Air Crash Investigation for National Geographic

Sometimes we are lucky enough to get to work on projects that we enjoy watching ourselves and which are our favorite shows that we never miss when they are on TV.

In this case “Air crash investigation” that we have already worked on before as last year we were asked to get access to the Russian investigation committee on a case that happened with the Russian plane. We hit a brick wall quite quickly as this was very recent crash and we could not get any of the Russian officials on board. The investigation was still in process and they could not give any comment until the investigation was complete and the accident report had been published.

This year we got involved in research of two air disasters for different episodes and so made contact with different Russian organisations including the Minister of Transportation, Aviation Committee and Minister of Emergency situations. We also conducted interviews on the phone with pilots who were telling us some incredible details about the cases we were working on and aviation in general.

It was fascinating learning what it’s like to be a pilot and some of the different technical features of aeroplanes meant we have some very interesting days of research. Although reading the crash reports and hearing firsthand accounts was a sobering reminder of the huge loss of life in these catastrophes.

For one of the cases that we were working on moved from research into production as we organised and filmed an interview.  This episode focused on the crash of the Sukhoi Superjet in Indonesia in 2012. It was a demonstration tour called “Welcome to Asia” in which the plane was showcased to the potential customers.

We were able to find a Russian journalist who was on this demonstration tour to report on how well the Sukhoi was being received throughout Asia. On this particular day in Indonesia, he didn’t take the second flight preferring to take photos of the plane taking off.  This was the flight that turned into disaster where his colleagues and other people on board were killed.

Alyona our producer conducted the interview with Aleksandr.

Interviewing is always hard work but it’s also the most interesting and exciting part of filming with people when you discover firsthand their personal stories and you start to feel very close to them.

We are very happy to work on the Russia parts of this show and have seen for ourselves the meticulous work that goes into the research.


Filming for the most popular Japanese TV show

In October we had a pleasure of working with a Japanese crew and 4 Japanese comedians who came to film an episode of their famous show “Let’s challenge the world” in Russia.  This is a  very popular travel show broadcasted by NTV Japan for 10 years reaching a viewing audience of 20 million people per episode.

The Japanese celebrities usually find for their show some really interesting and unusual activities that they can do in each country.

In Moscow they experienced Russian traditional dancing with Beryozka dance team and tried speed climbing with the Russian Olympic champion Anna Tsyganova.

They also wanted to meet with special people from the country who have unusual talents. So we brought to Moscow from his home by the Black Sea the shawarma chef who mixes martial arts with the preparation of shawarma in a show of knifes and a blur of actions as he moves so fast. We found and took over for a morning a great little café location for filming him.

We also contacted Sadvakasovs family and brought 10 year old speed boxer Evnika with her father to Moscow so we could film a part of the show about Evnika’s unique boxing skill. It was  really lovely to meet this young lady and to see her in action is incredible.

For the final day of filming we organised a photoshoot with Stepan, a Russian bear who is known as a very friendly and gentle bear which is very hard to believe when you first see this huge frightening animal. We found a great forest location on the outskirts of Moscow which was perfect for the shoot.

We were all so excited to meet this lovely bear that after the filming was wrapped we all took selfies with him.

You can watch behind the scenes video HERE 

This shoot was hard work but also great fun and we love challenges like these, working under pressure when you need to find a solution whatever the cost.


Filming at Lake Baikal for Swiss TV

It’s always been our dream to visit Lake Baikal and with Swiss TV we had the chance to see it twice this summer.

Located in South-central Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border and surrounded by mountains, forests and rivers, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest fresh water lake in the world and is famous for its breath taking natural beauty and wildlife.

In June we went to Ulan-Ude with Corinne Eisenring, Swiss correspondent, to film a story about a local shaman and her rite of passage. We flew to Ulan-Ude and stayed at the hotel Praga which is very close to the shamans who were happy to accept us in their big shaman family for the next 3 days.

For Buryat shamans the rite of passage lasts for 3 days during which the shaman who takes the rite of passage is helped by around 20 people. These people are mainly their relatives and other shamans who help them to go through this important event in their life.

During the whole summer shamans get into the process of the rituals, one shaman after another take the rite of passage to rise to the next level of shaman hierarchy.

The first day is devoted to preparations. We were really impressed how much care for detail is taken into consideration and how carefully they treat each step. The shamans with their families and friends decorate birch trees that they bring from the forest with red and blue ribbons and then replant them in the ground as later they will circle around the trees and get into a trance. One tree should be big and stable enough for the shaman to climb up it when they get into this trance state of mind.

The next two days while the shaman we were following was getting into a trance many times, other people were constantly singing to help her reach this state of mind. When this happens the shaman starts talking with their ancestral spirit. The tribal music stayed with us for the rest of the trip and in my memory it was the most interesting experience that we shared with this community and feel honoured to have been allowed so close to this very personal event.

After the shamans we went to scout several locations and got to see two villages not far from Ulan-Ude where old believers (followers of old Russian Orthodox traditions) live according to information we found on the Internet. Although it turned out that they were not genuine old believers but something more like a promotion for tourists. The real old believers are very close knit community and don’t often communicate with people from the outside world.

