In October we helped a journalist from Austria’s main TV broadcaster with a project he was working on titled ‘Media and Propaganda’. How different news agencies tell the same story with a focus on international news coverage of events in Ukraine.
We got two interviews at RT (Russia Today). One with RT’s senior political correspondent, Anissa Naouai who has won a Silver World Medal in the Best News Anchor category for her nightly news magazine ‘In the Now’, and another with Ilya Petrenko about his reportage in Ukraine. We then headed to Sputnik, a relatively new agency aimed at foreign audiences to get another point of view.
We also had time to look into Putinversteher (a German word meaning a Putin sympathiser) which is a fashion brand with clothing featuring the face of the Russian president. Their best selling item is a silver ring with the presidents face.
In September we were asked by an American production company who specialise in creating and promoting youtube content, to take a trip with EeOneGuy to the German capital to visit the Lenovo Launch.
EeOneGuy is a youtube vlogger with over 4 million followers who was selected by Lenovo to attend the launch show and take a look at their new products, and then create one of his unique youtube videos.
While we were there we also attended IFA, the global trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances. IFA see’s 240,000 visitors over its 6 days at the Berlin Expo Centre with 1,600 exhibitors all there to show off their new products and innovations.
We spent time with a group of bloggers and journalists while we were in Berlin and Lenovo invited us on a street art tour of Berlin. Here EeOneGuy got the chance to try his hand at graffiti for the first time. Berlin seems to be the European capital of street art with not only what remains of the Berlin wall covered in murals but also much of the city covered in graffiti.
It was very interesting to spend time at IFA and check out the new tech that is a huge part of our industry. We came away with a lot of new ideas and a long wish list.
This was an interesting experience of working purely on content for youtube so having to use a different production style. Click Here to see the video he made of his experience in Berlin.
This is the kind of project we love. A phone call on a Monday, Tuesday to put a plan together and hire equipment, crew arrive in Moscow on Wednesday ready to start shooting on Thursday.
The team of three from the UK followed Pixelord, a Russian electro musician around for 3 days. Interviewed him in his studio, saw some of his favourite haunts and filmed him performing.
For the performance segments he was filmed at a music shop “All for DJ”, as well as the Muzeon park of Arts (also known as Fallen Monument Park) and a gig aboard The Brusov Ship moored at Krymskaya embankment on the Moskva River.
It was interesting to hear how the city inspires him as a musician, the juxtaposition of old and new architecture of Moscow with giant traditional buildings from the Soviet era now positioned next to uber modern skyscrapers.
He took the team to Art-Play, a former tea factory now a hub of creative activity and home to the British Design School. He was also filmed in the Soviet Arcade Machine Museum, a place he says gives him a lot of inspiration for his creative output.
This was a commercial shoot for Novation, the maker of the LaunchPad used by Pixelord to make his music.
Click Here to see the film.
In the beginning of July we had the pleasure of working with a Brazilian production company filming a special TV show called “City of Dance” for RBS to broadcast across Santa Catarina.
For 33 years Joinville in Brazil has held a Dance festival and is included in the Guinness World Records for the largest student dance festival with around 6 thousand participants.
This program focusses on the special relationship the Bolshoi Theatre has with Joinville. Here there is the only Bolshoi Theatre School outside of Russia and they are celebrating their 15 year anniversary of starting the School there after a tour of Brazil in the early 90s.
“Even if my participation in launching the Joinville School of Bolshoi would be my only achievement as a dancer, an artist and a poet – I would be able to say that my life is not in vain”
We took care of the pre-production and setting up permits for filming on the streets of Moscow as well as providing an assistant producer to accompany the crew while filming in the Bolshoi Theatre and around the city.
Rafael Custodio, the presenter interviewed two famous ballet dancers Aleksandr Vetrov and Vladimir “God of Dance” Vasiliev as well as other key members of the Bolshoi team.
City of Dance will be broadcast on the 25th Aug on RBS.
We can now reveal more details about the Russian episode of Laish La. We didn’t quite put a man on the moon but we did put one into space. The 4 hosts came wanting to explore the possibility of getting closer to the stars and Russia having a great heritage of space travel, it was the perfect place to do this.
Moayed got the chance to fly in a MIG-29 twenty two km above sea level where he witnessed the curvature of the earth.
The very first man in space Yuri Gagarin said when he returned that earth was a wonderful place and we all must unite to take care of it. We believe that this is the essence of Laish La that if we all unite anything is possible.
In each episode of Laish La the 4 hosts stop people in the street to ask “What do you want to do before you die?” They then decide to help one of these people fulfil their dream. For the Russian episode the team decide that the person they would surprise would be none other than our very own Alyona Pimanova. When she was young she used to ice skate to a high level and dreamed of making it her career. As she got older, for different reasons she had to put skating aside to focus on other areas in her life, so her dream was to ice skate again as she had when she was young.
