Cash is king so there’s no arguing that legislative approval of a 25% cash rebate on shoots in Ukraine – including commercials! – will once again make the country a favorite alternative in Eastern Europe. We caught up with Dmitry Sukhanov, head of the PSN Ukraine team, for his insights on why to shoot in Ukraine.
Q: Is it safe again to shoot in Ukraine?
A: Yes! The only no-go place is Crimea where troubles are locked down and contained.
Our capital city Kiev is some 800 kilometers from that region. Other filming hotspots out of harm’s way are the charming architecture of Lviv, the Carpathian Mountains, and Odesa, where the Black Sea coastline and its beaches await.
Q: Can you tell us a few top reasons to shoot projects in Ukraine?
A: First of all, it’s about possibilities. Many types of locations that are hardly possible or not possible to shoot in Europe at all can be shot in Ukraine. Here you can easily shoot in subway stations, cargo ports, huge stadiums - and use military vehicles. We even shot one commercial in Kiev airport’s duty-free zone (beyond safety, custom, and passport control) with a crew of 80 and 100 extras.
Another reason is the time - in different ways. To begin with, Ukraine crew still don’t have progressive overtime fees as a standard, and there are no limits for number of shooting hours per day. So we can do 16-18-20-hour shifts without complications. We also do not have any unions that restrict the number of shooting hours when working with animals and kids. It is a matter of self-monitoring that we do take seriously. Unofficially, there are a few simple rules in the market, but everything is very flexible and negotiable.
Time is also on our side when arranging for shoot permits. A permit to shoot on a city street can be ready in as little as 24 hours. And in just 2-3 days you can get a permit to block the street.
Of course, price is important, and our newly approved incentive is sure to increase interest. Recent currency value drops against the USD/EUR make Ukraine a great choice for projects with massive art department, talent, or complicated crewing. For instance, one extra actor per shift will cost about 10-15 Euro.
Huge Olympic stadiums or other big football facilities, opera houses, train stations, and airports can be booked for a price 4-5 times cheaper than across much of the rest of Europe.
In short, I would say that clients shooting in Ukraine will get more for their budget with less limitations.
Q: How well does everyone speak English in Ukraine?
A: There is no problem hiring English-speaking crew in Ukraine. Key department heads like art directors, gaffers, 1st Ads, etc., speak English quite well because it’s a must for any service project. Even for productions in the local market our crew is used to working with foreign directors and DOPs. English speaking is also a must at the production house. Unsurprisingly, fluent English is common among the younger generation. Communication in English is only a bit spotty with actors over 30 years old or a few regular techs and art crew.
Q: How do local crews in Ukraine stack up?
A: It is one of our strong points. We have highly skilled and experienced local crew who are young and active since most joined the industry in the early 2000s. Food stylists, FX artists, pyro technicians, stunts, art directors, prop-makers, wardrobe stylists, make-up artists, special make-up artists, hairdressers,1st Ads - all are up to international standards.
Also our producers’ experience and understanding of possible culture differences and expectations help ensure we crew up with the right team. This knowledge of the local market positions us to suggest when, on rare occasion, a producer may want to bring in a foreign specialist.
Q: Does a DOP need to travel in, or do you have great ones in Ukraine with reels to present?
A: We have a solid choice of English-speaking DOPs in Ukraine visiting directors speak highly of. They’re often requested on a director’s return visit. But we’re equally happy to work with a visiting director and his own DOP. We can even suggest a list of foreign DOP’s we’ve worked with before in Ukraine that add a sense of confidence when a director is shooting here for the first time.
Q: How about art, construction, and wardrobe in Ukraine?
A: Art construction in Ukraine is one of the key reasons to shoot here - good, quick, and cheap! For wardrobe, most global brands can be found in Ukraine, whereas it is the living heritage of Dovzhenko Film Studio and a vibrant theatre culture that provide for a good stock of historical wardrobe and props. Of course, if there is a special request for pret–a-couture or very fashionable Paris or London style, we then suggest producers bring their own wardrobe. And on projects that bring director and art director to work closely together as a solid creative team, we tailor-suit our team to the director’s vision with local art support crew to work with the visiting art director.
Q: What are the strong and weak points of casting in Ukraine? Are there talented performance specialists in Ukraine?
