Branding speaks Russian

Ginzburg looks to fund 'Wow!' with ad-based sources

MOSCOW — Russian-born, California-based director Victor Ginzburg is looking to forge a new direction by pulling in more than half the budget for his Russian-language feature “Wow!” from brand support.

Set for a summer shoot, “Wow!” should come in at around $5.5 million — and Ginzburg has almost $3 million committed from ad-based sources.

His secret? Pic adapts a novel by cult Russian writer Victor Pelevin, published in the U.S. as “Homo Zapiens,” that centers on the life of an advertising hotshot in chaotic 1990s Russia, where ad promotion meets virtual politics in an unpredictable, sometimes hallucinogenic way.

Funding solutions have been no less innovative. Russia’s industry has woken up to product placement, but efforts so far have been spotty, often reducing audiences to laughter more than creating an urge to shop.

Instead of mere product placement, “Wow!” actually integrates products into the storyline; the source novel mentions Pepsi in its opening sentence, and has a final chapter titled “Tuborg Man.”

“The main thing is, they’re backed up by the hero’s emotional involvement — we understand why he’s choosing one over the other,” Ginzburg tells Variety.

In the U.S. since 1974, Ginzburg comes out of the U.S. musicvideo and ad world. He’s CEO and creative director of Venice, Calif.-based agency Room.

His feature-length debut was with 1992 docu “The Restless Garden,” catching the mood of the expiring Soviet Union’s sexual underground (Playboy was involved in funding).

“Wow!” brings him to a new level, however — not only for budget, but because the lead role will be played by Russian star Konstantin Khabensky, of “Night Watch” fame.

Ad allegiances in the pic may be complicated, but Ginzburg’s film also treads a fine line on the political front: its source novel has the likes of Boris Yeltsin and ex-oligarch Boris Berezovsky hilariously virtually imaged as players in an elaborate politico-financial battle.

That’s made TV backing for the film problematic. Remaining financing of around $2 million has come in from indie producer Yusup Bakhshiev’s MB outfit, responsible for some of Russia’s bigger recent hits, including the two “Antikiller” gangster movies.

So far, the pic’s only hiccup has been in potential casting of the film’s lead femme, who metamorphoses in Ginzburg’s script from a virtual being to a real-life supermodel. First choice was Kiev-born (and Russian-fluent) Milla Jovovich — but that looks unlikely.

Still, if Ginzburg’s dream actress doesn’t work out, there are plenty of Russian supermodels who would likely be willing to be tied in to the part.