Filmmakers look to state funding for projects

MOSCOW — Russian film producers are looking to the safe harbor of state funding as the storms of the global recession decimate television and other sources of backing for movies.

With sharp decreases in television advertising and severe cutbacks in production and acquisition budgets by major national channels, Russia’s state film fund — budgeted at around $140 million for 2009 — is seen as the only stable coin on the market.

“Practically no film can be made today without state support,” says Sergei Selyanov, a leading independent producer and founder of St. Petersburg production company CTB.

As many as a third of film projects slated for production in late 2008 were shelved, and Russia’s feature film output — more than 200 last year alone — will fall further in the coming year, Selyanov told a producers panel on the financial crisis at Moscow’s 77th international film market.

Cutting costs and driving down wages — an issue that Russia’s recently formed Association of Film and Television Producers (AKT) is already tackling — will help make product cheaper, producers say.

Betting on high-quality, bigger-budget films — of which there have been a slew in the past few boom years, including January’s release of the first part of Russia’s biggest film ever, $40 million two-part sci-fi epic “Inhabited Island” — may not guarantee success, producer Renat Davletyarov told business daily paper RBC.

Yuri Sapronov, head of Russian World Studios (RWS) — which opened a $250 million state of the art studio complex in St. Petersburg last October — notes a trend toward cheaper productions, particularly television serials of the sort last seen in Russia during the economic turmoil of the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The studio plans to launch a range of discounts to help stimulate production at Moscow’s Cinema Production Service show that opened last week.

Alexander Rodnyansky, former head of top entertainment television channel CTC and producer of “Inhabited Island,” says television buyers remain interested in reasonably priced local product that will play well theatrically and add value to libraries.

“The crisis means that big- budget projects are no longer a priority for television; they are interested in projects with budgets of typical TV movies,” Rodnyansky says, adding that under current circumstances, Russian state film funds are the only option for producers of big-budget features.

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