Russia’s reliable sources

Blockbuster Awards based on B.O. results

MOSCOW — Each year at the end of January, Russia’s film world assembles in Moscow for one of its most important industry awards.

But the results are no surprise: rather than rewarding artistic merit, the Blockbuster Awards are based solely on the previous year’s B.O. results.

The ceremony is more convivial than most in Russia, and this year, there was even an onscreen address from Jerry Bruckheimer, a sure sign Hollywood is paying attention to the rapidly growing Russian market.

The awards are the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Alexander and Ada Semenov, publishers for more than a decade of the most authoritative Russian language local trade publications — Video Store, and more recently, Russian Film Business Today.

Alexander Semenov, a convivial networker, and his wife Ada, a dedicated footsoldier of the local industry, are ubiquitous at local film preems and events, often running their own photos in their magazines.

But it’s not just glossy photos — Russian Film Biz is the only authoritative source of box office results in a territory notorious for inefficiency and even corruption.

For media like Variety that rely on international box office figures, it’s the only source of relatively reliable weekly grosses in the CIS, a territory whose annual returns are shortly going to cross the $500 million mark.

If a box office reporter were to try calling the ministry of culture or, even worse, the state statistics department, he’d probably be told to wait a few months — if anyone even answered the phone.

Semenov has several thoughts on why Russian B.O. results should be taken with a grain of salt:

  • Especially on domestic product, local producers sometimes inflate results to secure a more profitable DVD and TV sales deal. They also deflate results for tax savings.

  • Under-reporting to distribs from theaters remains common, especially in outlying regions, and affects both studio and local product.

  • He suggests targeting rampant piracy through retail sites rather than production facilities.

Semenov has long been one of those talking about the need for a “civilized” local industry. He acknowledges it still has a long way to go.

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