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For a long while, the Russian film industry coexisted with the government on the basis of a fragile consensus: studios signed lucrative government contracts for patriotic movies about the USSR in WWII and in space, made luscious biopics on Soviet celebrities for state-owned TV channels, and respected several taboos, avoiding such topics as LGBT, religion, and urgent political and social issues like the plague. In the meantime, there were “festival” movies made by directors who were independent of public funding and the reign of the Ministry of Culture; there were Russian and international Netflix-like platforms and private production companies. This consensus shattered on February 24, 2022. Netflix withdrew from Russia, causing the suspension of all projects meant for the platform. Major international film festivals refused to screen Russian movies. Many actors, filmmakers, camera operators, and screenwriters, famous or not, left the country in protest, fleeing mobilization or criminal prosecution. The remaining “dissidents” have to hide their opinions to avoid being blacklisted, lower their rates, compromise on content quality, and do a lot of maneuvering to avoid getting entangled in so-called “patriotic” filmmaking. The Insider spoke with film industry representatives to find out how their professional life changed after February 24 and what Russia's “wartime cinema” is like.

ALL CARDS
  • Elena, producer, works in Russia: “The most aggravating thing is a lack of rules: no one tells you what you can and cannot do”

  • Roman, production director, has left Russia: “Filmmaking will be replaced by low-grade sitcoms, for people to keep giggling away”

  • Sergei, production director, has stayed in Russia: “The USSR had censorship too, but it didn't get in the way of making great movies”

  • Nikolai, CEO of a filmmaking equipment rental company, works in Russia: “It will be like in the USSR, where people fixed their cars themselves in the garage”

  • Oleg, camera crew member, works in Russia: “Cutters get a notification in their software: Go f-ck yourselves! Glory to Ukraine, and you can suck dick!”

  • Petr, camera technician, has stayed in Russia: “The producer told me: 'If you want to keep your job, remove the Ukrainian flag from your profile pic'”

  • Alexander, actor, has stayed in Russia: “The Presidential Administration has a directorate overseeing performers and musicians”

  • Ivan, actor, works in Russia: “Just so you know, we're monitoring your social media”

  • Anna, makeup artist, works in Russia: “The best blood is American, but we've run out of it, so we're mixing what we have”

  • Anna, art director, has left Russia: “Everyone's got a job. Everyone's an artist, even without a degree or knowing how to draw”

  • Artem, art director, has left Russia: “They gathered us in a trailer and announced they were shutting down the project”

Читать на русском языке

(All of the interviewees’ names have been changed)

Elena, producer, works in Russia: “The most aggravating thing is a lack of rules: no one tells you what you can and cannot do”

Censorship always affects every project. A movie is planned a few years in advance. Once the idea is conceived, it takes two years to release: you write a script, you shoot and cut, and then you launch it. The most aggravating thing is a lack of rules: there never were any, but now it's gotten worse. No one tells you what you can and cannot do. Some eighteen months ago, we created content without any reserve. We steered clear of all ideology, mainstream and opposition alike, and did not make any manifestos, but we never had to think twice about showing gay characters, for instance. It was about intonation and appropriateness, and those are valid considerations regardless of censorship.

In late 2021, even before the “special operation”, we got a beating for the first time: a radicalized social group attacked us for joking about religion on the screen. It was nothing like Charlie Hebdo, of course – we had kept it light, but some of the radically inclined must have seen it. We had to delete a great many negative comments on our social media pages and hire security for the actor, who was receiving threats and eventually withdrew from all social media. Shocked by this entire shitstorm, we re-edited the first episode even without instructions “from above”. It was a case of internal censorship, which is still present. The level of uncertainty is higher because taboos change by the day. A project can be acceptable today but not tomorrow. It’s not unprecedented, but the recent developments are making the situation increasingly uncertain. Censorship will become tighter and tighter because there is little money to be made in the film industry apart from public funding. Giving money without taking control is just not in our culture. In Russia, whoever pays calls the shots.

