Victor Mirsky, General Producer, FILM.UA Group: Now is the time for experiments

Media about us
• 08.06.2012

CEETV’s Maria Ruban met in Kiev with Victor Mirsky, General Producer of FILM.UA Group. They talked about the recent developments on the independent productions market in Russia and Ukraine, the company’s latest projects and the international prospects for original Ukrainian formats.

ceetv: Film.UA Group has different companies dealing with production, distribution, etc. Can you elaborate on their activities?

VM: It is true that we have three major branches: distribution, production and studio facilities. Those are the three aces around which the whole group is built, though in total we have around twenty companies providing auxiliary services. For example, Digital Cinema Ukraine prints digital copies for cinemas, Postmodern carries out post-production cycle of works, Sat Telecom deals with satellite signals (downlink, uplink, etc.). We have a big studio in Kiev with six pavilions and have just finished building the biggest one of 1.200 square meters for production of feature films and large scale shows. STB channel is shooting there and the Ukrainian version of the comedy-show ‘Bolshaya Raznitsa’ (Big Difference) made the first episodes for Inter on this stage . We also have our own large post-production facilities and are focusing on computer graphics, CGI. I can proudly say that, for example, our series 'The Bomber', co-produced with our Russian partners from Spire Film Company, for the first time in history of post-Soviet cinema made it to the top 5 of the best mini-series in the world at the World Forum of Visual Effects in LA this year.

ceetv: Are you choosing projects for production on your own or in cooperation with particular channels for which you are producing?

VM: Of course, when choosing a project we keep in mind the needs of particular channels. But at the moment we are willing to take risks. In my opinion, now is the time for experiments. So, we are currently launching several projects, which don’t have the broadcasters assigned to them yet. We haven't sold or even pitched some of them yet. Sometimes it is better to bring a ready-made product and prove that it is a worthy, but this approach does come with high risks. So, we have started shooting pilots first and only then pitching the projects, like we did with the 'Sniffer' (Nyuhatch) project. Another project is 'Werewolf under the lee' (Oboroten' v Pogonah) that actually tells a story of a policeman who is literally a werewolf, a guy who in his fight with evil can actually become a wolf. There will be a couple of huge historical projects, one of them will be an expensive family saga. Another project to commence in the nearest future is 'Moths' (Motyl'ki) - a catastrophe film about Chernobyl. We think that Chernobyl is our Titanic. We plan something similar in both sensibility and commercial appeal - a project oriented towards a wide audience. Despite the fact that it is a major technogenic accident in the past 50 years there are not many movies about it. The love and drama story of a young couple will be revealed against the backdrop of those tragic events of our history. We hope to produce both a four-episode TV version and a full-length feature film that could sell worldwide.

ceetv: There's an opinion, that in order to be cost-effective, Ukrainian production companies have to shoot content targeted at Russia and other CIS countries? Is it so?

VM: Yes, without a doubt we operate within the context of the whole Russian-speaking content market.We produce keeping in mind all the markets that speak Russian and, of course, Russia comes first on the list. We have huge production facilities in Ukraine and an office in London to present our work worldwide. And due to the fact that we take a lot of risks, we have lots of co-production partnerships to mitigate those risks. We are also very close with Kazakhstan, having business relationships with several channels. Recently, our ‘Doctor Baby Dust' (Zhenskiy Doctor) premiered there even before Ukraine. It delivered an almost 30% share for KTK in prime time, even though this project was originally meant for access prime.

ceetv: What is the cost of one episode of a TV movie in Ukraine?

VM: I don't think that costs differ that much in Russia and Ukraine. In Moscow in general it is very hard to shoot, due to the traffic conditions, for example. In Ukraine the working days are longer especially during the fall season, which is also a bonus. But I think that the idea that in Ukraine it is cheaper to produce is no longer true. Now, the question is the product itself, if it is competitive then it doesn't matter where it was produced. In other words, the question is not 'Where?' but 'What?'.It is quite complicated to operate with concrete figures, as one may set certain frames for themselves, like to shoot twelve episode series with a budget of 100.000 USD per each episode or 400.000 USD. Both can be produced. And of course we shoot within different budgets. So, generally the frames are 100.000-500.000 USD per episode.

ceetv: Do you generally hold the rights to productions?

VM: Personally, I think that currently some Russian channels are making a big mistake by acquiring not only the license but all the rights to the product. At the very moment they take all the rights away from the producers, the latter lose interest in the project. If I know that the rights stay with me I'd do my best to make them really long-lasting, to remain in my library and deliver profit over a long period of time. If I know that the rights will be taken away, I have to earn the money now. For example, if the budget is 200.000 USD, 10-20% I should take to cover my operating expenses at once, so there’s not that much left. But sometimes during the production I realize that by adding a bit more cash, the project will be significantly better, so I do that if I shoot the project for my own library. If I shoot it for a particular client, I just stay within the budget, not because I don't want to bring in something, but because I have no money for it. And, without giving away names, thank God, there are still big channels in Russia whose decision-makers understand that point. The policy when the channel gives the production company an opportunity to earn on the library will help channels receive high-quality projects and producers to develop new projects in the right way in the long run. In order to come up with one good script, I need to go over ten, and of course I need to buy them first. The library gives me the much-needed funds for development. Surely, we don't give up commissions, but our best projects are produced on licensing terms. It is not easy but still possible.

ceetv: What Ukrainian project can be of interest to international buyers at MIP, for example?

VM: We are fully aware of the need to explore international markets. And we work on this actively. I have a strong belief that some serious shifts will be made in the nearest future. We have several projects that we consider international, like, for instance, our docudrama series 'The Great Dreamers', Nikola Tesla being just one example of who the series are about. We are a part of Sparks Network. Some of our TV formats have already been licensed internationally. 'The Jail Birds' (Gentlemeny na Dache) was acquired by Russian Peretz TV to be adapte
d locally, and we’ve made some changes specifically for them. Another format was sold to Hungary.