Russia courts Hollywood with vast new studios

A Russian company has spent $89 million building eastern Europe's largest production facilities in a field outside Moscow and hopes to lure Hollywood majors to shoot and produce movies.

The idea is to create a modern flagship studio that will make Russia a competitively priced destination for film projects and in turn modernise the local industry.

"It is one of the targets for us to invite international projects to get their experience, to get their technologies," general-director of the Glavkino group, Ilya Bachurin, told AFP.

Opened by president Dmitry Medvedev in February, on a recent tour the Glavkino studios were still dusty from the construction process and smelled of paint.

Bachurin, 42, a former impresario and television executive, led the way through the studios to show off echoing sound stages and hi-tech 3D equipment.

The largest sound stage measures 3,108 square metres (33,4340 square feet), a space so large that it swallowed up a bus parked in the corner.

"It's the biggest in eastern Europe," Bachurin said.

The studios have a Hollywood-style sign on the roof visible from passing planes. Their website boasts they are "equivalent to the best studios of America and Europe".

So far one feature film has been completed at Glavkino: "August 8", a strongly pro-Russian drama based on the 2008 Russia-Georgia war that was 90 percent funded by the Kremlin.

It aims to attract major global players to do studio shoots and post-production there and pass on their expertise to Russia's technically lagging film industry.

"In fact we do not need their money -- it's not our major goal," said Bachurin.

"We need to attract their experience and their specialists: those who can make the studio a part of the big international filmmaking industry."

In June Glavkino gave British art-house director Peter Greenaway a voucher worth 30,000 euros ($37,000) to spend on post-production for a planned remake of "Death in Venice".

Greenaway told Hollywood Reporter he was considering Saint Petersburg as a location.

Without giving details, Bachurin said that Glavkino was planning to submit quotes for several big international projects.

One problem is that Russia offers no tax breaks for filmmakers. Add in a mass of headaches from tough rules on customs to visas and work permits.

"We are going to make special proposals, make prices lower," said Bachurin.

"This is a pragmatic business. If it is convenient and profitable, people will be ready to do the maths."

Viktor Ginzburg, a Russian-born film director based in the United States was visiting the studios with a view to making his next film there -- an adaptation of Viktor Pelevin's novel "Empire V".

He said he was impressed by the facilities.

"It seems terrific. They should dust it, though," he added.

Yet he said the hi-tech studios still lacked something: "film culture".

"You need projection designers, art directors, set decorators, craftsmen," he said.

"Unfortunately there is a real problem in the Russian film industry right now with these key positions."

That is a hangover from the 1990s when the film industry almost dried up and professions skipped an entire generation.

While Glavkino is brand-new, it reeks of money and connections.

Its name uses Soviet-speak abbreviations: "glav" or main and "kino" meaning cinema or film, to suggest the historic roots it lacks.

One co-founder with Bachurin is actor and director Fyodor Bondarchuk, 45, who made hit films including "The 9th Company." His father Sergei Bondarchuk directed the Oscar-winning "War and Peace."

Another co-owner is Konstantin Ernst, the director-general of state-controlled Channel One television, which also has a major film-making division.

The three men together with UralSib bank own 50 percent, while the other 50 percent belongs to private investor Vitaly Golovachev, according to Glavkino's website.

The studio was built after the owners raised a massive loan from VTB bank.

Glavkino could hardly be more different from what is still Russia's main film studio, Mosfilm, a maze of buildings dating from the 1930s in a busy urban area hemmed in by construction.

"We do not feel it will be competition with Mosfilm, because the market for technical services is not filled, even now as we finish the Glavkino studios," Bachurin said.

Currently Glavkino is mainly being used to make television shows, while the plan is for the proportion to change to half-and-half.

A second stage upgrading the studios with equipment and everything from costume workshops to a five-star hotel will cost a further $120 million and is expected to be finished by the end of 2013.

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