Hence the never-ending debate on whether a state-funded theater can screen movies “about f*ggots”. The very question shows the lack of understanding that public funds belong to all residents of the country, no matter if they prefer girls or boys, whether they are liberal or conservative – everybody has the right to representation. In this sense, we’re at the caveman stage, still convinced that state-owned institutions must conform to a particular ideology. Now that the only money for filmmaking comes from the Cinema Fund and the Ministry of Culture, censorship will grow more rigid.

Russians are still convinced that state-owned institutions must conform to a particular ideology

All businesses grow to a certain level, after which they have to either sell out or integrate into the global market. The same is true about media companies. In our situation, we realize there is no investment model left. The only money we can get is quasi-private funds from large state-owned corporate investors like Gazprom. No media holding can survive on its own. It has to interact with other market players or channels, which automatically means interacting with the government or government agencies like the Institute of Internet Development, Cinema Fund, or the Ministry of Culture. Naturally, the ministry favors the mainstream ideology; the Cinema Fund is less politicized but has leverage that results in both internal and external censorship.

If the situation stabilizes, we may see some ground rules, and the officials may adopt a less heavy-handed approach. Frankly speaking, however, even last year, Alexei Goreslavsky, who was yet to be appointed head of the Institute of Internet Development and was more of an intermediary linking the Presidential Administration and the industry, approached all platforms with the message: “Folks, show us your projects in the pipeline. We can help you avoid problems in the future.”

It's all down to the managers’ intelligence and cunning. Public institutions such as Gazprom-Media share a more cautious approach because this is the position of their management. Gazprom can make casting decisions based on actors’ public stance, history of participation in protests, and so on. It does not mean, though, that the Presidential Administration has compiled a list; such decisions are made “non-verbally”. They are a close-knit circle: all heads of media groups, oligarchs, Vyacheslav Volodin, Valentina Matvienko, Sergey Kiriyenko – they are from the same crowd. It’s not about explicit rules. It’s about “what would Shoigu say when he's vacationing on my yacht”. He’d say: “Are you nuts? That’s not okay! We’re a team. We're friends, and you’ve stabbed me in the back.”

When a member of the said team gets a managing position in a media group, they are of course preoccupied with their future existence within the team and play by the rules. Again, these are self-imposed restrictions. There are self-sufficient people, and then there are industry incumbents. As we all understand, the Russkoye motion picture company would hardly exist if [its producer and founder] Kushaev were not a VGTRK employee. <The Insider's note: VGTRK stands for the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company.> It just wouldn't have happened.

The filming of a future action blockbuster titled Polite People has taken off in the “Luhansk People's Republic”. The plot features biolabs, Soros, Freemasons, lizard people, Nazi Banderites, and Hitler riding a black dragon
The filming of a future action blockbuster titled Polite People has taken off in the “Luhansk People's Republic”. The plot features biolabs, Soros, Freemasons, lizard people, Nazi Banderites, and Hitler riding a black dragon

Would any of these bush-league production companies exist in St Petersburg if their managers were not part of the content-making chain for the NTV channel? No. They aren't doing anything out of the ordinary – just manning their positions and trying to keep them. They are scared that their well-being, their plum jobs could be endangered by some f*cking nonsense, some louse of a man with a Ukrainian flag on his user pic. Because people are monitoring social media. Even if it isn’t a consistent effort, everyone is afraid that it could become a system any day. So you could hire an actor who speaks out or joins some rally on the next day, and they’ll tell you: “That’s it, you're f*cked.” When everyone understands that public funding is the only way to stay afloat, they are proactive. It’s especially true considering that some of the managers have a strong stance and would never hire anyone whose position differs. When the war broke out, we started having conflicts inside filming crews. For instance, the director could be anti-war and intending to leave; the cameraman could feel otherwise, and the casting director could publish never-ending pro-war posts on Facebook, saying she is from Donetsk or Mariupol, that she has a bunch of relatives there, and always chipping in with “eight years” comments. The overall sentiment is the desire to avoid confrontation. Alternatively, some of those who are in favor of what's happening could be reluctant to work with those opposed. I’ve got numerous projects in the pipeline, but we never monitor the social media of potential candidates. However, some of the executive producers could be doing it on their own initiative, covertly. They may even have an internal filter. Such things occur naturally because, while some view such filters as unacceptable, others don't see anything wrong with them.