We also visited Ivolginskiy dastan which is known to be the home for the last 7 years to Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov Lama, the chief figure of Russian Buddhism before the October Revolution in 1917. After being buried for decades, his body was exhumed, only to find that there were no signs of decay at all. Now he is worshipped as a saint, 7 times a year on special days Buddhists come to see how the incorruptible body of Hambo Lama Itigilov in lotus position in the cedar casket is taken out of the temple.

In August we came back to Olchon, a place known for its shaman rock and spirituality.

This time we flew to Irkutsk. The road to Olchon takes 4-5 hours from Irkutsk to the ferry and then 40 minutes by a local car. This is where you should be ready for a very bumpy stretch of road. There is a lot of talk about road construction in this part (from ferry to Huzhir) so maybe next year it will be much better.

This time there were more tourists on the ferry and the water of Baikal seemed to have changed colour. When we were leaving this place (on the 24th of August) it felt like mid-autumn, mainly because of the strong wind and the grey colour of the lake.

The most touristic season at the lake is considered to be from 20th of June until 20th of August. Then the weather can change very suddenly and the temperature can drop up to 0, -1C in the end of August.

We had two main stories to film at the island Olchon. One was about a Buddhist who came to the island for the summer to enjoy living the simple life and to do stand-up paddling. He showed to us the beauty of Baikal from the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try it overserves but we did experience that very unique and peaceful feeling of the lake that he was talking about, when we were on the boat to get the shots of a very happy Victor on water.

We went by jeep to the bay from where we could see the white silhouette of the Buddhist stupa on the island Ogoy. From there Victor and his two friends reached the island on their boards in about 30 minutes and we climbed to the highest point of the island. The Buddhist Stupa of Enlightenment was built in the summer of 2005 with the initiative of the Moscow Buddhist centre.

Besides Olchon, we experienced a wild Baikal when we went to Onguren to film the story about a priest. The way to Onguren took us the whole day. The road stretched through the massive rocks and deep roots of trees, with deep forest on one side and the lake on another side. At times the scenery reminded a dry and dusty red planet like Mars.

We made really good contacts at Olchon and it was a little bit sad to leave this beautiful, peaceful and very special place in Russia.


Tips for visiting Olchon, Baikal

  • Usually there are 3 ferries that take cars and people every 20 minutes but during the hot summer season (20 June – 20 August) it becomes really busy and cars get into long queues. We didn’t experience this ourselves but we were told that if it’s so busy, it’s better to leave your car by the ferry and swap to another car on the island to avoid a long wait.
  • The wind is really strong at lake Baikal and it feels colder than you expect. So a wind proof coat, warm jumper and a hat will be very welcome. Also make sure you have sun cream and cover your shoulders as you can get burnt very quickly.
  • In some remote areas (like Onguren) there is no electricity. They have solar batteries and give electricity only for 5 hours a day which is sometimes not stable so better to take extra batteries with you.
  • We stayed at the homestead of Nikita and found it was a perfect location (reachable from everywhere) and with their breakfasts and dinners in the canteen it was very convenient before and after the shoot.
  • There are a few places in Huzhir where they make fresh coffee: Bistro at Homestead Nikita, Art café (Pushkinskaya street), and hotel Baikal view and café from their brand on the hill.
  • Some areas are national parks and you need a permit to visit (a small fee you need to pay in advance). Each region has its forest district who you can apply for the permit. Or you can send your details to the touristic company in Irkutsk, for example to this:

Filming Empire Builders in Russia

We have just finished another project with London based production company Pilot. We headed to Saint-Petersburg on Easter Day for the new TV series “Empire Builders” which looks into the achievements of mighty Empires through its iconic buildings.

Not only is this our third project with the same production company, but also with British cameraman Nigel Kinnings. We have already shot Tough Trains and Ottomans Vs Christians together and shared some adventures.

This time in Saint-Petersburg we filmed two of the most magnificent buildings, the Winter Palace and the Catherine Palace. Then we headed to Moscow where we filmed St. Basils Cathedral and The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

In Saint-Petersburg we interviewed art historian and Professor Aleksey Lepork who was a real pleasure to work with. He has so much useful knowledge and a good understating of film processes which is a great help.

We filmed in The Winter Palace on a Monday which is when the museum is closed to the public. This gave us a very unique opportunity to use the space without the rush of tourists. We had this experience last summer when filming “Ottomans Vs Christians”, trying to capture the atmosphere of these majestic rooms with crowds of tourists passing through is hard work. Keeping them back to get a shot is often impossible, so to shoot there when it is just the crew, a few members of staff and some cleaners is a pleasure like no other. It’s a strange feeling to walk through these sumptuous imperial hallways alone, you can almost capture the emotion of what it must have been like when they were the homes of the Russian Emperors.

Our favourite team member in Saint-Petersburg Igor assisted us with moving equipment because in the Hermitage/Winter Palace they don’t let crews use their trolleys. The space is so vast to move from one room to another with a lot of equipment it can be very challenging. So having another good pair of hands made it really quick and convenient.

