Though international film and TV production is currently halted due the pandemic, Russia is becoming more attractive for prospective partnerships once lockdown restrictions lift.
That was the takeaway of a panel held during the Key Buyers Event: Digital Edition organized by Russian promotional entity Roskino moderated by Variety’s Leo Barraclough who chatted with Marc Lorber, senior VP international co-productions and acquisitions at Lionsgate, and David Ellender, CEO of Los Angeles-based Sonar Entertainment.
Lorber said Lionsgate has a BBC drama series on hiatus in the U.K., which he hopes will go back into production in September, and “about 20 series in the U.S. that all stopped in various forms of prep, pre-production or post production” due to the coronavirus outbreak. Luckily the company managed to finish post in the nick of time on “Love Life,” which dropped May 27 on HBO Max in the U.S.
Ellender said Sonar, which is known for “Das Boot,” and more recently Al Pacino-starrer “Hunters” for Amazon Prime, similarly has “several shows in post and are readying a number of productions that they “hope to get going in 2021.”
Preparing to return to physical production internationally, Lorber said he is is combing through coronavirus safety guidelines coming out in many countries, and also watching “some of the bigger streamer productions that are looking to start sooner,” because they have broader shoulders and can be “the guinea pigs,” he said, adding: “we’ll follow on their back, hopefully.”
Both Lorber and Ellender agreed that when things improve they will be looking for opportunities in Russia. Lorber noted that he lived and worked in Moscow in 2005 and 2006 while working for Sony, and said he hopes “to get back there and work there again.”
Ellender pointed to “the plethora of platforms in the Russian market” and the growth of local production, especially on the TV side. He singled out producer Alex Kessel’s company Sputnik Vostok, with which Sonar has a relationship, noting that they are the first company in Russia with titles both on Amazon Prime (“Londongrad”) and on Netflix as an original (“Better Than Us”), which, he said, “really does open up Russian television to the international marketplace.”
“Alex has four or five shows in the Russian market with major platforms and some of the newest channels,” noted Ellender, who added that there are “potentially many other” Russian players that could be a good fit.
“Those creators are looking around and saying: ‘we’ve got other stories that we want to tell the world, but also we want to invite you in!,'” he said.