Revival of Silk Road
Create New Opportunities for Filmmakers
Russia’s crashing ruble, falling oil prices and an almost doubling in capital outflows have affected its neighbors in Central Asia but seasoned Russian filmmaker Stanislav Solovkin believes that now is the best time for international producers to shoot in the region.
As China and Russia signed the gas deal of the century, Sino-Russian ties have reached its highest level in history. As early as in 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping brought the concept of “Silk Road Economic Belt”. Many countries in Central Asia including Russia have shown enthusiasm and interest in being part of the New Silk Road project.
With more than 20 years experience in film and television production, Solovkin has collaborated with a wide range of broadcasting channels including BBC and Discovery Channel particularly for their production in Russia and Central Asia.
Born in Soviet Union, Solovkin has been witnessing the ups and downs of Sino-Russian relations. He sees the new opportunities from the revival of Sino-Russian friendship for television and cinema producers and he believes that they should consider shooting along the New Silk Road.
Solovkin comments: “The Silk Road drove the development of its neighboring countries in ancient times. Even though some countries were surrounded by desert, they still grew faster than countries that were far from the Silk Road. This is what history tells us.”
“While the idea of the New Silk Road is highly regarded by the international community, most television and cinema producers are yet to realize the potentials of the New Silk Road for the film industries,” he adds.
In fact, Russian films were once popular in China in the early days between 1949 and 1980. And yet, Russian cinema only regained the interest of Chinese audiences until Stalingrad became a hit on Chinese cinema in 2013. The film Stalingrad depicted 1942 Stalingrad, a Soviet city that became the turning point of Soviet army against Nazi German during World War II. In 2013, the film has achieved massive success in Russian market and was selected as Oscar Entry.
From the production perspective, the commercial success of Stalingrad was not just about its appeal to audiences, but also its cost-effectiveness. While Hollywood production The Lone Ranger cost US$ 250 million, Stalingrad only cost US$ 30 million, 12% of The Lone Ranger’s production costs.
Given the depreciating ruble, Stanislav estimates production costs in Russia will drop approximately 25%.
Film production is yet to be popular among international producers but there should be no fear for forward-lookers. Take Chinese producer Ding Sheng’s Mission in Moscow as an example: the film is based on a criminal case that was jointly investigated by Chinese and Russian police force and part of the movie was shot in Russia. Last year the production team met the Russian officials and the officials expressed their openness and willingness to offer assistance to foreign producers.
China’s film market is soaring over the past years. In 2013, China’s film market has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest film market after the United States. In the first half of 2014, China’s box office had achieved RMB 13.7 billions (US$ 2.21 billions), which exceeded the total sum of 2011. Market share of Chinese local production was still less than a half.
Solovkin argues that the success of Hollywood production may not be linked to its quality. He says: “Hollywood production is popular because audiences are used to its way of storytelling and shooting techniques. If local producers aspire to break their glass ceiling, they need some creativity to change the habit of their target audiences.”
“I do believe that more and more local productions will go international and it is just a matter of time,” Solovkin says.
To give audiences a fresh perspective, Solovkin believes that shooting in a less popular destination will give a better visual impact. According to him, many Central Asian countries along the New Silk Road have the most authentic nature for cinema and television production and he particularly recommends Kyrgyzstan.
He explains: “In such a country with less than a 6 million population, you can find almost every type of natural scenery from desert to high mountain and deep lake. Its low cost of living also helps film producers control their budget. On top of that, the Kyrgyzstan government has been very keen to work with foreign film producers to increase the country’s international exposure and thus boost local tourism.”
As for Georgia, that country was historically a buffering zone of Asian and European parts of the Silk Road. It should be remembered that Georgia is famous for being the first christian country in the World. It still has outstanding amount of ancient churches, surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
Georgian economy and infrastructure were absolutely ruined in early post-Soviet times. It was one of the poorest and the most corrupted countries in the World. Now I must tell you that Georgia is completely corruption-free state. And one of the safest in the World. This means a lot for TV and cinema industry.
Solovkin cites the statistics of World Tourism Organization and points out that more than 110 million had their first trip overseas after watching the show The Amazing Race. Given the powerful impacts of film on tourism, along with the rising number of Chinese tourists, many countries actually target Chinese producers.
Asked about why Kyrgyzstan is yet to be popular despite its scenery and favorable conditions, Solovkin thinks there is some misconception about Central Asia among international producers, particularly around safety and government transparency.
With experience in video shooting in more than 66 countries, Stanislav says he has never been asked for bribery and the local communities have always been safe and hospitable.
Solovkin believes that misconception comes from miscommunication. He was inspired by renowned producer Bertram van Munster and van Munster once said: “The world is smaller than you think and its people are more beautiful than you think.”
While Solovkin’s extensive international experience enables him to understand the needs of international producers, he knows the way to make things work in Russia and Central Asia because the continent has been his homeland. As such, Solovkin founded his own company to offer help to producers with an interest in Eurasia.
As history evolves, the Old Silk Road filled the gap between the East and the West. Solovkin has a wish that the New Silk Road would debunk the global stereotypes of his homeland and its people.