On the 14-16 December Moscow welcomed the very best ice climbers across the lead and speed disciplines in 2018 UIAA Ice Climbing World Combined Championship.
The competition took place within the Luzhniki stadium area, the home of the opening and closing matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
A crew from Quebec (Canada) came to film the last episode of their show “The Unknown Champions 2” for Channel 5 which show their audience the most fascinating world championships from all around the world. Our Producer/fixer Alyona Pimanova spent time with the crew to coordinate the shooting, translate interviews and arrange transportation.
During these 3 days we were following the Canadian athlete who was one of the competitors. We also got to know a Russian champion athlete from Tymen – Nikolay Kuzhovlev who won this competition.
In spite of really chilly whether it is a fascinating sport which demands a huge amount of strength and total focus and the cold didn’t diminish the pleasure of meeting so many great sportspeople and see them compete.
On a Sunday morning (perfect time without traffic and relaxed policemen) we grabbed some beauty shots of Moscow. We were really lucky to get some drone shots of the city and the river. Without a permit it’s not possible but sometimes you get 10-15 minutes before the security guys suddenly appear from nowhere and asks you to stop. Something we don’t advise but if the crew really want to give it a go then they can.
The end of July is the time when brown bears start hunting fish in the Kurile lake and because of the abundance of food it is safe to get really close to them. The Kurile lake has the highest red salmon population in Asia.
This time the Japanese crew wanted to film an episode for their TV show on Nippon TV with the very popular Japanese actress Imoto Ayako who was facing her fears. So we first flew to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy from Moscow and then took a helicopter to the wildlife reserve flying over mountains and volcanos.
There is a house and tourist tents and people book space in this reserve almost a year in advance so we were really lucky that the administration agreed to squeeze our crew into their schedule.
To get closer to the area with bears, we went by speed boat accompanied with an armed and very serious inspector. We had to move slowly and not get separated from the group, the wild bears are still wild bears after all 🙂
It is really hard to express what you feel when you see a wild brown bear only in 10 meters away from you, such a mixture of danger and delight that you can only freeze and stare at the them for hours. But we had to get back to the helicopter and fly back to the city for other adventures.
We met with a Koryak family who keep up old traditions but only on arrival we found that the place was created for tourists, and in order to find the real ones who live according to their old traditions we had to travel further to the North. This is sometimes the issue when working on a show without scouting the locations before the shoot.
Back in Moscow the host learned some booty dancing and tried the traditional Russian meal “beef stroganoff” in black bread. We also brought a very unusual hairdresser from Tyumen who cuts hair with an axe and makes an unforgettable show. After he demonstrated his skill on a young woman with long hair, the Japanese cameraman (who has quite long hair) was chosen by the crew to experience an axe hair cut. Accidentally he was really pleased with the result 🙂In Saint-Petersburg we met with two guys who help to overcome fears. Their team came up with using sharp knives, bed of nails, broken glass and a technique to overcome the fear of height.
We also took a roof tour and observed the city from high which is a very unusual experience in St. Petersburg, a cite with very few tall buildings. If you are ever in Saint-Petersburg in summer time it is absolutely recommended as the views are spectacular.
Here is a backstage video about this filming trip. We want to thank everyone who helped us to organise it.
In April a crew from Saudi Arabia came to Moscow to film Youtube videos about their journey building up to the FIFA World Cup in order to give their audience a taste of the city, visiting museums, restaurants and places of interest.
We started preparing months before their arrival. The hosts wanted to drive an old American car in the streets of Moscow so we needed to find such an unusual and very rare type of old car in Russia. We tried different options and after a while the choice was made on a 1989 Ford Crown Victoria that we had painted green and added vinyl graphics in Arabic for the show.
The result was amazing and the car attracted lots of attention on the streets of Moscow and people could not avoid taking pictures of it. It became one of the heroes of the show in its own right.
During the first week of filming we filmed in the museum of surreal art and cosmonaut museum at VDNHa as well as saw a very unusual cat performance in the famous Cat’s theatre and got to see military tanks and jet fighters in Victory park.
We also had some staged scenes and hired a number of extras to play different characters. Alyona, our fixer/producer, played a referee during a football scene when the Arab hosts had a match with Russian footballers. Pavel, our assistant producer and our “baby driver” played a brilliant role of a gangster. All our extras quickly got their nick names among the crew, such as “old babushka” and “an envelope guy” and became a real asset to this production.
We want to thank our very favourite producer from Lebanon, Mohammad, who is always pleasure to work with.
We also recorded a podcast with him about filmmaking and production in Russia and other countries. You can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/user-139007163/ep-1-mohammad-saad
The second filming with the same crew from Saudi Arabia and 4 brilliant hosts (Instagram influencers) happened during the World Cup in June where they visited some games and soaked up the atmosphere of Russia during this event.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
We spent a week in July with a Canadian crew filming an episode of Rires du monde 2 (World Laughter 2) looking at what makes people laugh in different countries. Each one-hour episode examines a different country and is hosted by different popular Canadian comedians.
The Russian episode was led by François Bellefeuille, a well-known humorist in Quebec, Canada, who aimed to explore Russian humor on TV, radio, theatre and internet.
After a few weeks of pre-production we secured interviews with a number of different comedians and people in the comedy business. Including Comedy club, Comedy radio (102’5 FM), Comedy Women show and their two main comedians, Natalia Andreevna and Ekaterina Varnava. Also Bonya and Kuzmich who became famous for their music video parodies on youtube, and a fantastic clown family called SEMIANYKI.
Interestingly, the crew came with the preconception that Russians are very serious. This was proved immediately wrong as soon as they got to Gorky park and Museon to ask the main question of the show: What makes you laugh?
