Ukraine as a location for filming
The Golden Age of Ukraine was over a thousand years ago, but the largest country in Europe’s topography and rich history have made it a playground for the world’s film crews in the last five years. Ukraine’s media business is busy making alliances with foreigners East and West to great effect. TLG finds out exactly why Ukraine is so hot right now.
Producers in Ukraine seem to be festooned with projects in commercials, films and television. Commercial specialist Radioaktive Film, run by Darko Skulsky and Dennis Sonnin, has never known it so busy:
“It’s amazing how the new year started. We had ten shooting days by the 10th of January and are now booked up until the end of February. More and more people are coming not only for locations, but massive builds. We have already shot a London Olympic Games-themed Visa spot for Partizan, a spot for the Norweigan lottery, and have a Radical Media job happening in the next couple of weeks - and it’s only mid-January!”
“PSB recently completed projects for the BBC and Discovery Networks, and a few independent productions from Europe. We also have two big feature projects in pre-production. Last year we ran some scouting for Michael Bay's Transformers, and LM’s were happy, but ultimately Bay decided to keep production in the States due to timing. We are proud of our recent collaboration with Luc Besson's Europa Corp on Transporter 3, though, and we can see 2011 will be very busy.”
Maria Fabrychnikova, Executive Producer at Kiev-based 23/32 Films, gives many reasons for Ukraine’s success:
“It's always feasible in terms of production costs, locations are great, crews are professional, cast options are impressive, the atmosphere is positive and friendly. We have amazing art departments who build great sets within limited budgets, inexpensive extras, client service and wonderful entertainment for clients.”
Infrastructure in Kiev is developing all the time, with studios, post-production facilities and camera equipment available at the highest spec. Improved infrastructure would be pointless, though, if there was nothing to actually film. Kostya Salashenko, of Adrenalin Brothers, a commercials company with Fosters, Tetrapak and Samsung as clients, is proud of how many places Ukraine can pretend to be onscreen:
We have recently cheated our landscapes for Ireland, Moscow, Minsk and Berlin. Another benefit is our easy access to a lot of genuine Soviet-style locations - factories, ports and bleak environments. We recently shot military jets (MIG 29s), which are of course very difficult to find elsewhere.
One recurring theme, which every single Ukrainian contact for this interview mentioned unbidden, is the “utterly fabulous”, “most beautiful in the world”, “intoxicating”, “knockout” female gene pool, which has gifted the country with a very marketable commodity, as Sonnin explains:
“The stuff about fabulous women wasn't actually a joke! Ukrainian models are some of the most beautiful in Europe, having low day rates and buyouts.”
Arnold Kremenchutsky couldn’t agree more about this unique selling point:
“Ukraine is beautiful for... beauties! It’s no secret! The way it relates to production is for spots where you need lot of gorgeousness on screen, like AXE's recent spot shot here in Kiev. It’s not expensive like in Europe or the States due to the buy-out system, and so makes a lot of sense for beauty commercials.”
So, is everything centred on Kiev, or is there also interest outside the capital? Dennis is pretty lyrical about what the whole region has to offer:
“Kiev is an extremely diverse city: we have successfully cheated European, North American and even Australian cities here, as well as classic European streets and futuristic Soviet-style locations. Go a little further out of the capital and you can have beautiful Med-style beaches on the Black Sea, sandy deserts (Ukraine's Oleshky Desert is the largest in Europe), picturesque mountains (rocky in the Crimea, and forest-wrapped in the Carpathians), ski resorts, castles from the 13th to the 17th Centuries, amazing opera theatres in Odessa, and charming European history in Lviv (think Prague or Italy even). Then we can do enormous Soviet hotels and industrial landscapes, from active ship-building plants to sea ports and huge salt mines.”
Maria explains that most of the time business is still centred in and around Kiev:
“It depends on the project of course, but mostly there's no need to move any further. Nevertheless, we have been to Odessa for sandy beaches, Western Ukraine for beautiful mountains and old Western European streets and buildings, the Crimea (for sea, and dramatic mountain roads with tunnels which have been popular for car ads).
Oh! House of Flying Daggers was also shot partially in the Western Ukraine’s epic forests (pictured above) and we just did a service job for a Dutch client shooting New York in Kiev - you can’t tell it’s not Manhattan!"
Arnold Kremenchutsky, at PSB Films, maintains offices in Crimea, Odessa and Lviv, as well as Kiev, to support projects that wish to take advantage of these glories out of the capital. He mentions some of the odder places that are becoming popular:
“ Chernobyl is now a popular place to shoot in and fortunately it has became less complicated to shoot there due to the improving ecological situation. You now need fewer permits. Also, we see themes developing: Soviet architecture is really hot now among creatives and cutting-edge DoPs. Strange and weird locations we can do very well and if we don’t have it we can build it for next to nothing! We're really well organised in set construction and have very inexpensive labour and stage costs. We are not unionised. We don't have any restriction of the length of the shooting day as well as time of the day (day/night) to shoot. This makes us able to shoot whenever and wherever we need!”
The Ukrainian Government has not been particularly forthcoming with the kind of incentives common in much of Europe. Arnold, as Film Commissioner, is keen to see any kind of incentive which will make the cheap deals available in Ukraine even more attractive to overseas clients. He mentions that the exchange rate from euros or dollars to the local currency the hryvna is favourable and that servicing companies tend to quote in dollars, which makes European budgets go even further at present.
It would be a very interesting development if the Government did decide to up the ante with incentives in the near future, as the combination of tax breaks, favourable exchange rates and very low costs would be an enticing proposition to anyone with a bottom line.
Maria says it all when she sums up what is attractive about the Ukraine for producers virgin to its charms:
“We know it's a bit scary for production companies who haven't shot in Ukraine to give it a try and bring their clients to a new place, but over the past four years we've had so many happy clients who keep coming back over and over, that it’s mad not to use us.”
Producers considering Eastern Europe will of course be weighing up the charms of places like Prague, Bucharest, Budapest and Belgrade, all members of the European Union. Analysts consider that Ukraine is at least 15-20 years away from full EU membership, which clearly has a lot of benefits for producers in the fiscal sense, as production money goes a long way, even without Government incentives. Producers should keep an eye on Ukraine as it may shortly enter its second Golden Age.
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