4 hours by Sapsan train brought us back to Moscow quick and easy to shoot the Cathedrals, then a morning of B Roll of the Kremlin and the cameraman and director were on a flight back to the UK.

2016 Round Up

2016 turned out to be quite an unusual year all in all, not only in world news but closer to home. We did though find out what makes Russians laugh with Canadian comedian François Bellefeuille and met the Russian YouTuber who turned his kitchen into a swimming pool. Also we got to travel more and discovered some new great places as well as visited some old favourites.

This year we worked closer with our friends at the Golden Apple Boutique Hotel in Moscow and produced videos for their website. We also met some wonderful new people and provided full production for their projects. One of which was a creative project for the Ministery of Finances to help educate people with their financial affairs including filming at the Golden Bee international graphic design exhibition.

It was a great pleasure to cooperate again with some old friends that we have previously worked with.

We wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year and we look forward to welcoming many more crews from around the world coming to film in Russia in 2017.

Interview for Channel 4’s RudeTube

Russian Pool in Apartment Viral Video Interview

Some projects are weeks if not months of research and pre-production, but sometimes we get a call out of the blue and a few days later we are heading on another filming adventure.

For example we were contacted by the makers of the British TV show RudeTube, a fast paced count down of top 50 funny and bizarre viral videos on the net. It is hosted by Alex Zane and is shown on Channel 4/E4 in the UK.

Our task was to get an interview with the Russian youtuber Вечный (Vichnie) AKA Vladimir who turned his kitchen into a swimming pool, filmed it and put it on his youtube channel.  A video that has almost 3 million views at the time of this post.

So we jumped in the car and headed to Tver, 162km from Moscow to film the story. In fact we filmed Вечный in the very kitchen where this viral video was originally shot. He spoke about how he got the idea and how they prepared the kitchen with plastic sheeting before flooding it.

It was a long but very enjoyable day, we shot what was needed and the next day the footage was on a hard drive heading to London by courier.

The episode of Rude Tube featuring Вечный will be shown on Channel 4/E4 sometime in 2017.

Here is Vladimir’s original video (Contains some strong language)

Ottomans Vs Christians – Battle for Europe

Building long term working relationships is at the heart of our business, so when we were contacted by a production company from the UK that we had already filmed an episode of Tough Trains with, we were over the moon.

This shoot would be a historical documentary series that would take us to St Petersburg to look into Tsar Nicholas I and the Russian Orthodox Church in the 19th century.

Pilot Project 1

First day of filming was at the New Jerusalem Monastery, about 60 km from Moscow, also known as the Voskresensky (Resurrection) Monastery and identical to the Cathedral of the same name in Jerusalem. It is one of the most beautiful and unique cathedrals near Moscow and was built at the end of the 17th century.

Some parts of its territory were under reconstruction so we were unable to film the exterior in full. We applied to the Patriarchy and gained their support and permission to film inside the Monastery, which took more than a month but which was worth all the paperwork and waiting. We were guided by one of the monasteries custodians who had a great knowledge of the history of the Monastery and was interviewed by the host of the series – Julian Davison – an architect, writer and tv presenter.

Pilot Project 4

That same day we headed to St Petersburg on the fast train from Leningradsky station. The shoot would then take us to the Hermitage and Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress and Kronstadt. All are places in Saint-Petersburg that need filming permits and as with the Peter and Paul Fortress it was simple and quickly organised, with the Hermitage it took us quite a time to agree all the terms.

Filming in the Winter palace for TV can be challenging. You pay quite a lot of money but this doesn’t include closing the rooms you wish to film in. They are still open for the public and it is a struggle to stop them getting into shot. As this was a documentary shoot it had a small crew of just 4 of us. So knowing the distance through the many lavishly decorated halls and rooms we would have to carry a lot of equipment, we obtained the help of one of our trusted contacts in St Petersburg to be another pair of hands. He also became helpful with shepherding the tourists out of shot. But after three hours of filming in such an extraordinary place leaves you feeling more than a little awestruck.

Pilot Project 3

In the Peter and Paul Fortress we filmed the cannon salute which happens every day in Saint-Petersburg at mid-day. They opened the fence for us so we could get close to the cannons just 15 minutes before it was fired, so it was an absolute shock when we heard the 3-ton cannon fire just 2 meters away.

In Kronstadt, which is about 1 -1,5 hours of drive from the city, we took a boat to the abandoned fort Alexander. They do some excursions inside the fort, but with a filming crew you need to agree with the administration in advance and pay a fee. The easiest way to get to fort Alexander by boat is to drive to Fort Konstantin.

Pilot Project 6

Some Tips

  • It is really important to find a hotel in Saint-Petersburg with a central location that have proper breakfast. The city is full of cosy bakeries but most cafes are opened from 10am. For a crew who normally have very early starts, it is almost impossible to find good breakfast en route unless you have it in your hotel.
  • If you film the cannon salute at a close distance, make sure you have hearing protection with you.
  • If you are going to film in Winter palace, avoid filming on Tuesday as it is considered to be one of the busiest days with tourists and groups. If possible don’t film in summer as this has the most tourists visiting.

Pilot Project 5