As she was part of the production team this meant a lot of white lies and misinformation to keep her from finding out what we were planning. This was made easier when she accompanied most of the team to Nizhny Novgorod for the MIG flight.
Back in Moscow the rest of the team were hard at work setting up the surprise. We visited nearly every ice rink in Moscow and we found one that would allow us to have it empty and all to ourselves on the Saturday evening.
We also spoke to a large number of agents of professional ice skaters to find an Olympic champion to give her a figure skating master class. Through a contact at the Moscow Sports University we managed to get a brilliant up and coming young skater who was happy to come and be part of the show.
We also tracked down Alyona’s ice skating teacher Tatiana Vitalievna she had not seen since she was very young.
The last part of the puzzle was to get her to the right place at the right time. We told her that the 4 hosts wanted her to show them how to skate and invited her to the rink. At this point she still had no idea what was about to happen and was thinking she would just help them to get skates and it would be the sign off.
She arrived helped them all hire ice skates and took them out on to the rink, then they told her that it was actually not about them, but was all for her. They emptied the rink and introduced the star who gave her some skating tips, then presenting her with a new ice skating outfit, let her have the whole rink to herself to remember how she used to skate which was her dream.
Last surprise was presenting her with flowers and the finally of reuniting her with Tatiana. They danced the same routine as they used to nearly 15 years ago.
We are pleased to say that she has since continued to skate and this show has relighted the love she once had for ice skating. Dreams do come true it seems with a lot of work and the single minded ambition to make someone else life better is a great motivator.
This production will be one of the most interesting and fun shows we have worked on and we will remember that week for a long time to come. We are also pleased to have gained some wonderful friends among the team.
Oymyakon is known by another title ‘The Pole of Cold’. This is because in 1924 it recorded its lowest temperature (-71,2C) making it the coldest inhabited place on earth.
Initially, we were planning to make this trip in late December into January, but after a lot of research of the area we decided to move the journey until March when the days are longer and the roads are safer.
The safest time to go through the river on the ice road is from the second week of December up until the end of March. Everybody in Yakutsk told us it had been warmer than the year before, and the temperature hadn’t drop below -60C for the last 20-30 years which proves that it has some global warming issues.
George Kourounis, the host of the program “Angry Planet”, a Canadian adventurer and storm chaser, had Oymyakon on his list of the most spectacular places to visit and we were happy to organise and assist the Canadian crew in this exciting adventure (note: Alyona Pimanova worked as fixer on this trip with Dan Smith supporting from the Moscow office).
To reach Oymyakon we had to cross the river Lena, the 10th longest river in the world, then to drive 8-10 hours to Khandyga followed by another 12 hour drive to get to Oymyakon. The road is a picturesque mountain highway which spiral past the most remarkable turquoise colored rivers. It is narrow with a shear drop on one side, and when you get really high it makes the heart soar. Trucks fallen over the edge is not an uncommon sight. Normally, it is a two day drive to Oymyakon from the city of Yakutsk but our crew had to get to another village of reindeer herders first, known as Topolinoe, where there are some remains of Gulag camps on the way.
The camps are 100 kilometers away from Khandyga on the way to Oymyakon, and then another 200 km after the turn to Topolinoe (in a Northern direction away from the main road). Depending on weather conditions, the journey can take between 5 to 15 hours. The local driver will never tell you exactly how long the journey will be, as the road is very unpredictable. Lots of trucks run from Yakutsk to the North with food and construction materials as long as the road is iced, which is why it is quite a busy road. Our journey did take us the full 15 hours due to getting stuck several times on the road which is only one lane wide, and made more difficult by the snowfall the day before, as well as having to pull over to avoid trucks coming towards us.
In such unpredictable weather and road conditions it is recommended to travel with two vehicles (It is very likely you will get stuck and the second vehicle can pull the other out). Although people you meet on the road are always very willing to help you in case you need it. But when it is -40C and dropping, when you get stuck every minute of waiting seems like a life time.
We were instructed by the Federal Rescue Service in Yakutsk to check in with them by satellite phone every evening when we reached each designated location where we would stay for the night. If we didn’t call them, that would be a signal to launch a search and rescue.
There is no mobile connection on the road to Oymyakon, only when you get to the village locations. So check with local drivers if they have satellite phones or bring one with you. When you get to the location, it is also important to know that not all mobile companies work in all settlements. If you are going to buy a local sim-card, it should be of the mobile company “Beeline”. It is the only mobile company that works in settlements such as Topolinoe, Oymyakon and Uchugey.