When the war broke out, we started having conflicts: for instance, the director could be anti-war and the cameraman could feel otherwise

We live in society, and the film industry is not immune to its flaws: people steal. How do they make peace with themselves? In brief, they are willing to bargain with their conscience if they have to. Why should they worry about making a movie for which the government will pay them five times the usual rate? I spoke to a producer who was launching a project about bioweapon labs in Mariupol and could not hear any dread in her voice. It was business as usual. It had been obvious for a long time that she is a part of the establishment. She is perfectly unperturbed about the situation and does not seem to be tormented by a guilty conscience.

I spoke to a producer who was launching a project about bioweapon labs in Mariupol and could not hear any dread in her voice

We also have a “patriotic project” commissioned by the Institute of Internet Development, but it’s nothing too horrible. Created by someone with more talent, it would even have been decent because it has a strong genre component along the lines of White Fang. Luckily, it doesn't have a Z [pro-war] storyline – just a very straightforward plot about Western f*ggots trying to pull Russia apart and wise Russian leaders standing their ground. I’m making it sound a little more primitive than it is. There is nothing terrible about the story itself; it’s a human-interest story. But whenever you resort to simple messages, the result goes down the drain. That said, outside of my mindset, this standpoint also has the right to exist.

Roman, production director, has left Russia: “Filmmaking will be replaced by low-grade sitcoms, for people to keep giggling away”

I’ve shown some moral flexibility over the last few years. There were things I disliked, but Joseph Brodsky’s excuse “rather choose a looter than a slayer” fell apart after February 24. It became apparent that looters and slayers were the same people, and that Russia has entered the next stage of its cancer. Staying became unbearable, intolerable. I had turned a blind eye to Crimea and the Donbas operation. I had realized that the government wanted to create an Abkhazia or an Ossetia in Ukraine, yet another festering wound to keep the country from pursuing a path of its own and integrating into Europe. As ashamed as I am to admit it, it's true. You realize what's happening but keep your realizations to yourself and stay in Russia because of your work, personal affairs, and the need to be there for others. Our day-to-day lives and desire for comfort outweighed the sense of injustice.

Joseph Brodsky’s excuse “rather choose a looter than a slayer” fell apart after February 24. It became apparent that looters and slayers were the same

On the 24th, I woke up from my slumber and realized we’d hit rock bottom and couldn’t go on like that. I began going to protests in cities where I was filming. I skipped work, let the crew leave early, and broke my contract terms, saying: “Sorry, but I must be there.” I believed that we could change something in the first few days if protests were numerous enough. It was naive of me, considering that Navalny had proved with his return the futility of hopes for mass protests. We were few, and they dispersed us. Even more importantly, protesters faced public disapproval.

Passers-by – young and elderly alike – were willing to help the police round us up. I was dumbfounded. I realized how careless it had been of us to look down on television. Everyone had known what kind of man [Vladimir] Solovyov was and had dismissed his rhetoric as useless. However, after February 24, I realized we had underestimated television because it has so much power over people it’s scary.

Having seen enough, I left. It became clear that I could not stay in an environment that was passively or actively supporting what was happening. It was so shameful and terrifying that my professional “bubble” burst open. I realized that everything I’d been doing was in vain and that there was nothing else for me to do. You can’t pay taxes because, if you work in Russia, you’re indirectly financing the war. Once I realized this, I decided I didn't want it.