Here they found that actually Russians are very happy, relaxed and like to have fun. Moreover, they like to laugh at themselves, at politics and at life.
Comedy Radio was a highlight where François went live on air to discuss with the shows DJs comedy and humour in Russia.
We then headed to Saint-Petersburg to meet the clown family Semyanuki, who met the crew at the train station in costume, so our arrival turned into a huge public performance. After a fun drive to their theatre, they immediately dressed the host up as one of them. Here the host found that some Russian humor is sometimes laughter through tears.
It was a flying visit to Saint-Petersburg as we had to head back to Moscow to continue filming other planned interviews.
Another very fascinating interview was with the director of the political satire performance “BerlusPutin” which is performed only in one theatre in Moscow and is forbidden in other theatres and regions of Russia.
We look forward to seeing this show air on TV5 across all French speaking countries in 2017.
September and October we worked on a project for Lenovo. We filmed two videos for YouTube to promote their new #Goodweird products.
One video was a music clip for EeOneguy – Russian vlogger with over 4 million subscribers to his channel. Having a dream to make a really cool music video, he wrote the lyrics to the music composed by our American colleagues.
It was decided that it will be represented in the style of a K-pop music video, so we used lots of cool and weird costumes and make up with the help of our costumer and make-up stylist. We also found a great choreographer and dancers to help bring the video to life.
We filmed in some really exciting locations for the various scenes in the clip: in a sauna and the famous Bunker 42 at Taganskaya. The Bunker is now a museum of the cold war which is 65 meters deep underground.
The second video was an international video of a “dance off” between 3 vloggers and was shoot in America, India and Russia. In Russia we filmed the dancing scene on the Central square of VDNH – The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy. It is one of the most popular public places in the Russian capital and represents many different elements of Russia with its famous buildings.
The dance was a mixture of 3 different cultures, so we had the Russian gymnasts and guys in bear outfits as well as big Russian beardy men in American cheerleading costumes and our dancers in Indian sarees. Although it was snowing a lot on the day we shot at VDNH, it was really fun and our Green Truck was a busy but warm place to escape the cold.
There was a lot of equipment and crew involved in the filming of these two clips which we supplied, including: cameras, Steadicam, crane, lighting and sound. Editing was made in California by our American colleagues.
Tashkent and Chorsu Market
In November we flew to Tashkent for a week to assist a Canadian crew filming a program for their series about the Worlds Markets for TV5. The program in Uzbekistan was about the Chorsu bazaar – one of the largest markets in Central Asia and the oldest in the region.
In the past only men were allowed to be at the market (selling and buying), women were not allowed but were at home cooking. The man’s duty was to earn money and bring food home. As there were no fridges, they used to bring food only for the week and they kept the products in the ditch, dug near the river.
Nowadays thankfully you can see lots of women in the market, selling and buying cooked food, milk products, bread, fruits and vegetables.
The territory of the market is so huge that it is not easy to understand straight away how it is organised. There are 3 main sections which are located in different areas. The biggest section is the food section which is divided into different parts: under the big dome they sell milk products, meat and dried fruits. Around the dome they have market stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, rice and spices and a section where they make bread. The second big section is the silk section where they sell textile, carpets, Suzanne as well as traditional wedding dresses. By crossing the street you can find the third section which is crafts. The development of folk art and crafts in Uzbekistan is very important. Ceramics, silk and cotton weaving, metal engraving are just some which have been passed down from ancient times.
In summer we were there to scout the locations and to find the characters for the show: merchants, producers, buyers and here we must say that they are a very welcoming people and genuinely interested in sharing their stories with us.
Fergana Valley and Silk Production
Uzbekistan is one of the world’s top three producers of silk cocoons, with the output for 2015 expected to exceed 26,000 tons. One important branch of the Silk Road transited in the Fergana Valley. Silkworm breeding and silk weaving was started in ancient times in Fergana Valley.
We drove to the Fergana Valley from Tashkent crossing a high mountain pass with a spectacular view which took us around 6 hours. You have to stop two times at check points where they check passports and the car goes much slower though the mountain pass.
We were welcomed by Yodgorlik Factory of Silk production in Margilan where we were lucky to see all the steps from getting threads out of cocoons right up to the final product. Silkworms grow in spring, so we could not see the full process but got a very good idea of how it works.
Rules and Accreditation
If you are coming as a film crew, you need to apply for accreditation to Ministry of foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan through a local touristic agency. There are a few touristic companies that can help with this. But all necessary documents should be sent to them 2-3 months before the crew intends to film.
5 Tips When You Travel to Uzbekistan
- There are some strict rules about what you can and cannot photograph so keep in mind that some administrative buildings as well as inside the metro are not allowed.
- Bring with you dollars, not euros. Due to 1USD being 2755 Uzbek sum (as of 29 December 2015) changing up a lot of money in one go, you will find you need a basket to carry it around in. Change 100 USD at a time – it can be enough for 3-4 days for food and drinks. There are exchange points in all big hotels. For example, in hotel Uzbekiston it works 24 hours.
- Uzbek food is very rich and oily, so when you eat their plov, it is good to have it with lots of green tea. If you are a vegetarian, make sure their vegetable pies like samsa with potatoes don’t contain lamb fat which is one of the main things they use for cooking in Uzbekistan.
- Uzbek people prefer tea to coffee so real coffee is often not easy to find. Coffee Bon on Chekhova Street is a place where you will be satisfied with a good cappuchino or latte; They also offer European food with lots of fresh salads and sandwiches.
- When you travel in summer make sure you have a hat, sunglasses and a bottle of water with you – the sun is very strong.