MOSCOW — Up to a third of all Russian movie projects have been put on ice as the international financial crisis begins to bite, producers and studio chiefs in the country say.
Stock market turmoil that lead to Russia’s leading exchanges to close on several occasions last month is having a knock on effect for projects that rely on bank or private business backing.
More than 20 of the 89 movies in production at Mosfilm, Russia’s biggest studio complex, have been cancelled or postponed by their producers, according to studio chief Karen Shakhnazarov.
It was the first time since the financial crisis of 1998 that so many projects had stopped at one time, Shakhnazarov told business daily Kommersant in a reference to Russia’s economic collapse that year when the Kremlin defaulted on government bond repayments sending the ruble crashing against hard currencies.
Sergei Selyanov, founder of St. Petersburg-based CTB, one of Russia’s leading producers of independent film, said the number of films cancelled or postponed was dependent both on how the financial crisis developed and how the local industry reacted.
“If the credit crunch continues relentlessly, we could see as many as 70% of project shelved in the coming year or so. Industry professionals — crews, technicians and others — must understand that to survive this crisis, prices for services must come down,” Selyanov told Variety.
His company had already decided to reduced the budget of thriller “Good Weather” by between $1 million-$2 million and was now aiming for a budget of $1.7 million.
The Russian language project, directed by Irish-born Johnny O’Reilly and financed by private investors, would not be ditched but might be postponed, Selyanov said.
“It is a good, interesting project and we already have interest from international distributors, but we must trim costs,” he added.
Other producers are also looking to cut costs to survive the downturn.
Vadim Goriainov, co-founder of Red Arrow, a Moscow-based production company that produces films by Valery Todorovsky — whose latest film, “Stilagi” (Boogie Bones), Russia’s first musical, gets a private industry screening Saturday, ahead of a December release — said budgets would be cut in 2009.
“We are reviewing expensive projects and basically looking at making films that cost less than $2 million. More expensive projects in the next year or so will simply be unrealistic,” Goriainov said.
Crew and other below-the-line costs would have to come down, he said, adding that Moscow had become “more expensive” to shoot in than New York.
“We could see a major reduction in the number of projects made in Russia; more than 200 films were made this year. Next year there could be as many as 140 fewer,” Goriainov added.
Armen Dishdishian, executive VP international at leading independent production and distribution shingle Central Partnership, said his company had put three out of 30 current projects on ice but would be reviewing others.
Rapid inflation in production costs would have to be reversed if projects were to survive and the amount Russians were willing to pay to buy foreign product for distribution was likely to fall considerably.
“We are looking to renegotiate some recent deals and, although we shall continue to buy for distribution, we shall be paying less than before,” Dishdishian said.
One industry insider said the crisis was a welcome reality check.
“There is a lot of common sense coming out of this crisis. It is a reality check for crews — technicians, electricians and gaffers in particular, who have been demanding ridiculous money,” he said, adding that even top acting talent were being forced to accept fees half or two thirds of that paid recently.