Viktor Mirsky: “We are not some holy people, it’s just that our interests match those of the industry”

• 10.10.2018

State financing of films and series, local market development and content production for export, stealing and competition, industry capacity-building and international coproduction – you will find answers to all these “cursed” questions of Ukrainian media market and also information about new projects FILM.UA is working on in the interview of Viktor Mirsky, general producer at FILM.UA Group.  

— Viktor, FILM.UA is one of major players at Ukrainian media market. During the recent years, we observe active growth of your group in film distribution and animation. In parallel, you open new cable channels, your presence on the Internet grows, the studio complex expands, and new pavilions appear. We also keep hearing that Ukrainian media market is small, budgets are minuscule, nobody goes to cinemas, piracy kills the internet, and line television has only several years left to go. How do we match these not really optimistic market conditions with the activities we observe at FILM.UA Group?

— We simply want to live! ☺ Do you remember a child’s tale about a frog that fell into a milk jug? It only managed to get out because it kept struggling until milk transformed into cream. FILM.UA is exactly this frog which has fallen into the jug twice: first in 2008 and then in 2014. It was a bit easier the first time because then the problems were purely economic; the second time it was much more difficult as economic challenges were complemented by political ones.  

I won’t be stopping on 2008 now, this is already history, and as for 2014, it did impact our strategy in a radical way. This always happens when the world you are used to comes crashing down. We became aware of two objective facts: 1) our own market is unfortunately too small; 2) dependence on one big neighboring market means permanent instability. As a consequence, our strategy today is expanding export. We must learn two things: a) make content which will be competitive beyond ex-USSR countries; b) monetize our product using all possible and available means. Only in this case do we have the chance not only to survive but also to improve our business results. And this is not just about FILM.UA, I am speaking about the whole industry.  

By the way, positive experience of other countries is a great help and inspiration for us. They include Israel, Turkey, and the Nordic countries. They broke into the global media market right before our eyes and caused quite an uproar. I don’t see the reasons why we cannot replicate these successes. And this is already happening little by little: The Stolen Princess collects very decent box offices globally, The Sniffer is the first Ukrainian TV show on Netflix and the first one with international adaptation, Battle for Sevastopol demonstrates great results on Amazon. These positive examples give us reason for optimism. And most projects we are launching today are immediately viewed through the prism of possible international sales. Naturally, we don’t forget about internal market either.

The Stolen Princess, 2018

The Sniffer 3, 2018


Battle for Sevastopol, 2015

— Is The Bondmaiden you are creating jointly with SLM such a project?  

— Yes. The Bondmaiden is a multi-episode melodrama told in prime-time quality. We took up this project only because we believe in its international potential. I’ll refrain from forecasts but if you simply look at the pictures already available online (and soon the first video will appear as well), you will see that my colleagues and I did not spend our money in vain. The TV show creative producer Tala Pristayetskaya and the whole team have done a lot of work. The series will be aired on STB in the nearest future, and we have expansive plans for its international promotion. Just look at the successes of Turkish producers: they prove that international breakthroughs in the genre of multi-episode melodrama are possible.

The Bondmaiden, 2019

— Detectives are probably another genre that can be received well by the international audience, right?

— We also think so, that is why we are preparing several projects at once in the detective genre. Phantom series is already in post-production stage. Just recently we have finished filming in Kyiv. We had been looking for a new procedural for a long time, and it seems to us that this project is solid and has format adaptation prospects. It has an exciting idea, charismatic characters, quality detective stories and good humor – if we manage to bring all of this to life as we planned, this is going to be a good project.  

Phantom, 2019

We are also looking forward to our joint TV show we made with Intra Communication, The Contact. It is a mystical detective story with a strong dramatic element, rather untypical for our television. I am grateful to my friends from ICTV Elena Belik and Aleksandr Bogutsky for risking with us. I really appreciate it.


The Contact, 2017

Literally a week ago we started filming another project for ICTV, Hide and Seek. The Sniffer’s experience shows that visual quality and style are significant if you aim at international audience. Naturally, we can’t boast large budgets like in Europe or much less the US, but I’ll venture to say that Hide and Seek is real art. And it is especially delightful to see that creative ambition is a priority for the whole project team.   

Hide and Seek, 2019

To continue with the detective theme, we are preparing to film another procedural next year, The Rabble. The project’s showrunner will be Nastya Lodkina, an experienced producer with lots of successful TV projects in her portfolio. Besides, Nastya is a great screenwriter, so in this case the fashionable term of “showrunner” is very relevant.   

And finally, I cannot but mention that The Sniffer 4 is also already in the filming period. Just several days ago shooting in Tallinn finished. We filmed in Kirill Kyaro’s motherland again where they are always happy to see us. The new season has several surprises in stock and will be aired on ICTV as usual.  

The Sniffer 4

— We know that Oksana Bayrak is finishing a new big project. Is the air date already set?   

