Who do you need to know to do business with Russia?

International film producers tend to team up with Russia’s leading film studios when working in the territory. Central Partnership, Three T and Russian World Studio are all headed by influential figures (see below) who have the necessary contacts at state institutions to navigate their way through the myriad administrative and physical challenges of making a film in Russia.

Universal Pictures worked with Nikita Mikhalkov’s Three T when it shot The Bourne Supremacy in Moscow in 2003, while Warner Bros hired the services of Timur Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs production outfit when the studio was in town for Get Smart in 2007. Bazelevs is presently producing Regency Enterprises and Summit Entertainment’s 3D action film The Darkest Hour (to be released in Russia as Phantom), about five people stranded in Moscow in the wake of an alien attack, now shooting on location in the capital.

Despite last year’s creation of a national film commission to attract international production to Russia, the territory still suffers from no real film infrastructure, a lack of information about potential locations and, crucially, no tax breaks.

The country’s studios are working hard to improve professional standards

The local studios help find locations, hire actors, recruit local crews and advise on permits and visas. And most of Russia’s leading film-makers and actors speak English.

There is no acting union in Russia so most contracts are struck individually with the producer. This can mean an unstructured shooting process on Russian projects, with frequent delays, refreshment breaks and an unwillingness to work overtime.

However, the country’s studios are working hard to improve professional standards.

Fyodor Bondarchuk - Art Pictures

The son of War And Peace director Sergei Bondarchuk is the head of Art Pictures and one of the territory’s most successful film-makers in his own right. His credits include The Inhabited Island, Heat and The 9th Company. His English-language debut, Winter Queen, is set to shoot this August for Seven Arts Pictures. In late 2010, Bondarchuk and Eduard Pichugin, founder of local exhibitor Kronwerk Cinema, launched a state-of-the-art exhibition network, Kino City, to operate in 200 Russian cities. In addition, Bondarchuk is one of the partners planning to build Russia’s largest film studio, Glavkino, in the Moscow region.

Contact: (7) 495 933 36 28; artpict@co.ru

Timur Bekmambetov - Bazelevs

Russia’s most internationally bankable film-maker, thanks to Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) and his passion for audience-friendly spectaculars. His vampire mini-franchise caught the eye of Fox which distributed both films globally (an English-language follow-up, Twilight Watch, has long been mooted but has yet to be greenlit). As well as many local hits, Bekmambetov has made Wanted for Universal, teamed up with Tim Burton on 9, and is now directing and producing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with co-producer Burton for Fox. Bekmambetov’s Bazelevs is the go-to production outfit for US companies on location. He also has a Los Angeles-based outpost with Universal called Bekmambetov Projects as well as a Los Angeles-based distribution company with Sergei Yershov called Film Depot. The latter buys for Russia and the CIS, sometimes taking Baltic territories. Pick-ups include Gareth Edwards’ low-fi sci-fi picture Monsters.

Contact: film@bazelevs.ru; www.bazelevs.ru

Nikita Mikhalkov - Three T

The Burnt By The Sun director is one of the godfathers of the modern Russian film industry. He is the chairman of the Russian Cinematographers’ Union and produces his own films through his Three T studio, including the much-anticipated but poorly received Burnt By The Sun 2: Exodus and its upcoming sequel Burnt By The Sun 3: The Citadel. Mikhalkov is behind many industry initiatives, including the establishment of a national film school and the construction of a theatre in Moscow to host film festivals. He is active in the fight against piracy and last year backed a new Russian Film Commission. He also hosts an annual co-production forum at the Moscow International Film Festival, where he serves as president. However, Mikhalkov is not without his critics. Well-known local film-makers including Alexei German, Alexander Sokurov and Eldar Ryazanov suggest the Cinematographers’ Union does not do enough to protect the interests of local film-makers and have criticised Mikhalkov’s “totalitarian” methods.

Contact: (7) 495 933 60 37; info@trite.ru

Yuri Sapronov - Russian World Studios

Sapronov is CEO of Russian World Studios (RWS), one of the country’s largest film studios, owned by the local financial conglomerate AFK Sistema. In addition to films, the company specialises in TV production, often with international companies including Sony Pictures Television International, Hallmark Entertainment and HBO Films. Sapronov recently co-produced the Russian-Indian TV series Hindu. RWS now plans to work with India Take One Productions on an official co-production of Athanasius Nikitin, based on a story about the titular Russian traveller and writer. Sapronov is also a vocal anti-piracy activist.

Contact: (7) 495 229 63 73; info@rwstudio.com; www.rwstudios.ru

Sergei Tolstikov - State Film Fund

Tolstikov is responsible for the allocation of $101.8m (rub2.9bn) in annual production subsidies to the country’s studios and is seen as the bridge between the film industry and the government. Appointed in early 2010 with no previous film experience, he is also responsible for promoting Russian film by supporting initiatives from attracting foreign shoots to the digitisation of the country’s cinemas.

Contact: info@fond-kino.ru; www.fond-kino.ru

Vyacheslav Telnov - Ministry of Culture

In addition to the State Film Fund, the department of cinematography at the ministry of culture under Telnov distributes $49.2m (rub1.4bn) annually to support first-time film-makers as well as those making animation, teen, documentary and arthouse features. Telnov’s budget must also stretch to help fund film festivals and the introduction of an electronic ticket. Telnov is involved in the design of a strategic plan for the development of the Russian film industry until 2020.

Contact: info@mkrf.ru

Konstantin Ernst, Anatoly Maximov - Channel One

Between them, Ernst and Maximov have produced most of Russia’s biggest local hits. As general producer and director general, and deputy director general of film production and exhibition for Russia’s biggest broadcaster, Channel One, respectively, they are able to give their films a huge marketing platform. Their hit credits include Andrei Kravchuk’s Russian Civil War drama Admiral in 2008, and Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch, Day Watch and romantic comedy The Irony Of Fate 2.

Contact: (7) 495 617 73 87

Sergei Shumakov - Russia Channel

The general manager of Russia’s second biggest state-owned broadcaster and editor-in-chief of the Culture TV Channel, focusing on international documentaries, Shumakov is known for his active stance supporting the development of co-productions between Russian and European film producers. He has also produced high-grossing Russian titles including Pavel Lungin’s 2006 film, The Island.

Contact: info@rutv.ru

Mark Lolo - Central Partnership

Lolo is the new president of leading production and distribution outfit Central Partnership (CP) following the departure of president and company-founder Ruben Dishdishyan in April. A CP insider, Lolo was previously head of the company’s distribution arm, Central Partnership Sales House, and was responsible for securing the lucrative deal to distribute all Paramount Pictures International titles in Russia and the CIS (except the Ukraine).

Contact: (7) 495 745 54 61; www.centpart.com

Igor Tolstunov - Profit

As the founder of one of Russia’s leading production companies, Tolstunov was one of the country’s first professional producers. He has nurtured the careers of arthouse film-makers including Vladimir Bortko (The Circus Burned Down And The Clown Ran Away), Alla Surikova (I Want To Go To Jail) and Pavel Chukhrai (Oscar-nominated The Thief), as well as Kira Muratova, Yegor Konchalovsky and Denis Yevstigneyev. Until 2010, he was also the co-owner of the Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival.

Contact: (7) 495 937 71 92; kino@profitkino.ru