At the moment, I don't have the resources, the courage, or the energy to fight. I can’t see how I can keep working in Russia because we’re in this clusterf*ck of a situation exactly because of what we’ve been doing. I'd always been told: “Do you want protests? Go ahead and protest, but you’ll lose your job. We're responsible for our employees.” We’d been hearing these excuses for twenty years. I’ve summarized it in a ridiculous but concise metaphor: “I’m all right, Jack, you can do it to me again.” A person hides their head in their cozy little home, leaving their ass outside and saying: “You can do it again as many times as you like because I’m alright, this doesn’t concern me, and anyway it's not all black and white.” All our asses are on the line, and I think it's going to be 1937 all over again. <The Insider's note: 1937 was the height of Stalin's repressions.> It seems absurd but at the same time very likely.

Those who are staying won't have a choice: they’ll have to make concessions because it will only get worse. We're careening toward North Korea, and we’ll reach the destination before long. Those who stay will have to compromise and keep their bar low. Being an immigrant is tough, but staying in the country... I know a lot of people who are perfectly fine, not a worry on their minds. If people have been comfortable for the last twenty years, they’ll be fine until they hear real explosions. Condemning them is stupid and pointless. Everyone lives the way they are comfortable.

I know a lot of people who are perfectly fine, not a worry on their minds

Some think that staying is the right thing to do. I’m far from judging them; they’ve made their choice, and it's braver than mine. Some are staying because they refuse to “give up their country”, such as [Vladimir] Kara-Murza, [Lev] Shlosberg, [Ilya] Yashin, and [Alexei] Navalny. Some might still be protesting in the streets. If you make TV shows and call that “not giving up your country”, it's bullshit: you entertain the public in between Solovyov's nonsense and serve the government by paying taxes.

I’ve heard there’s a spike in demand for entertaining content because people are weary of the news and need cheering up in the fall and further on. This is why we’re in for a great deal of sitcoms and comedies, which is what Tina Kandelaki is currently working on. There might also be some government contracts for patriotic movies, but the war is a burden on the budget, so filmmaking will decline rapidly, with the number of movies dwindling. Culture and education will be the first to take the fall; cinema will follow. Television formats will fare well because people will need something to giggle about if we want to take their minds off relevant problems.

There's nothing I’d like more than to return, and I will – when the war is over and the regime has changed. I think these events will occur simultaneously or in short succession. Putin’s reign must end, and his government must be brought to justice; Navalny and other political prisoners must be released. The nation must reap what it has sown. I think this is when I will come back and pull my weight. I might not be able to get my film industry job back, but I’ll wash dishes if I have to. Why not?

Sergei, production director, has stayed in Russia: “The USSR had censorship too, but it didn't get in the way of making great movies”

It was an honest choice on my part: I was born in Russia, I live here, and I fail to understand why I should have to leave on the slightest pretext. A patriot is someone who loves their country and fights tyranny, not someone who gets chummy with the labor camp administration and calls it “love for their motherland”. I don't see why I should leave, even if I disagree with the government's actions. If I get drafted, I’ll submit my refusal. If they put me in jail, well, I guess I’ll have to serve my sentence. One thing I know for sure: I’m not going to war. I’m not making any made-to-order movies or propaganda, and I never will. I'd rather make shorts or a low-budget feature film. I’m not much of a fighter; I just make movies and see it as my mission: making good cinema for people. Could there be at least something decent about not agreeing to shoot questionable movies with a questionable message?

I don't really believe that all is lost and that art is gone for good. The Soviet Union had serious censorship, but a lot of great movies were released at the time. It could actually be the reverse: under the pressure of harsh censorship, in its clutch, something more authentic and sincere is born than in a free environment. It doesn’t have to be underground art; even universally acclaimed movies can have an oppositionist subtext, a wink for those who understand, something obscure, hidden from the surface. I don't believe that cinema is about taking a stance; rather, it’s about developing a human being and their soul. It's a way to teach critical thinking, to see two sides of a coin, and generally elevate yourself above animal nature. Movies must be made; one good movie is already something. In brief, my outlook remains generally positive. I’m an optimist by nature.

