Both breaking and building: what awaits Russian cinema under the sanctions

Both breaking and building: what awaits Russian cinema under the sanctions
Both breaking and building: what awaits Russian cinema under the sanctions
14 June, 15:29Photo: 1Mi
The Russian film industry is in crisis. Due to the refusal of Hollywood studios to roll blockbusters, the box office of cinemas collapsed.

Networks are preparing for bankruptcy. And this narrows the "living space" for Russian cinema, which still continues to be filmed, but is already thinking about censorship, money and new meanings.

Alexander Dybin


At the end of February, American companies such as Disney, Warner Bros and Sony Pictures announced that they were canceling blockbuster premieres and generally winding down their activities in Russia against the backdrop of events in Ukraine. This immediately hit the cinemas, which make the main box office just on Hollywood novelties. The Association of Cinemas reported that by the end of April, due to a sharp drop in revenue and attendance, more than a third of cinemas were closed. Cinema networks asked the government to support the industry with subsidies, but the authorities refused to allocate money, saying that films from other countries could be shown instead of Hollywood.

So far, only networks in Moscow have received support, where the authorities compensate 100% of the costs under contracts for the use of rights to Russian films, networks will also receive grants for advertising domestic films. The budget of the capital partially compensates for the cost of filming. But other regions have not yet announced anything similar.

Filmmakers also have problems. So, some tapes were filmed with the participation of Western companies, there were difficulties with the equipment and specialists who left the country. The authorities turned out to be more loyal to film production, announced an increase in the Cinema Fund, simplification of receiving money for debut projects, and also promised to compensate for losses due to the refusal of Western investment in Russian projects. But, according to experts interviewed by Novye Izvestia, it is first of all necessary to help cinemas, because Russian cinema is based on them.

Vladislav Pasternak, a producer at the HHG film studio from St. Petersburg, believes that the main threat to the film industry is a catastrophic drop in cinema revenues:

“In March we lost 11% of cinemas, in April - 18%. In May, they were waiting for the release of blockbusters, which make the main box office. But nothing was released, cinemas began to close the halls. Now for a Russian film there is no problem getting into the cinema. But the collections of our cinema are still not very large. Russian cinema has not begun to collect huge box office, the demand has not grown. It turned out that this is not an equivalent replacement. Yes, there are films that collect 150 million rubles and more. But most of the films are collected poorly. At the same time, Hollywood companies also distributed Russian films, and they did it well. Sony Pictures, Fox, Disney regularly hired Russian films. The absence of Hollywood at the box office is an obvious evil for the industry. It is killing cinemas and shrinking the space for Russian cinema. This is the main problem".

I agree with this thesis and the manager of one of the regional cinema chains, who told Novye Izvestia that distributors are preparing for even more massive reductions in halls and staff:

“There are enough films in the schedule: for every taste and color. And Russian, and American, and European. Any genre. There are no Hollywood blockbusters and, accordingly, advertising campaigns for them, as a result - there are no viewers, - the expert says, - cinemas asked for help, but the government refused. Only Moscow reported on regional measures, in other regions, so far, it is quiet on this score".

Interlocutors of Novye Izvestiya believe that in conditions where the authorities support film production, but do not support cinemas, a paradoxical situation may arise: in a year or two there will indeed be more films, but there will be nowhere to show them.

“Giant money is allocated for the production of films, they even added another 5 billion rubles”, - says Vladislav Pasternak, - but cinemas have lost four-fifths of their income, and there is no reduction in costs in any item. Why the state did not help cinemas in the first place, but helps producers, who are already doing well, they cut budgets, make monstrous films that are not in demand at the box office, is not clear. Yes, online platforms are still working. But behind each platform is the Okko Corporation - this is Sberbank, Kinopoisk - this is Yandex, and they also have their own problems. The question is, how long will this all last, and how long will their development budgets last? I think there will be a cleansing of the roar from unnecessary players, and platforms and producers who made unclaimed films".

However, director Oleg Shtrom agrees that the current situation is a crisis for the industry, but the interlocutor sees more opportunities than negative effects:

“Unlike in the 1990s, the current situation gives perspective”, - he says, “film production is now in a different state, a large number of shots have been brought up by series, online platforms, and there have been quite a lot of films recently. The only problem was that all the rental networks belong to people who did not want to produce something Russian. They just posted American content. They had a queue, everything was scheduled for years ahead, and it was difficult to stick with a Russian film, even if the picture was not bad. Many tapes released over the past 10 years are worthy, but global companies have hammered everything with their content".