Nothing Happens Twice is a new story from Oksana Bayrak, our melodrama queen. In principle, I need to say no more. I don’t know any other director in our region who feels this genre better. Offering Oksana’s projects to our channels is a pleasure of its own. Actually, just several words suffice: “A project directed by Bayrak.” That’s it, sold!  I dream to see the day when I sell all the other projects of mine with the same ease! But I am afraid it won’t happen because Oksana cannot be cloned ☺. As far as I know, the TV series is being prepared for broadcasting this season. SLM director Vladimir Borodyansky is an old fan of Oksana’s creative works, so her latest projects are normally premiered on STB.  

Nothing Happens Twice, 2018

— You have a lot of projects in co-production. What is the reason for that?  

— Actually, now there are not that many. Co-production is more present in feature films, especially with the strong international component. For example, they are Gareth Jones and The Rising Hawk, large co-production products with celebrities. It is practically impossible to launch such stories on one’s own, so here joining efforts is only natural.   

Gareth Jones, 2019

The Rising Hawk, 2019

In series for the internal market the situation is a bit different. Here co-production is less needed. But there are several partners we work with from one year to the next side by side. This is first of all about creative and financial synergy and secondly, which is especially important, about mutual trust. For example, my friends from Intra Communication are such partners. Looking into the Distance is our new project which is now in the filming period. It is a melodrama with a strong detective line and a light mystical touch.  

Looking into the Distance, 2019

A criminal comedy Deceive Yourself is our joint project with Mamas Film. I cannot but mention the successes of Alla Lipovetskaya and Marina Kvasova in TV series production. This year, several projects they have produced showed great results at Ukraina TV channel, and several more big premieres are in the pipeline. I am very happy for my friends and don’t doubt for a second that our common project is also doomed to success.  

— Deceive Yourself is a four-episode mini-series. How interested is the current market in such format?  

— Based on what I see the format is in demand. Practically all channels from the top six offer corresponding slots to the audience. This year our producers Elena Malkova and Katya Shvets have completed two such projects, Believe Me and Best of All for Ukraina TV channel. And now we are preparing several more for filming.  

Believe Me, 2018

Best of All, 2018

— You have said many times that Dr. Baby Dust is among the most successful series in your producing career. Just recently the third season was premiered, and can we expect the fourth?   

Dr. Baby Dust 3, 2017

— Yes, this is really so. Frankly speaking, I do not completely understand its phenomenal success. However, I have an answer. No doubt, I should give credit to my co-producers in the first and the second seasons, Yuriy Morozov and Vladimir Issat. Two good people made an incredibly kind and warm TV show, and this is where the secret to success lies. I am delighted that Ira Kostyuk and Yulia Mischenko managed to keep this right degree of humanity in the third season. And with such results we have no right to stop. Now we are finalizing some legal formalities, but I am convinced that the fourth season will see the light. I’ll tell you even more, the preparations have started. 

And if we got talking about multi-episode low-budget series, I would like to say a couple of words on this topic. I often hear from people at our market that this is cheap, low-quality content, and that actors should be ashamed of participating in such films. I can only argue that such projects require the highest quality of management and professionalism. In my opinions, our producers Yulia Mischenko and Sergey Demidov with their teams achieve the impossible. Dr Baby Dust and Doctor on Call are extremely important for our Group, and I am proud of their results. Now my colleagues are preparing several similar projects jointly with Ukraina TV channel, and we really hope for new successes on daytime air.   

Doctor on Call 4/5, 2016-2017 

— I cannot but ask about international co-production in TV series. They talk a lot about it at the market, but we don’t see any visible results for now.  

You still don’t see the results because this is the most challenging field. Finding a series product of interest to several markets is probably the biggest challenge for any producer. Different mentalities, different languages, different market capacities – all these are serious obstacles in the way of international co-production. But as I’ve already said, if we want to develop the industry further, we have no other way.  

The Bondmaiden, 2019

Naturally, the geographical neighbors are always the first in line. In our case, there is a big Polish market. It is a very difficult market, extremely closed, with complicated attitude to Ukraine even on basic human level. But there are chances, and I really hope that in the nearest future we will announce several joint projects. 

A lot of work in this direction is being done by my colleagues Olesya Lukyanenko and Nadezhda Zayonchkovskaya. It looks like they already know Polish market better than their own ☺. I am very hopeful that our TV show project Lemberg will be created in close cooperation with Polish counterparts.  

However, we do not limit our interests only to the Poles. Our London office in the person of Katya Vishnevskaya actively works on the Western European market, namely Germany, Italy and Spain. Another critical market for us is Israel. First of all, as I’ve said, this is a great example for us how one can make major breakthroughs on small budgets according to European estimates; secondly, a significant amount of our former countrymen residing there is another good reason to look for contact points.  

— Are state funds on Ukrainian film and TV market good or evil?

— This is a hard question. Unfortunately, in the current situation the functioning of serious industry is impossible without state support. But the problem is not in the state funds as such but instead in the long-established habits of some producers and directors. Some of the former (producers) believe that state funds are their “feeder”; some of the latter (directors) treat them as a free source for bringing their creative fantasies to life. Both the former and the latter damage the industry. And if I can sympathize with the latter, the former are just thieves, and we have to call a spade a spade.   