Under the pressure of censorship, in its clutch, something more authentic and sincere is born than in a free environment

The regime is not eternal. Even if the situation does not take a drastic turn, there will be a period of thaw, of lenience. The tide will turn one day as it always does. Be it a costly blockbuster, a commercial, or a cheap daytime show for a channel mostly watched by housewives, video production is a complex process. It involves a great many people and multi-tier technological chains. Once Russia unleashed the war and fell prey to sanctions, these chains began to disintegrate. We are facing difficulties with the procurement and maintenance of expensive equipment, such as cameras, lights, lenses, software, materials for sets and costumes, makeup, and props. Many of the things we used to take for granted have become inaccessible.

Nikolai, CEO of a filmmaking equipment rental company, works in Russia: “It will be like in the USSR, where people fixed their cars themselves in the garage”

We used to procure everything domestically from official distributors: cameras, lights, and studio equipment. All equipment came with a warranty and service support. Now it's all gone, and we’ve decided against purchasing more filmmaking gear this year. Not that we planned – we already bought a lot in the last few years and need to get a return on our investment. We did some thinking and might abandon hardware purchases altogether because equipment rental is not the optimal business model now.

I can anticipate a decline in demand among our clients, primarily directors of photography and gaffers (lighting designers). Arri and Red Digital release new cameras and lighting equipment every year, and camera operators and gaffers used to ask for the latest, state-of-the-art equipment all the time. Now they’re prepared to make do with less, understanding that laying hands on the latest equipment is incredibly hard. So we won’t be getting any requests for the new arrivals for natural reasons. However, the cost of filmmaking equipment is very hard to pay off, mostly because new models arrive regularly, so the situation has a silver lining for our business.

As for repairs, DIY is the way to go. It will be like in the USSR, where people fixed their cars themselves in the garage or asked some craftsman they know to make brake pads. We used to do some of the non-warranty repairs in-house. Since February, we haven’t had any complicated requests, but I’m not sure how to handle one if we get it. Our only hope is the economy's capacity for adjustment, like in the 1990s, when small-time merchants brought most of the popular goods from abroad and sailors sold car parts. I think we’ll see more of the same. The economy is flexible. We can’t and don’t want to get into this, but we hope new businesses will spring up, and we’ll become their clients. We’ve seen similar cases during the pandemic. I have a feeling we’ll pull through.

Polite People. Shooting the bioweapons lab scene
Polite People. Shooting the bioweapons lab scene

The business was never lucrative in the first place. Operating in the black was always incredibly difficult because new equipment was released before your investment in earlier versions had paid off, and now we're doing business on the verge of common sense.

Naturally, we can see what's going on outside the studio, with all expendables growing in prices, such as chargers, batteries, cables, memory sticks, and car parts, which is also relevant because we rent out filmmaking vehicles too. Due to external circumstances, we’ve had to up our prices as well.

Oleg, camera crew member, works in Russia: “Cutters get a notification in their software: Go f-ck yourselves! Glory to Ukraine, and you can suck dick!”

Laying hands on any technical equipment involved in filmmaking is no small feat these days. You can't buy anything the way you used to. If you need a camera, you need to somehow travel to a country that hasn't banned entry for Russians and bring the equipment from there, stuffing it in your pocket or bag, without the box of any papers, to make it look like it's a personal item. The same goes for any parts or gadgets. As a result, prices for everything are soaring. In theory, if you need something badly and have a ton of money, it's doable, but it's an immense hassle.