A: Because we have quite a strong theater and film industry in Ukraine, dating from the Soviet Union, there is a big choice of faces and professional actors. The price for buyouts here is hard to beat elsewhere in Europe. The beauty of Ukrainian girls (not only models) is renowned. Working with our in-house casting agency makes the work with callbacks and pre-selections very comfortable for our clients.
Another standout advantage is our strong dance and acrobatics schools in Ukraine. The more challenging task is casting native English speakers, particularly above 30 years old. Ethnic diversity is also limited to some faces for extras, not professional actors. When looking to fill these roles for a project we suggest clients bring their key actors from abroad.
Q: What is the best season to shoot in Ukraine and why?
A: For green leaves we can shoot starting from the end of April until late October.
The best time for snow is January-February, although a bit earlier and later can work too if you keep an eye on the forecast.
There are a lot of agricultural fields that have a particular harvest schedule we can check for any specific brief.
The hard-working Ukraine people don’t take long holidays either. Excepting a few days for Christmas, New Year, and Easter, there is no trouble crewing up for a shoot in winter or summer time.
Q: How is Ukraine engaging with the feature film industry?
A: Times are changing as we’re now seeing government support for co-productions.
A tax rebate law guaranteeing a 25% refund of local expenses has been approved this year. Commercials can qualify for the refund that is also made available for feature films, television series, and music videos.
A Ukrainian Culture Fund supporting co-productions was also introduced.
A film commission system for different regions is being put into place. Currently we are open for servicing feature film shoots in Ukraine, and from 2017 the co-production and co-funding collaborations will be operational.
Q: Does Ukraine have ample studio space?
A: We have a few studios that are about 2500 sq. m and have 18 m height. Most studios are about 1000 sq. m and have 12 m height. But there are also a couple of expo centers that are much bigger. Almost half of the studios are soundproof.
In total you can find about 25-30 stages in Kiev alone, and there are a few more in Odesa, Dnepropetrovsk, and Lviv.
Q: What special traits or stand-out places in Ukraine do you think could serve as interesting storytelling ingredients?
A: We have a vast range of historical landmarks on display in our culture and architecture. Kiev is a city with 1500 years of history! Lviv – Ukraine’s major western city - was built in the times of the Austria-Hungary Empire and features architecture of that period. Odesa is more about seaside - it’s a port city with a touch of Jewish culture. Kiev is very cosmopolitan, hi-tech in downtown and folk style in its surroundings. And, of course, we have notable Soviet-style heritage evident in monuments and industry. Many are abandoned and easy to access. Chernobyl is already a safe place for filmmakers. Every year there are a few foreign films shot there.
Q: Does Ukraine have any tricky production requisites producers need to know about?
A: Excluding Crimea and our eastern border – though we do service a few documentary projects on that frontier – first-time visiting producers need to understand how entirely safe shooting in Ukraine really is. We’re still pushing back the tide of media coverage that lingers long after the conflicts.
What foreign producers will find peculiar is that film insurance is not well developed in Ukraine. Domestic insurance policies can cover more common concepts like medical insurance, theft of equipment, and damage during transportation, or 3rd party liabilities. But they cannot cover specific film industry requests like actor no-shows, sickness of team/crew members, weather day risks, job cancellation or delay, etc. The result is that we cannot provide a full insurance package up to international standards. We normally take responsibility for our crew and any possible accidents on the set. But all other risks producers need covered are best arranged abroad - as it is possible to do, for instance, in Germany or in the UK. Considering recent government support for the local film industry, we are hopeful that local insurance companies will close the gap soon.
Q: What local delicacies or traditions do your clients find intriguing during their stay in Ukraine?
A: The countryside is great for outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, yachting, and climbing.
During the summer, you can even attend Cannes-style seaside parties in Odesa.
The capital city of Kiev is full of tasty and not expensive restaurants, clubs, bars, and private river beaches with sport activities. Professional football and hockey games are on regularly. There are more than 100 museums, 7 theatres - including a great opera. Many historical churches and monasteries are also open to visitors in Kiev.
Shopping at big malls, with prices cheaper than in the EU, is another attraction for many visitors. With our assistance and a chaperon we’ll be sure you enjoy your free time in Ukraine.