After grounding to a standstill during the coronavirus lockdown, film and TV production in Moscow is expected to resume this month, according to the mayor’s office Wednesday.
For industry players and government officials, a summer reboot would begin the latest chapter in ongoing efforts to turn the Russian capital into a leading production destination, a process that many say begins with the simple step of introducing the world to the city.
“I believe the international production industry just doesn’t have information about Moscow yet—about the costs, about the possibilities for filming,” says Svetlana Maximchenko of the Moscow Film Commission.
Part of the challenge is dispelling long-held perceptions of Moscow as a hotbed of Cold War-style intrigue, a difficult image to shake at a time of distrust in the U.S. over Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential elections, and allegations of efforts by Russian operatives to disrupt the upcoming American polls.
Moscow, however, presents a tantalizing marriage of East and West in a city that also boasts top-notch infrastructure ready to facilitate large-scale productions at rock-bottom costs.
“Considering the extremely low prices due to the currency rates dropping, it’s safe to say that it’s possible to assemble a level of crew and department heads that would easily compete with a lot of European productions,” says producer Ilya Stewart of Hype Film (“Leto,” “Persian Lessons,” “Sputnik”). “There are a lot of young names coming through the ranks of the commercial production industry—which is huge in Russia—and a lot of healthy competition to look forward to.”
The announcement of an expected tax rebate of up to 40%—still yet to be formally tested—means filming in Moscow is on par with, if not cheaper than, production hubs elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe.
In the two years since the film commission was launched, Maximchenko says it has focused on facilitating domestic production in order to streamline the process of filming in the city. “We have great support for dealing with all the bureaucracies that we had before,” she says. “Before the Moscow Film Commission, film productions should get permits from different departments, different city structures, different federal structures. Now they have one step.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge now is putting that system to the test, allowing the industry to develop a track record for delivering world-class work. “I think Moscow is ready to host a big production,” says Michael Kitaev, of Vodorod Film Company, which serviced the local production of the BBC-AMC miniseries “McMafia” and HBO’s “Chernobyl.”
Both of those shoots wrapped within a week, but Kitaev insists the industry can handle a greater volume of work, pointing to the examples of two Chinese blockbusters, which recently shot on location for more than 40 days.
Although several Hollywood movies have shot scenes in Moscow in the past—such as 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6” and 2014’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” whose Russian shoots were both handled by producer Alexander Dostal at Etalon Film—the city has yet to become a regular destination for U.S. blockbusters.
Kitaev notes how the productions of “Game of Thrones” in Northern Ireland, and “Lord of the Rings” in New Zealand, were able to transform relatively small industries into global production hubs. “If someone brings some show and is happy with the result, I think it can bring others,” he says.