With a Cash Rebate Up to 40%, Moscow Readies for Close-Up

With production in Moscow continuing at a steady clip throughout the coronavirus pandemic after a brief lockdown last spring, industry insiders believe the Russian capital can blossom into one of the world’s next shooting hotspots.

That was the takeaway from a panel discussion that was held this week during the virtual Key Buyers Event, which takes place online June 8-10.

“Moscow, and Russia in general, is underrated as a production destination,” said Val Kupeev, head of international relations and production service for Bazelevs, which has serviced productions such as Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan,” FX series “The Americans,” and Fox’s “Red Sparrow.”

“We have over 200 big and small productions a year, maybe more,” he continued, noting that Bazelevs has the capacity to service two to four largescale studio projects a year, as well as several smaller shoots and numerous commercials. “I’m pretty confident in what we have here.”

In 2019, the Russian government introduced a cash rebate of up to 40% for foreign productions lensing in the country. The Moscow Film Commission says it’s facilitated over 1400 shoots since 2018, including HBO’s “Chernobyl,” the BBC/AMC series “McMafia,” and Danny Boyle’s musical romantic comedy “Yesterday.”

Shan Tam, producer of the blockbuster Chinese comedy “Lost in Russia,” which shot on location in Moscow and elsewhere in the country, credited both Bazelevs and the film commission for facilitating every aspect of the shoot. “They gave us a very clear picture of what to expect, what needs to be done,” she said. “There weren’t too many surprises.”

Production designer Luke Hull, who spent a week in Moscow in 2018 shooting “Chernobyl” with local production services outfit Vodorod Pictures, praised how “quickly and efficiently” the production team was able to arrange logistics and pull off complicated shoots that involved shutting down streets around the Kremlin.

“If I was to work in another city like London and do the things we did, with how little prep we gave Vodorod, I wouldn’t be able to close those roads, I wouldn’t be able to get those shots,” he said. “The only shame was that we only shot there for a very limited time, because that’s what we could manage for that show.”

Along with iconic backdrops like the Kremlin and Red Square, the Russian capital boasts a wide range of historical and contemporary architectural styles. “It’s one of those cities you can double for Europe, or as a completely different place,” said “McMafia” line producer Kate Glover, describing Moscow as “an untapped market.”

Writer-director Michael Idov (“The Humorist”), who used the city as a stand-in for Berlin and Detroit in his sophomore feature, “Jetlag,” said the biggest challenge for luring more foreign shoots is convincing studio executives to think outside the box when considering what Moscow has to offer.

“A lot of it is inertia,” he said. “There’s an institutional memory at a lot of [studios] that have been around for 20, 30, 100 years, and usually the answer is, ‘We’re shooting this in Prague, because we already shot that in Prague. We’re shooting in Berlin, because we already worked in Berlin.’”

Among its other virtues, Moscow boasts a solid crew base, at rates that are often half of what they would be in major European production hubs, such as Budapest or Prague. “Our partners were able to bring only heads of departments from China,” said Sony Pictures Television’s Margarita Iskandarova, who shot the Chinese remake of Sony’s psychological thriller “Chosen” in Moscow. “We’ve been able here to find the best makeup designers, for example, or costume designers to work with them.”

That deep talent pool extends both below and above the line. “There’s more and more very talented Russian artists who can speak good English, who can travel, and who can participate in big international shows,” said Vodorod Pictures’ Olga Kashirina, who served as a line producer on “Chernobyl” and production coordinator on “McMafia.”

Producer-director Philippe Martinez brought HoDs from France, the U.S., the U.K., and Israel when he shot the 2014 actioner “Viktor” in Moscow with Gerard Depardieu and Elizabeth Hurley. “Frankly, if I’m doing another movie in Russia, I would bring four to five people,” he said.

“I don’t think that people realize in Europe and the U.S. that Russian cinema has an incredible history of filmmakers,” he continued. “They know how to make movies.”

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