“Of course, the confidence of big business and viewers in Russian cinema was undermined. Many of my colleagues behaved fraudulently, large projects they put on turned out to be not so verified. low. In 20 years, perhaps 20 films were successful. Sometimes these are films that were not expensive at all and brought in 7-8 times more than invested. But there are not many such examples. And there are more failures. American experience says that if a picture is launched, if money is invested in it, then it begins to be advertised even at the filming stage.And we often have a picture made and everyone goes to distributors: take it, please.Now the prospects, in my opinion, are good, but we need to combine the efforts of distributors and manufacturers".

Translator, blogger Dmitry Puchkov believes that the film industry had problems even before the mass refusal of American studios to release their films in Russian distribution. The expert notes the decline in viewers' interest, including in Western content:

“The situation as a whole was not good for political reasons,” says Dmitry Puchkov, “people who constantly accused the USSR of imposing ideas are now busy themselves with this - imposing a homosexual, racist “message”. Lesbians and homosexuals, black artists, women are pushed into each film to the detriment of the plot. Movies and series just stop being interesting. People don't watch them. And now sanctions have been imposed, under which we were forbidden to start American cinema. Like it or not, in the cinema there is no one more important than Americans. Cinemas all stood up, barely survived the pandemic, and now this. Movie theaters can't handle it. And I think that Russian cinema will not be able to make up for the loss of Hollywood. In our country, people do not shoot films in order to earn money. American movies are made for money. We have people who earn money while the movie is being shot, the creators are not interested in the distribution fate. Pictures are used as a place for self-realization. As a result, films are obtained that do not collect money in principle. We have success - these are isolated cases like "Move Up". And some "Ivan Denisovichi", on which hundreds of millions of state money are spent, are not even able to fight back, not to mention making money. Since the task is not to earn money, we film films at public expense. The task is to master the means, and the result is a movie that is not watched. Why do this is a mystery to me".

Participants of the film market note that already now there are difficulties with filming equipment. Camera manufacturers are not leaving the market, but repair and maintenance processes are becoming more complicated. It is still possible to export the same cameras to Europe for service, but through Kazakhstan.

Another non-obvious blow to the film industry was the restrictions imposed by both social networks and in relation to them.

“We still have access to all world cinema: Europe, Korea, China, Japan, Latin America, but there is a problem with advertising”, - says Vladislav Pasternak, - “websites and social networks are closed, advertising on Youtube is prohibited. The viewer has lost access to information. For cinema advertising, only television is left, which is expensive, and Vkontakte, which does not work as it should, since there is a lot of content there, and this is not the best platform for advertising films. Now we almost do not see advertisements for films and there is a feeling that the information space has become impoverished, but the tapes are coming out. Yes, the lack of competition from the big Hollywood movies should help these films get into distribution. But art cinema is a bold and progressive thing, against the backdrop of conservative politics, we may miss important films on the big screens".

How can cinema get out of the crisis?

Vladislav Pasternak from the HHG film studio believes that the crisis in Russian cinema can be rectified not only with the help of economic incentives, but also with the help of creative freedom:

“Culture does not need to be controlled, it must be left alone and it will develop itself”, - the expert says. - But now the environment is rather unfavorable, because the economic basis for the existence of the industry has been eliminated. Of course, no one drove the Hollywood studios to leave, this is their gesture. How they will return is not clear. I know that Universal has already surveyed cinemas, updated its contact database, and there are films from this studio in the schedule. While waiting for them to come. But the more time passes, the more difficult it will be for them to return. In Russia, many blockbusters have been produced in the last two years, they have yet to go to the rental - Lebedev's Nurberg, Woland by The Master and Margarita, The Heart of Parma, Zamyatin's We and a number of potential hits. They will start coming out in the fall. These films are not much inferior to Hollywood. I think our cinema could reach the level of South Korean in the absence of strong competition from Hollywood. But for this it is necessary that there be neither censorship nor self-censorship. Under censorship, it is impossible to make a strong, tough modern cinema that would at least correspond to the level of South Korea. To support cinema economically, you can take the experience of the United States and exempt all investments from taxes. And it doesn’t matter where they invest, in display or production. This is one of the riskiest businesses and investments should be released. Yes, this will lead to some amount of cheating. But not as much money will be laundered as good films are made, and sooner or later quantity will turn into quality”.