As for hardware, if it’s something not too heavy, folks used to carry it in backpacks, as cabin luggage, without checking it in, and they’ll probably continue doing so. We’ve always preferred to do things “under the counter” because it's always easier. Every technical department has its challenges. Cutters get notifications in their software: “Go f*ck yourselves! Glory to Ukraine, and you Russians can suck dick!” For now, you can have any equipment fixed as long as there are spare parts left in stock; however, new parts aren't coming and we aren’t getting anything from manufacturers. If something gets broken and there are no replacement parts, you could probably paint a “Z” or a “V” over it and carry it to a United Russia rally like a sign.

Cutters get notifications in their software: “Go f*ck yourselves! Glory to Ukraine, and you Russians can suck dick!”

Petr, camera technician, has stayed in Russia: “The producer told me: 'If you want to keep your job, remove the Ukrainian flag from your profile pic'”

I once got a call from my boss who offered to do a project with a Moscow studio we’d already worked with before. We negotiated the rate, and I accepted the offer and started preparing for the shooting. In a couple of days, I got another call from my boss: “Listen, I sent your CV to the executive producer, and here’s what he wrote me on the following day: ‘I’m afraid he’s not a good fit because we have very different outlooks.’ What do you think this was about? Did you have any conflicts the last time you worked together?” “Nope,” I said. “Everything seemed fine. No idea.” He went back to the producer for clarification, and it turned out it was about my anti-war activity on Facebook.

Taken aback, I laughed a bit but then realized that it was no joking matter: my civil stance could put me out of a job. After that, my boss began telling the producer what a great professional I was, the best our company had to offer, experienced and reliable, with my own video production van and emphasized that I had promised to keep my political beliefs to myself. The producer replied he had to talk to me face-to-face. We met in a cafeteria at Mosfilm and had a friendly conversation. He said he couldn't care less about people's beliefs and that his main concern was a smooth, uninterrupted filming process, free from conflicts and misunderstanding, so any talk about politics, including the “special operation”, was prohibited on the set. As for me specifically, he’d sent the details of the entire crew to the channel that had commissioned the show, and they became curious about the guy with a Ukrainian flag on the profile picture. That's when the producer also became curious, went online, and saw that I was an ardent supporter of Ukraine. He didn’t want any problems and wrote to my boss that he wouldn’t work with me. “But I can see now,” continued he, “that you're a reasonable fellow, so take that flag down from your user pic, delete your anti-war posts, and we’ll get on like a house on fire.” Eventually, that’s what I did.

Alexander, actor, has stayed in Russia: “The Presidential Administration has a directorate overseeing performers and musicians”

Yes, I’ve had problems at work. Those with an anti-war stance are being squeezed out of their profession. Some producers instruct their casting directors to monitor actors’ social media pages and avoid inviting those who point out that mass murders committed under ridiculous pretexts are unacceptable. Some of the more “patriotic” casting directors apply this policy at their own initiative. Channels also screen lead role candidates for “high treason”, and as far as I know, their contracts come with a mandatory clause about keeping their mouths shut about the subject in interviews and on social media.

From what I heard, in late February - early March, the Presidential Administration hastily set up a nice and cozy directorate to control performers and musicians. The purpose of its existence is to make sure Russian “showbiz” does not cause any trouble.

Ivan, actor, works in Russia: “Just so you know, we're monitoring your social media”

Last summer, I got offered a script where I was supposed to play a looter who carves a baby out of his mother's womb. I conferred with my agent, and we came back to them: “Apologies, but we just can’t make it work because of our schedule.” I also got an offer for a project that would be filmed in the “LPR”. I said I had to consult with my theater company about my capacity for travel and that I'd call them back. I did call them back, to say that my schedule prevented me from taking on their project. Even though they’d offered me rates that would keep me comfortable for the nearest six months. That is, of course, if I returned from the “expedition”.

I called my colleagues and said: “So how's it going, folks, got any offers recently?” One of my colleagues said: “Well, yeah, they called us too. We’re going, what else is there to do? You?” I said: “Sorry, no can do.” “Shame.”