ROAD OF BONES
(Russian Federal Highway M56, also called “Kolyma” or “Kolyma Route”) is built upon permafrost between Yakutsk and Magadan which is 2032 kilometers, 1197 km on Yakutsk territory, 835 on Magadan. When gold and platinum were discovered in the Kolyma region in 1927-1932, one of Stalin’s projects was the construction of the main mountain road through the Olchan passes. They built 80 separate Gulag camps in the Kolyma region using hundreds of thousands of prisoners over the years to build the highway. The road of bones was built almost entirely by hand in the harsh conditions and workers who died there were buried where they fell which is how the road got its name.
In Khandyga there is a museum of the Gulag Camps, but recently the owner of the museum moved to another city and the museum is no longer open. Instead there is the museum of Magadan TRASSA (road) in Teply Kluch (70 km away from Khandyga in direction to Oymyakon). Zinaida Viktorovna, the director of the museum, and Maria Mukhailovna, keep the photographs and the memoirs of many prisoners. Locals don’t like to remember or talk about the time of the Gulag, but when they do open up and talk about it it is even more horrific than you imagine.
After meeting with these ladies we continued our journey to Oymyakon. There is only one café on the way in Kubume (the so called CAFÉ) with homemade pies, borsh (Russian soup) and plov with reindeer meet. This was a beautiful surprise after many hours of bouncing around in the minivan on the bumpy road. Driving through the Olchan mountain pass was not as scary as on the way to Topolinoe, because the road has barriers to help protect vehicles falling, but even with these barriers you still come across trucks which have gone over the edge. Our driver took this part of the journey very carefully.
When we finally arrived in Oymyakon at midnight, our host Tamara Egorovna was waiting for us. The stove was warm and table was spread for dinner awaiting our arrival.
Note: Oymyakon used to be an administrative center and regional capital of the Oymyakon region (so called Ulus in Yakutia language) in the East of Yakutia. The region (ulus) consists of 7 urban type settlements, including Oymyakon, Tomtor, Ust-Nera, Uchugey. But in 1954 Ust-Nera became the administrative center and the leaders of the region moved there from Oymyakon.
Next morning it felt so much colder than in all other villages where we had stopped before, and when we checked the temperature, it showed -39C. The sun was very bright that it was impossible to stay outside without sunglasses. No wind but hard frost under the feet and very quiet. A silence which wraps itself around you.
After having been blessed by the spirit of fire (Yakut people believe in spirits and have a tradition of purification when the guests come to their ground), accompanied by the performance of their national instruments and throat singing, we visited the well-known site of the ‘Pole of cold’.
OYMYAKON OR VERHOYANSK
Tamara Egorovna, our host has been struggling for many years to fully have the title of Pole of Cold, which she is convinced should be given to Oymyakon, not to Verhoyansk (these two villages have arguing for the title for many years). Tamara has written several books with arguments proving that their village of Oymyakon deserves this title.
There is a village of reindeer herders called Uchugey which is not far from Oymyakon. Reindeer herders live there in small houses and have their pasture several kilometers away. When we came to see them, their reindeer were in pastures 8 kilometers away, so it took us an hour on a sledge pulled by reindeer to reach the pastures. It isn’t the most comfortable way to travel as it is very bumpy and the icy wind bites any exposed skin. That and you can often fall off the sledge into the deep snow, but that said it was the most amazing and memorable ride, seeing the beauty of nature and the snow glittered in the sun, as well as breathing the air which feels so clean and fresh.
The Evenki (Eveny – reindeer herders in that area) when tending their reindeer live in tents made of a simple fabric. They make a fire in the tent, put benches on the ground where you can sit or sleep. Some of the crew stayed in the tent for the night with the Evenki, but three of us returned to the village by snowmobile where we had a quiet night in a warm house.
When it is below -20C, the vehicle should be put in a warm garage for the night, which we did in all places we stayed. But in Uchugey it was not possible and our vehicle had to stay all night with its engine running so not to freeze up.
In the city of Yakutsk we stayed in a very nice hotel the ‘Polar Star’ which is in a good location and has very friendly staff and great breakfasts which are essential for film crews who spend most of the day filming outside.
In all other locations/villages there are no hotels, but homestays instead. Because of the Festival “Pole of cold” which takes place in Tomtor and Oymyakon in the middle of March (this year it was on the 22 of March) we had to book rooms months in advance.
Here is a short ‘behind the scenes’ (mostly all the funny moments and memories of this wonderful trip)
This spring we had the pleasure of working with Victoria Melody, a visual and performance artist from the UK, filming a documentary about the production of hair extensions.
