Russian filmmakers need to reverse the audience’s negative attitude to domestic movies formed in the country after the breakup of the Soviet Union to lure viewers back to cinemas, analysts say.
The negative attitude to Russian films stems from the period of lost opportunities in the 1990s and early 2000s when low-quality films the Russian public associated with junk flooded the domestic market amid total confusion in the Russian movie industry, which found it difficult to recover after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today, Russian film companies and movie distributors face serious problems of how to attract viewers to Russian movies.
“Why do people very often have a negative attitude towards Russian movies? The average level of Russian films is weak … because of a poorly narrated story, because there is no scenario,” CTB Film Company head Sergei Seliyanov said at a roundtable held at RIA Novosti news agency.
This negative attitude can be somehow offset by a more or less properly written script, he said.
“For example, the audience is not excited with a film but sees quite a satisfactory product. It leaves the cinema hall maybe without any delight, perhaps with slight disappointment but without spite, which can be credited to the film script when everything is understandable, enthralling and the story catches the viewer’s [interest],” Seliyanov added.
Available statistics also prove that the problem of the audience’s negative attitude to Russian movies is very serious. Information released by Russia’s Film Business Today magazine show that the share of Russian films in overall box-office receipts in the cinema year of 2010-2011 (December 2010 on December 2011) in Russia and the CIS states fell to 12.6 percent from 14.5 percent.
Russians make decisions to go to the cinema spontaneously and unpredictably and therefore Russian filmmakers and distributors need to advertise more aggressively to catch the audience, Dmitry Golubnichy, publisher of Empire Russia movie magazine, said.
“What has to be done to drag the audience into cinema halls to watch Russian films? The task of the first weekend (during a film run) is to attract people using ads, while the goal of the second weekend is a positive word of mouth,” he said.
In many cases the audience leaves the cinema hall dissatisfied and this is why there are fewer movie viewers during the second weekend, Golubnichy added.
Most Russian movie-goers prefer simple comedies and show distrust for high-budget films as they are frequently dissatisfied with them. As a result, filmmaking companies prefer to shoot various types of comedies, including rom-coms, which are not expensive and appeal to a rather unpretentious audience, he said.
“Any type of comedies are most likely to earn money in Russia now. The most important thing is that there should be TV celebrities in these films and a happy end, along with a good advertising campaign.”
Poorly held ad campaigns by Russian film distributors are yet another problem faced by the domestic film industry, film director Alexander Strizhenov said.
“Even if we have made a quality product, we have poorer [box-office] results due to the inability [by distributors] to position our product in a proper way and sell it, and not only due to competition with American movies. The distributors are unable to draw a poster or think of the right slogan and the shortest way to the viewer’s heart,” he said.
As compared with the distribution of Hollywood movies in Russia, the domestic film distribution network fails to offer good solutions. A Hollywood movie comes to Russia in a full pack with various types of trailers, posters and slogans and this makes a Western film so much more attractive that local film distributors can take no special efforts to sell it to the audience, Strizhenov added.
SHORT FILM RUNS TRIM FILMMAKERS’ EARNINGS
Russian movies shown in the country’s cinemas earn less than Hollywood films also due to shorter periods of film runs compared with their western analogs.
The low quality of Russian films that inundated the domestic market in the 1990s and the early 2000s both discouraged viewers from going to cinemas and forced film distributors and cinema owners to cut the period of their runs.
Many Russian films are normally shown in cinemas for two or three weeks only, hardly enough for a film to generate reasonable box-office revenues, Golubnichy said.
“Many movies would earn more money for sure if they were shown for several months, as it should be, but they are dropped from cinema hall schedules to show other films,” he said, adding that the insufficient number of cinema halls was also a problem.
To solve the problem in Russia, Seliyanov, film director Fedor Bondarchuk and Eduard Pichugin, founder of Kronverk Cinema movie house chain, initiated a Kinositi project to build cinemas in towns and townships by arousing provincial officials’ interest in the effort.
“Unfortunately, the project has made no headway, despite general approval,” Seliyanov said.
Imbalances between the number of cinema halls and films force filmmaking companies to hold lengthy negotiations on film runs, Iva Stromilova, an executive producer of Bazelevs Film Company, said.
“You must take utmost efforts to ensure that your film is shown for more than two weeks,” she said, adding that a film run for a month was enough to generate sufficient box-office revenues and achieve good sales on DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
The Russian government needs to lure businessmen into working with domestic film products by offering them tax benefits if it is interested in a broader audience for Russian movies, Golubnichy said.
In the meantime, foreign movies are edging Russian films out by their numbers as about 250 Hollywood films are shown in Russia annually for the mass audience compared with Russia’s 40, Seliyanov said.
Films and embedded marketing
Advertisement in the form of product placement (PP), when branded goods or services are placed in a context of movies, is widely used in Hollywood and generates good earnings for movie-makers. Take the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008), for example, where an organically integrated PP yielded more than a quarter of the film’s $200-million budget.
Russian film companies have also started to use PPs from the early 2000s but their quality is quite low and may even provoke the viewers’ rejection.
Stromilova said Bazelevs was gaining experience in the use of PPs from project to project and was negotiating with its PP partners because this form of advertising was part of the company’s business plan helping it to cover expenses for filmmaking.
“We are seeking to achieve the most adequate integration with our clients as we do not want to see our product harmed with an awkward PP,” Stromilova said.
The low quality of PPs in most Russian films indicates the low qualification of people who make them. PPs should be harmoniously integrated into a film story and should not be aggressive, Golubnichy said.
“Film partners do not understand that such persistent product advertising provokes rejection. The partners pay money and twist the film producers and directors’ arms, saying: We want a close-up of our label for 30 seconds. This is amateurish,” he said.
The use of PPs is not always expedient in Russian movies from the viewpoint of film quality, Seliyanov said, adding that the demands of some clients were sometimes inadequate: “It’s absurd to show an actor drinking lemonade or something like that in a close-up for 10 seconds.”
Film shots expensive in large Russian cities
Moscow and St. Petersburg are the most frequent locations in most Russian films as they are considered to be picturesque both by domestic filmmakers and foreign camera crews. The stumbling block, however, is that the rates for filming in the two cities are high and sometimes unpredictable.
It is cheaper to shoot locations in the United States where specialists would cost more but would offer their services at fixed rates for the entire period of work, Golubnichy said.
In Russia, however, fees may start from $80 at the beginning of shooting and rise to as much as $200 at the end and there are no guarantees that a specialist would do his or her work properly, he said.
High and volatile rates force some film companies to shoot some scenes indoors against a green screen backdrop or even in other cities in neighboring countries.
Stromilova agreed that it was expensive to shoot a film in Moscow and the company had to use “chroma keying,” a technique for layering two images together, in its latest projects Yolki and Yolki 2 as this method was cheap and optimal, although Bazelevs preferred shooting in natural surroundings.
“We are always in talks [with the Moscow city government] as it should be interested in camera crews both from Russia and other countries … because this is a potentially huge source of revenue. But so far this is a logistically difficult task,” she said.
Seliyanov said the Moscow and St. Petersburg governments were not following the suit of many cities in the world, which used the practice of attracting filming crews.
“It is very complex, expensive and difficult [to shoot films in Moscow and St Petersburg]. Almost all producers have realized that you should shoot a film in Moscow only if absolutely necessary. More and more [Russian] movies are being made in Ukraine and Belarus and this process will continue,” he added.