I often stumble across casting ads online, in Telegram chats and on Instagram, saying that even if you think you're a good fit for the role but have made statements on social media and so on, you shouldn’t bother applying because such things are easy to check. I also saw a casting director say in their Stories: “Just so you know, we're monitoring your social media.” I made a screenshot before it disappeared.

Anna, makeup artist, works in Russia: “The best blood is American, but we've run out of it, so we're mixing what we have”

Professional makeup prices soared, then plummeted. There are no foundations or powders we’d been using for a decade. It's an American brand, and when the war began, you couldn’t buy its products in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, or anywhere else. We ordered them through intermediaries in Estonia. The prices grew as well, from around $50 to $73, after peaking at $100-130. Armani foundations are gone, and the eye crayon that cost around $30 now costs almost $60. We’ve brought some powders from Estonia. The most basic ones, by a generic brand, and the supplier told us: “That's it, no more shipments.”

Russian makeup keeps us going for now, and the prices are the same. But many articles are missing, and there are no good analogs. For one, no one has any foundations. Russia manufactures very little professional makeup for filmmaking – just a handful of products. We’ve managed to buy some of the things we need and are looking for ways to buy the rest, ordering them through England. Payment is another issue: wire transfers aren’t available, so we have to pay in cash, which means we need to buy pounds sterling.

Celebrity actors have riders. A famous actress could tell her makeup artist that she needed a specific brand of makeup from Paris. A makeup kit could cost over $1,000. How are we supposed to accommodate these requests now? We’re launching a new project with 12 lead actors, so we’ll have to spend around $1,600 on 12 brush sets – and that’s if we can find them. We make sure not to waste any products, desperately trying to cut costs.

However, we don't like to compromise on quality because quality is about performance. Expensive products are more lasting, and we need to make sure the makeup stays on for 12 hours straight and doesn't look patchy when we fix it because it's visible on camera. Low-cost makeup is visible at once, and it's trickier to apply: it sometimes needs more blending or just won't come off when you need it to.

As for postiche <The Insider’s note: a professional term for wig-making>, in March and April, we couldn't buy net anywhere in Russia. Net is extremely important as the foundational layer for mustaches, beards, whiskers, and wigs. Russia used to import it from Italy or Germany. At the moment no one is selling any, as they are out of stock. Net normally sold at around $50-65 per meter, and now it costs almost $200. However, even for this kind of money, there is none left in Russia. We feared that we wouldn’t be able to make mustaches anymore. We just wouldn’t have the materials. Every mustache is custom-made. You can’t take a used mustache from a different project and glue it to the actor's face. When it comes to close-ups, a mustache or a beard must look natural, and it takes a lot of work because every face is unique and we need to make a lot of adjustments. Someone else’s mustache could be a bad fit, especially because the underlying net shrinks and deteriorates because of the glue and alcohol-based solvent. We aim to make postiche look perfectly natural. We received some wool blend fabric from America and had to use it for mustaches.

We feared that we wouldn’t be able to make mustaches anymore. We just wouldn’t have the materials

And then there’s blood, of course. American is the best, and we are hunting down what's left in the country. For instance, alcohol-based blood dries up in a specific way that can come in handy. We used to buy blood and some other supplies at a store in Moscow which sometimes ordered special effects props from the US. They had some great mud that was super-easy to apply on the skin and created a very natural look. But they haven’t had any shipments in a long time. For now, we’re mixing whatever we have left. Experimenting.

It's even worse with prosthetics. Prosthetics is an area of professional makeup that uses special means such as sculpting or molding for special makeup effects, from scars to prosthetic noses of all shapes. It’s very delicate and complex work. A lot of materials are used for prosthetics, including silicone and alginate solutions. Latex is the most widely used material, along with glue. We used to order most of the materials abroad. However, they don’t ship to Russia anymore, and there are no local analogs. You used to be able to buy everything you need on a single website, and now it takes forever to find the necessary items across social media, chats, and even classifieds. No one is willing to sell anything because they might need it for their future projects. And then, where would you get it? What would you do?