When she was taking part in a beauty contest in Brighton for her project ‘Major Tom’ which premiered in 2013 she had hair extensions which made her ask questions about where the hair had come from. These questions sparked the beginning of her next theatre project that took her to India and Russia in an attempt to trace the hair used in her extensions back to the person who grew it.
We spent months researching the questions: where do Russian women sell their hair, how do hair dealers find these women, how much do they buy hair for?
We found that the majority of hair dealers are not open to speaking about their business, and even the salons who buy real hair refused to talk about this as soon as they understood we were going to make a film about this subject.
We visited a unique hair factory in Mosalsk, that produces around 1,5 tons of hair every month. Their dealer collects hair from all over Russia and brings it to the factory for processing. But again he decided to stay away from filming and didn’t want to reveal his identity. So much mystery in this hair business…
We did find one hair dealer from Volgograd who turned out to be interested in our film and agreed to show us this world of the Russian hair business. We were really surprised to discover hair harvesting events still take place. In Volgograd , for example, they take place every Friday in a shopping centre where people come and bring hair that they want to sell. One old lady brought her hair that she had been keeping for years and after having seen the advert on the bus stop “WE BUY HAIR” decided to sell it and buy a gift for her grandson, another young lady got bored of her long hair and wanted to get it cut right there for a small amount of money.
After Volgograd we travelled to a very small town of Borisoglebsk where we met a young lady who wanted to sell her waist length hair because she wanted a change. Although she was a little concerned about the outcome having had grown her hair for the past 9 years, in the end she was really pleased with her new haircut as well as with the amount of money she was paid by the hair dealer. It was lovely to share with her the excitement of this big change and follow her to the hairdresser for this film.
We ventured 120km from Moscow to Obninsk to investigate what state the Russian collective farms are in now for French-German TV. With stories that a lot of the land is being rented by Chinese farmers who are putting up hundreds of green houses and polytunnel’s to mass produce vegetables for the Russian market.
We had read an article which said that the Chinese farmers are using huge amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers to bring on the crop faster and bigger than anything grown naturally. There are stories of them moving to different land each year leaving behind fields poisoned and unable to be farmed anymore, land that even weeds don’t grow on.
We found one of these Chinese run farms and they were very welcoming and showed us around. This group had worked the same plot of land for 5 years so maybe not all the stories we had read were true. We got some great film of their green houses and how they tend to the tomato plants.
Also for this story we looked at the local Russian population, most of them would have been farmers here 10 – 20 years ago, but now the young don’t seem to have the opportunity to work the land, either because there is not enough work or they don’t like the idea of this type of back breaking labour.
In the 3 days of filming we met one young Russian couple who have a small holding and are happy to still be working the land with their collection of young cows, goats and pigs. But this couple seem to be an exception and not typical in this region.
With a few months of pre-production done we had the most amazing week with Sugar Rush Productions from Beirut filming an episode of the reality TV show “Laish La”. This show has a prime time slot and is the number one show in its category on MBC seen right across the Middle East and North Africa. It has some staggering viewing figures as well as huge following on social media and we now know why.
Four very likable guys traveling the world, seeing some wonderful locations and ticking off things from their bucket list. They have slept in an igloo in Sweden, learnt kung fu with the Shao Lin monks in China and spent 3 days with traditional eagle hunters in Mongolia and many other fantastic things.
Not only do they get to do loads of cool stuff and see their own dreams come true, in each episode they change the life of a total stranger making their lifelong ambition come true, which not only makes for brilliant television but exactly the kind of thing we jumped at the chance to do.
We filmed right across Moscow, in Gorky Park, New Arbat and Nikolskaya Street as well as headed to Nizhniy Novgorod for part of this episode. We can’t wait for it to air on the 22nd April 2015 on MBC1 so we can share with you more details of our adventures with this production.
Here we need to thank not only all of the crew from Beirut for such a fantastic week, but those from our team who went above and beyond to get this filmed. From the many project’s we get involved in, this is one we will always remember, and a huge reason for that can only be talked about once it’s has been shown.
We had two amazing days filming for Deutsche Welle TV‘s cultural magazine show with reporter Werner Herzog about the changing architecture of Moscow. We met with Sergey Kuznetsov, Chief architect of Moscow to talk about his new projects. One of which is Zaryadie park that is going to be built in heart of Moscow.
“It’s a place for the people. It’s not a place only for the tourists, it’s a place for Muscovites. Moscow really needs good parks and this is the last remaining, very important big plot. Not only in Moscow, but I would say in one of ten most important megapolis in the world, in a historic place. It’s a good sign for Russia” – Peter Kudryavtsev
We also filmed an interview with the director of Schusev State museum of architecture and The opening of the exhibition “Urban development: Position and Opposition”, which represents the works of graduating Russian architecture students and their vision of how to create a modern city and its space.