I won’t hide it from you: my partner Sergey Sozanovsky and I had discussions about the need for our participation in state pitchings. Now I am more inclined to say he is right: we need to participate. I can put it in the following way: for FILM.UA and our financial situation working with state funds is a doubtful escapade here and now; we lose money, time, human and technical resources. But, without being overly modest, I’ll add that our participation is useful for the industry. Be as it may, after the release of Battle for Sevastopol, The Stronghold, The Stolen Princess, and Crazy Wedding it has become a bit harder for some our filmmakers  to explain where the millions of dollars allocated for their movies went.  

The Stronghold, 2017

Crazy Wedding, 2018

We do not earn “at the entrance”, and jointly with our supporters will keep actively obstructing those who are used to treating state funds as money in their own wallet. And here it is necessary to note that we need that not because we are heroes and ideological fighters against the embezzlement of state property. No. We need the money allocated for cinema to be spent for cinema, that’s it. Because this moves the industry forward and causes competition growth as a result. And competition ensures quality, which in its turn entails internal market growth and increases chances for export, which is our goal. So we fight stealing for our own profit. Just stealing 30 to 50 per cent of your budget is first of all, disgusting; secondly, boring; thirdly, unambitious; and fourthly, pointless if you care about development. 

Our films are released regularly; besides, there are projects from Kinorob, Pronto, Star Media, Christy Films, Solar Media, Kvartal 95 and a range of other producers. When a simple comparison of visuals and box offices makes it obvious for everyone that a film a million in state funds was allocated for looks like 300 thousand, tops, patriotic hysterics and switching to Ukrainian language on Facebook won’t help anymore. Stealing will become obvious. We already force people to compare and will dissuade from stealing, though it won’t happen overnight. It is an evolutionary process but I think that it will go rapidly. I understand that adding own money is still hard, most producers don’t have such means and opportunities. But it will become harder to take something “at the entrance.” The guys will have to learn to earn money from theatrical releases, distribution, placement, and merchandising. Just like we and other producers thinking industry-wise are trying to do. And I must say that I feel understanding from Ukrainian State Film Agency top management in this respect. This is good. There shouldn’t be situations when a producer loses interest in the project as soon as money arrives from state budget. And we need competition, because only competition moves quality forward.  

I want to be understood correctly. We have grand plans but we are aware that no matter how much we try we won’t achieve our objectives without a developed industry behind us. We need competition and market. We are not some holy people, it has just so happened that currently our interests coincide with those of the industry. Market development is the pre-requisite of our survival, among other things. And this is why now we are mostly investing into the market, not earning profits. Either we pump up the industry in the new political and economic reality and grow along with it or we’ll flop. But in any case it won’t be us alone; it will be all of us together.

Phantom, 2019

— I would like to separately discuss state support for TV series…

— The principle is the same as for the cinema. Without state support high-quality series in Ukrainian won’t appear in large amounts. And “large” is the key word here. One, two, or three series won’t save us. It is not because we don’t want them to. These are merciless capitalist laws of the market. And such situation can be observed not just in our country. Look at most European countries of modest sizes and with modest means. The situation is the same: advertising market does not provide an opportunity for own production. At this stage there is unfortunately no alternative to the state money.  

This year we decided to try, and applied with one series to the Ministry of Culture competition; this is a historical project There Will Be Humans, a screening of a novel by Ukrainian writer Anatoliy Dimarov. It passed the selection, but we haven’t decided yet whether to go forward with it. Unfortunately, the draft documents were received were obviously drawn up without understanding the works of the industry. It is probably natural, the first step is always hard. We need to continue our dialogue with the officials and other players at the market. Now there is a feeling that emotions, ambitions, hidden and overt offenses prevail, and this is bad. A good idea can fail, and I wouldn’t like this to happen.  

— Do you already have an understanding of production plans for the following year?  

— Sure, we have a preliminary plan. I have just mentioned There Will Be Humans. The fan club of this series with our creative producer Olesya Lukyanenko at its head does everything possible for this challenging historical project about the dramatic Ukrainian history in the first half of the 20th century to happen at all costs. We have also talked about The Rabble, a procedural. I promised Nastya Lodkina we’ll produce it next year for sure.

My favorite screenwriters, authors of our biggest hits House with the Lilies and The Red Queen, Elena Boyko and Maryana Bek, have just finished a new surefire hit, you can even tell by its title – Women’s Secrets. We have already started preparatory work.

There is Felix Austria, a screening of a novel by Sofia Andrukhovych produced by Nadiya Zayonchkovska; now it is at the final stage of project budgeting. We really want this extraordinary literary work to obtain a screening to match.

Felix Austria, 2019 

Animagrad works on two theatrical releases. First of all it is Mavka, a film we are all really looking forward to and put great hopes on. And just recently work on Roksolana started: this is also a serious brand and a serious challenge for our producers and animators.  

Mavka, 2020

And, of course, I really hope we’ll soon announce several new international co-production projects. But as I am superstitious, I won’t lift the veil of secrecy for now.☺