translator was assigned to the crew, and one was assigned to me as the director. They both worked non-stop, but I couldn’t help but feel that something got lost in the tedious process. To combat the information drain, I purchased a dry erase board. Whenever words failed during a meeting, I could always resort to scribbling a picture.

The saddest of all “lost in translation” moments came the day I stepped out of our “lab” set and found my translator, Assia, in tears.

“What’s with her?” I asked Joel, the assistant director.

“She’s crying because they’re about to wreck her Vespa.”

That exchange wouldn’t mean much to the casual listener, but it represented everything frustrating about filming in a different culture. Previously, I’d taken numerous meetings with the “transportation” department, and we discussed the Vespa issue ad nauseum. I was repeatedly assured that the one they secured could not only be painted pink, but it could be destroyed as indicated in the script.

“Holy crap, the Vespa is Assia’s?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. They never told her they were gonna wreck it.”

“That’s horrible.”

“That’s not the worst part,” Joel said, cracking a wry smile. “It was a birthday gift from her father.”

I hunted down the transportation guys and we exchanged some “words.” In this case, it didn’t matter that we spoke different languages—everyone knew exactly what was being said.

I don’t want to pick on Bulgarians. To be sure, they were eager to please the onslaught of loud American filmmakers, and I was grateful for their hard work. But the next time you watch a movie that doesn’t look or feel quite right, read the fine print in the end credits. What you thought was “Detroit” could very well have been filmed in a different hemisphere.