Oleg Shtrom believes that without state support the film industry will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the crisis, but distribution companies should play a key role. They themselves must invest in the creation of cinema and its advertising, then they will be interested in the quality of films:

“We need a system of state distribution, so that there are all-Russian premieres and support in advertising,” says the director. - People have turned away from Russian cinema because they are afraid that they will come to see something not very good. And high-quality films reach the audience already on the Internet. After that, what's the point of going to the cinema? Primary advertising, warming up interest is important. The advertising budget should not be 5-7 percent of the production budget, as it is now. Distributors all this time exactly sat in one place, because everything was in order with the content. Why bother if a picture comes with an advertising budget, with posters, posters, commercials. Now it's the other way around. Guys, we need to think about what to do so that films are released and earn money. I can already see the first changes. For example, rental campaigns started calling me. Although I am far from this and was engaged only in production. And now the distributors themselves come out and say: let's take this and that from you. I know from colleagues that now many projects produced a year or two or three years ago, and which had difficult options for being in the box office, are now showing interest from distributors. And this is a positive trend".

The general director of the Lenfilm film studio, Fedor Shcherbakov, sees a future in cooperation with the studios of the CIS countries:

“Over the past two years, state studios have been developing very actively in almost all CIS countries”, - the expert says. - We started discussing co-production. Given the restrictions in other markets, this direction seems to me quite promising. This gives access to a fairly large and loyal audience. But for her, of course, you have to fight. The main thing is that the market needs new superheroes, it needs, among other things, domestic, impeccable symbols of the era. And it is better that they be from our great future than from our heroic past. I hope that our studios will be able to create such heroes in the coming years”.

Turn to light genres

Another important question for Russian cinema is what to shoot about? How cinema will change in modern conditions. There are two opinions. First, light genres will become especially popular: comedies, melodramas, in order to distract viewers from the information agenda and switch attention. Secondly, there will be an order for the production of patriotic films. Last week it became known that the Ministry of Defense established a fund to support military-patriotic cinema, which was headed by the former deputy head of Roskomnadzor and ex-Deputy Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Maxim Ksenzov. So far, the fund has not announced any projects.

Vladislav Pasternak agrees that studios and audiences will pay more attention to light films:

“The request for patriotic cinema comes from the state, but at the box office we see that people don’t really need it, this topic is available for free on TV and people don’t want to watch it in cinemas for money”, - the expert says. - Yes, there is a request for a light soulful movie. But as for the cinema of moral anxiety, what will happen to it is not clear. Many authors ended up abroad. In particular, Zvyagintsev is not in Russia; laureates of the Cannes Film Festival Kira Kovalenko and Kantimir Balagov have left. It was the cutting edge of fashionable art cinema. 2021 was a good year, every big festival had 1-2 of our films. And they did not leave without prizes. And it was not fashion, it was we who really learned how to make high-quality demanded cinema, and it was sold to the whole world. The public willingly watched it, we were not inferior in this sense to European countries. No worse than Italy or Germany. Were a normal foreigner from the top 10. We had both commercial and copyright films. Now, I think, there will be a bias towards commercial. What topics will be understood in the author's, how psychological and legislative censorship of money will affect - is not yet clear".

Oleg Shtrom believes that Russian cinema is waiting for changes in terms of meaning:

“Now there will be more truly artistic cinema, in which there will be restrictions, but all my life they made it possible to speak a different language, those projects that excited and hyped will end up in the dustbin of history, and real art will break through and will be the subject of study,” says the director. - all the best from Soviet cinema has not gone away, both children and teenagers watch it. Because there was the right message: to make people a little better, and not lower them to an animal state. It is important that it was not so that someone squeezed everything. Reason is needed in everything, but permissiveness is bad, and tightening the screws is bad”.

Dmitry Puchkov also believes that there will be no interest in patriotic propaganda, people need comedies:

“People go to the cinema for pleasure. All this has been known since the beginning of the 20th century, when there was a great depression in the United States, at the same time Hollywood began to make peppy comedies or films with a “happy ending,” the translator says. - A person who is fed up with life's difficulties goes to the cinema in order to forget himself and watch something good that will create his mood. What is not clear here? And what about patriotism, which they are forcibly trying to shove? For 30 years they called to hate the Soviet Union, to hate communist parents, and now let's patriotism. Learn how to make at least a good good movie first. Here's the secret to success! For example, comedies. They bring in the most money. Can they be patriotic? Yes, but I don't know where to find such creators. Economic support measures, in my opinion, are not necessary. There is more than enough money pouring in. You don't have to pay salaries like now. The director shouldn't get 5 million a month because his film won't make that much. We have capitalism and no one has canceled its bestial grin. For some reason, TV shows can produce a product at the right time for a certain amount. But for some reason it's not here. The most primitive management will lead to positive results, but so far there is no such thing”.

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