Russia is a vast country offering filmmakers a wealth of different locations, climates and landscapes to shoot. While there have been a number of high-profile international films that have used Russia as a base for filming, many productions choose to shoot elsewhere due to the high production costs, lack of tax incentives and restrictive government attitudes towards foreign filmmakers.
The language and cultural barrier, alongside the extreme winter weather, can also pose an issue for filmmakers but despite this, Russia’s rich history offers filmmakers a distinctive and unique filming location.
St Petersburg was chosen by the BBC and The Weinstein Company as one of the filming locations for their major TV adaptation of Tolstoy's War and Peace, with filming from early 2015.
The previous year, the country was also one of the locaitons chosen for the big screen adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor, starring Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis and directed by Susanna White.
Russia has proven a popular location for a number of other big budget action films in the past few years. These include:
Jack Ryan, an action thriller with scenes shot in Moscow’s city centre. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), was partially filmed in Moscow, and consequently hosted its world premiere at the Moscow International Film Festival in 2011.
Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) starring Tom Cruise, shot a number of scenes in Moscow.
Transsiberian (2008) was filmed in Lithuania, with additional photography in Russia.
Hitman (2007) was filmed primarily in Bulgaria, however a second unit also shot in the city of St. Petersburg.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004) was shot partially in Moscow, where the roads were closed for veteran Russian stunt coordinator Viktor Ivanov and Scottish stunt driver Gillie McKenzie to orchestrate a complex car chase scene.
When filming in Russia it is essential to acquire the correct permits and permissions from the government and the police. This can often prove challenging, as the Russian authorities are not renowned for their film-friendly attitudes.
Regardless of the size of your crew, it is wise to liaise with the proper authorities before you enter Russia. It is necessary to get permission to come to the country for filming purposes. Without permission, and the necessary paperwork to certify your status as a filmmaker, your crew will quickly run in to problems while filming.
Visas will also have to be secured for travel; information on what Visa you require and how you can apply for it can be found on the Visit Russia website.
Particularly in cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, permits for closing publicly owned buildings or areas of land can be costly and complex to obtain.
Private property law is not concrete, so the usual practice is that if the cameraman is not located on private land, he or she can film the property from outside. Interior filming can only be undertaken with the permission of the owner.
Though it is not illegal to film on the street, it is recommended that any exterior shoots are logged with local police in terms of activity and schedule. This will mean that you are less likely to encounter disruption to your filming schedule.
Public permits for filming can usually be secured within around 5 to 15 working days, however you should keep in mind that this is dependent on the size of your crew and the complexities of your filming schedule.
Russia has several studio facilities, most of which are situated around the centres of Moscow and St. Petersburg. These facilities are used predominantly by Russian TV and film productions, however, some of the newest studios are now beginning to open their doors to international filmmakers and their projects.
Moscow’s Mosfilm Studios were built in 1927, and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the facilities were purchased by a private company. The studios now contain 13 sound stages occupying an area of 13,000 sq. meters.
The Gorky Film studios (also located in Moscow) were founded in 1915. Up to the end of the Soviet era, the studios produced more than 1,000 films, many of which were considered classics of Russian cinema. The studio continues to produce films: the last release was a fantasy horror called Viy, which came to Russian cinemas in early 2013.
Other studios in the region around Moscow include the brand new studio, Glavkino, which was established in 2008. The Glavkino site comprises 33,000 square metres of land, with 12 stages, and a shooting hall which is the largest in Eastern Europe. The studios have a number of features in production, including the World War Two epic Stalingrad, for which the Glavkino studios are providing post-production services.
Russian World Studios is one of the largest film and television production companies in Russia, and was founded in 1998. The company’s film studios are located in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg studios are open to foreign filmmakers who wish to use the facilities, which include six sound stages and a range of new equipment such as a new “ingest server” which can accomodate online video and sound digitizing.
Sverdlovsk Film Studio is a large facility based in the centre of Russia, in the city of Yekaterinburg. The site includes five regional film companies, a film school, seven recording studios, five video editing studios, three costume warehouses, two exhibition halls and rehearsal space.
Russia is the biggest country in the world, and it therefore has a lot to offer filmmakers in search of unique and varied locations for shooting.
The main locations international productions use for filming are around the famous and iconic cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In the Russian capital of Moscow famous sites which may appeal to filmmakers include Red Square, the Bolshoi Theatre, the extravagant metro stations, the Triumphal Arch of Moscow, the Shukhov Tower, the Moscow State University, the Star City cosmonaut training centre, Tsaritsyno Park and palace, and Novodevichy Convent.
In St Petersburg iconic sites include St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Hermitage Museum, the Summer Palace of Peter the Great, Church of the Savior on Blood, the modern Lakhta Centre (currently under construction, but due to be the tallest skyscraper in Europe), the Admiralty Shipyard and port areas, as well as the numerous canals and waterways which work their way through the city.
It’s worth bearing in mind that filming in the major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg is particularly expensive, on a par with other urban centres such as London and New York. Consequently, many filmmakers avoid shooting in Russia, and will instead use other cities: for example, the Bulgarian capital of Sophia or even the British city of Liverpool, to recreate the look of streets in Moscow.
Outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, other locations that may appeal to filmmakers include the city of Murmansk in the far north-west of the country. This aging Soviet city has a rapidly declining population, however it is not too far from Moscow and can be used as an alternative to filming Siberia, which is often challenging for filmmakers due to its geographic isolation. Murmansk has been a location for several recent productions, including the Russian drama A Long and Happy Life (2013), the Indian action-thriller Players (2012) and German comedy Lost in Siberia (2012).
Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia, and it recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. It contains a number of medieval monuments including the St. Sophia Cathedral, the Novgorod Kremlin and the Yuriev Monastery.
The city of Vladivostok, situated close to Russia’s borders with China and North Korea, is also an interesting location for filmmakers. The city even has its own film commission to attract filmmakers to the region. Vladivostok is home to the Russian Pacific Fleet and the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean. The city also contains the Russky Bridge, which is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.
Other attractions for filmmakers include natural landscapes such as the frozen tundra of Siberia and the Arctic Circle, the extensive Caucasus and Altai Mountains, the volcanic areas of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the stunning Lake Baikal. Russia also offers beaches, which can be found in coastal towns such as Shamora, Zelenogradsk and Yalta.
However, if you would like to import professional filming equipment it is recommended to use an ATA Carnet - an international customs document which allows the holder to import goods without payment of normally applicable duties and taxes.
In Russia, an ATA Carnet is issued by the Chamber of Commerce, but this document can only be obtained by Russian citizens.