Anna, art director, has left Russia: “Everyone's got a job. Everyone's an artist, even without a degree or knowing how to draw”

I realized that, now that we have to adjust to the new world and the new environment, it doesn't matter where you start anew. It's better to do it in a safe foreign country than at home but taking constant risks. Several top-ranking artists have left, me included. I’m in touch with my colleagues, artistic directors, and others. We have a chat, but now it's mostly filled with brainless “patriots”. There are also participants no one knows personally. I’m in contact with my former team of stagehands and assistants, and everyone's got a job. Everyone's an artist, even without a degree or knowing how to draw. It should be noted, however, that the rates are unbearably low, rock f*cking bottom. An artistic director earns peanuts. My assistant, who used to earn $3,000 a month, not gets $6,500 for four months of work. That is, she works as an art director for $1,600 a month and says she’s got nothing to work with, not even enough nails. The industry is decaying.

Artem, art director, has left Russia: “They gathered us in a trailer and announced they were shutting down the project”

Before the war, we began shooting an English-language movie with a famous foreign actor and built a set – a giant millionaire’s mansion – at the Mosfilm studio. When the war broke out, my work became a means of escape. Like many, I worked as much as I could to keep my mind off things. We were busy arranging vases and books, and my assistant couldn’t stop sobbing. She was sitting on a chair, repeating: “It's all f*cked, nothing will come out of this.”

Grandson. In the movie, Yury finds out that his grandfather was hospitalized after seeing his WWII-era nemesis in a news story about an SS parade in Latvia. The protagonist does not doubt for a second that it is up to him to restore justice and help his grandpa meet SS-Untersturmführer Alfred Weber face to face
Grandson. In the movie, Yury finds out that his grandfather was hospitalized after seeing his WWII-era nemesis in a news story about an SS parade in Latvia. The protagonist does not doubt for a second that it is up to him to restore justice and help his grandpa meet SS-Untersturmführer Alfred Weber face to face

Suddenly the first assistant director says: “All heads of departments, please meet me in the trailer.” I went in, and they told us they were shutting down the project. Around the same time, we heard the news about borders closing and all that and decided we’d had enough. It had been nice while it lasted, but we were out of work, and our prospects were limited to patriotic movies and feel-good TV shows. We realized we had to leave. It took us a while to figure out where. The tickets cost us around $1,000 each. We said goodbye to the set, paying our last visit at night. The electricity was off, so we wandered around in the darkness and left on the same day, March 5. We got terribly drunk before departure, so packing was a slipshod effort, and left for Uzbekistan with three suitcases. We had once shot a movie down there and had a few mates who were helping refugees and emigrants. They offered us free shelter for a while.

We stayed in a giant empty apartment with a bunch of college students from Saint Petersburg who had been issued draft notices, IT engineers, and actual political refugees. There was a dude from Saint Petersburg who’d had his door kicked down by the police, so he’d flown to Tashkent. For everyone we met, the city was a point of transit, but some stayed longer than others. Directors, camera operators, and other specialists who stayed there and even filmed something organized various meetups and events.

We stayed in a giant empty apartment with a bunch of college students from Saint Petersburg who had been issued draft notices, IT engineers, and actual political refugees

We gave a couple of lectures for a local audience about production design in filmmaking. I lived off random odd jobs, like designing credits for TV shows. In the meantime, we figured out money transfers, had local bank cards issued in Uzbekistan, and came up with all sorts of crazy schemes. Then our producers figured out a way to continue shooting, and we flew here <The Insider's note: to an EU country>, rebuilt the set, and carried on.

I’m gay, and my partner and I have recently got married, registering our marriage in Portugal. We considered applying for asylum as LGBT community members but decided our professional credentials were more diverse and meaningful than our love life and that we shouldn't use it as a pretext.

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