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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

Rires du Monde in Russia

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.

Munro Productions World Laughs 2

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?

Munro Productions World Laughs 4

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.

Munro Productions World Laughs 3

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.

Munro Productions World Laughs 5

Filming in Uzbekistan

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.

Outside Chorsu Market Munro Productions

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.

Silk Production in Uzbekistan Munro Productions

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.

Silk Seller Chorsu Market Munro Productions

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.

Journey to the Pole of cold – Oymyakon, Yakutia

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.

Gulag Tower Munro Productions

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.

Ice Road Munro Productions

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.

MOBILE CONNECTION

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.

Over turned truck Munro Productions

MUSEUMS

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.

Dusk in Oymyakon Munro Productions

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’.

Pole of Cold tradition Munro Productions

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.

REINDEER HERDERS

Reindeer herders of Uchugey Munro Productions

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.

Alyona Pimanova in Uchugey

GARAGE

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.

ACCOMMODATION

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)

World’s Angriest in Russia

We are pleased to have worked on the Russian sections for the series “World’s Angriest” with Mentorn Media for Channel 5 (UK).

We undertook a lot of the pre-production, finding the right contributors and to organise the interviews. We also provided the camera kit as well as conducted the interviews during production. We spoke with a number of really interesting people who were involved either in road scams or road rage incidents and some who captured this unique footage on their car dashcams.
 
We stopped and asked people on the streets their views of Russian road safety and of course we couldn’t help but get a lot of great GV’s of the city, including Red Square,The Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral.
Worlds Angriest 1

Tough Trains Siberia

Just back from Northern Siberia where we were filming an episode of ‘Tough Trains’ about the world’s most extraordinary train journeys. This travel series from the makers of Globe Trekker features remarkably tough feats of railway engineering across the globe in some of the harshest climates.

For this episode we travelled on passenger and freight trains, drove the ice road which follows the notorious unfinished railroad, known as Stalin’s Road of Death and spent time with reindeer herders in their Choom on the way to Salekhard. We then traveled on the most northerly railway in the world from Obskaya all the way to Bovanenkovo.

Munro Productions Tough Trains cameraman

This is a pretty tough journey in very extreme conditions but even with the freezing winds and snow fields as far as you can see it was a fantastic adventure for the whole crew, traveling the all the way from Tuymen to Karskaya.   

Here is a little behind the scene’s fun.