ScreenDaily: Why did Star-Media, a Russian media company open an office in the UK'
V.R: Star Media is an international holding comprised of a group of companies based in Kiev and Moscow.
We are now planning to open full service studios in Belorus, Kazakhstan, and Yekaterinburg on Russia's western border. Each of these countries provides new possibilities to optimise the production process; it also offers flexibility when it comes to picking the right location. Each country has its own advantages.
Our office in the UK has a different function. Obviously we cannot film in the UK yet, but we are extremely interested in the UK market, 3D animation in particular.
ScreenDaily: How long have you been dealing in 3D animation' Eastern Europe isn't exactly famous for it.
V.R: We've been working on it for a couple of years. We've got a number of interesting projects. One of them, Battle for Moscow, was shown on TV-Centre in Russia. The DVD rights have been sold to TV2 Norway at the MIP in April, 2008.
ScreenDaily: Why would this product be interesting to the UK'
V.R: We wanted to create a new genre - history animation, and 3-D technology gave us an opportunity to act out historical events in a new way.
One of the projects we are currently working on would be aimed at nine-14-year-olds in Britain. It's a project called The History of England based on The History Of England For Children by Charles Dickens.
We loved the book and the project is now in development. This is not an exclusively children's product either. It had huge success in Russia and we are now ready to distribute it out of the C.I.S. We are looking for script writers who could make a decent adaptation. We would then take our pilots to the BBC, Channel 4, and so on.
ScreenDaily: Where would you produce it'
V.R: We would use Ukrainian animators [Babich Studio, Ukraine] and British writers and co-producers.
ScreenDaily: Has it had any interest in the UK or the US'
V.R: Yes, we've already had meetings with the BBC, Channel 4 and the History Channel in New York. They seem interested, but of course these things are never decided quickly. We are planning to invest in this project ourselves; this is to show how important the UK market is to us.
ScreenDaily: You also produce feature films. One of them won an award in Houston. How important is festival recognition'
V.R: It is very important. We will soon be presenting a feature film at the Kinotavr film market [part of the Kinotavr Film Festival].
Festival films in Russia are not usually associated with financial success, whereas in America it is the blockbusters that receive all the Oscars. In Russia, festival films do not necessarily have to be arthouse as such, but they must have features of auteur cinema in order to achieve success.
ScreenDaily: How does the Russian cinema market differ from that in Western Europe and the US'
V.R: In Russia, the average cinema-goer's age is between 14 and 29. In the US this spectrum is much wider.
Young people enjoy certain cinema. Festival films are usually too complex in their nature, so they are mostly appreciated by older audiences. This is why none of the films that are very successful at the Russian box office will ever get awards at Berlinale or Venice.
There was one film which was an all-around success, The Island by Pavel Lungin. It was quite big in Russia, although its success fades before the likes of The 9th Company and The Irony Of Fate.
It's worth noting though that it was both The Island [arthouse] and The Irony Of Fate [commercial] that attracted a new, older audience, widening the age group for the first time.
ScreenDaily: How much government support do Ukrainian and Russian filmmakers receive'
V.R: Unfortunately, there is almost no such thing as government support in Ukraine.
In Russia, there is something called the National Film status. To achieve this status, the writer(s) must be Russian citizens, the crew must be 70% Russian, the money must be invested in Russia, and the film must be shot locally.
If one follows these criteria, the government allows an 18% VAT tax relief. Also, the Moscow council sets apart serious funds for television shoots. There is none of that in Ukraine.
Russia's Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema [abolished on 12 July, 2008] had a very powerful annual programme supporting 'national films'. There is a similar programme in Ukraine, but it gives ten times less of what they offer in Russia.
Also, the Russian Federal programme stipulates partial support, so the producers invest their own money and have total control over the project, whereas in Ukraine the government will only ever finance a project in full.
This means the government will only finance directors listed as members of the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography. These films, as a result, are exclusively arthouse. Directors are free to spend the money how they please, cinemagoers' interest being last on their list of priorities. Box-office success is insignificant to them; it's all about festival prizes.
Then of course, Ukraine's budget is much smaller, so they cannot afford to spend as much as the Russians.
ScreenDaily: Is this why you left Ukraine to work in Russia'
V.R: Star-Media is originally a Russo-Ukrainian group. But, yes, it is primarily Russian (80% of the profits stem from the Russian market). We mainly shoot films in Russia due to the lack of support in Ukraine.
ScreenDaily: How is the Russian independent film industry developing'
V.R: Well, even in America there are only a few major independent companies. It is a different situation in Russia. There are a lot of companies that produce only a few films a year. Besides, Russia's producers also act as distributors and vice versa - Russian film distributors are beginning to produce films more actively [Paradis and Karo-Film were two of the first distributors that built their own studios].
Everything is intertwined, there are the distributors that produce features, and there are the large TV companies involved in the film industry. Lean-M is moving in, Central Partnership makes 60% of its profits from television and 40% from films. Then there is Star-Media, A-Media and so on.
ScreenDaily: How is the piracy problem dealt with if at all'
V.R: The situation is gradually improving, but not as fast as we'd wish. In Ukraine the situation is worse. At least in Russia, large companies invest big money into war against piracy
ScreenDaily: What do you think about Vladimir Putin's recent promise top pump $164 mil into the Russian film industry'
V.R: It is impossible to overestimate the importance of government support for Russian cinematography, it is simply essential. Large companies in Russia today do not only wish to invest in domestic film projects, they also want to invest in the development of new cinematic complexes.
Besides, modern, fully-equipped studios will make Russia more attractive to foreign producers, who currently still choose Czech Republic and Romania over Russia as filming locations.