Gogol - The TV series that turned into a cinema blockbuster
BY Alexandra Shutova
The Russian fall cinema season opened with a real sensation this year – the cinema version of the first two episodes of TV3’s horror series Gogol turned into a major blockbuster generating sales of 430 million rubles a month after its release. According to reports, one episode of the 8-episode series cost around 25 million rubles. Two more films will be released next year before the series finally makes its debut on TV in fall 2018. Gogol is an absolute first for Russian television and cinema. Series have been adapted for movie releases before but they have enjoyed such huge success on the big screen in Russia. Could this be the start of a revolution for Russian cinema/TV production? TV3’s GM Valery Fedorovich and General Producer Evgeny Nikishov talked to Alexandra Shutova about the decision to release the production in cinemas first, while Sreda’s General Producer Alexander Tsekalo shared some details on the creative process behind this visually-stunning (not only for Russian standards) project.
What makes Gogol stick out among the other series premieres in Russia this season?
Fedorovich: Gogol is the first series in the world to have premiered in cinemas, and we are happy with its success. The movie Gogol. Origins has shown results similar to such hits as The Dark Tower and even surpassed such major foreign projects as Alien: Covenant, The Emoji Movie, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, John Wick: Chapter Two and The LEGO Batman Movie. Gogol is a unique experience for both Russian and international cinema: every film consists of two parts, and there are two more two-piece films to come out. No one has ever done this before.

Nikishov: The production combines various genres: it is a mystical thriller with an erotic hint, adventure, drama, detective, dark comedy and horror based on novels and biography of the most enigmatic Russian author. Nikolai Gogol seems to have been an actual daredevil, and we wanted the film to convey the essence of his works. This daring is rather uncommon for Russian cinema, and Gogol. Origins is breaking the rules. It is also not very common to make mystery films in Russia, to say nothing of Gothic style mystery often considered to be strange to Russian cinema.

Why did you decide to show Gogol in cinema theaters first? Is this just a marketing campaign or a new business model? Will this series mark a new start for the TV3?
Fedorovich: We are interested in trying something new and looking for a fresh language to communicate with the audience. We decided to go against the flow in the current trend of digitalization, when everyone is shifting towards smaller screens of smartphones and adapt their product for these devices. Given the high quality of our product and high level of visual effects, we decided to hit the cinemas first: Gogol looks most advantageously on the big screen and has bigger chances to monetize than with broadcast on TV and Internet alone. Take a look at what’s been happening in the cinema industry: the era of single feature films is over, franchises get the highest box office.

How long did it take you to shoot and prepare the show for broadcasting? When did it start transforming into a cinema project?
Nikishov: We have been working on the project for around two years, and the idea to release it in cinemas came up during the filming. We developed the content in the way that would make it look good on the big screen. Needless to say, content needs to be different depending on the format. People go to the cinema for amusement, and movies are a type of premium entertainment, which requires additional expenditures, and a more expensive and higher quality content. During the summer, we showed the project to representatives of cinema chains, and they confirmed their interest to us. Therefore, we decided to film an extension to the final and turn it into a viewing amusement ride packed with action and complex computer graphics, neither of which were part of the original screenplay.

How hard is it to make a series like Gogol in Russia? Is it too expensive for Russian channels?
Nikishov: It is very difficult and very costly, but we were able to pay it off with the cinema release of the first installment.

Did you expect that the series will turn into a blockbuster? Do you think this will affect the ratings?
Fedorovich: The performance of the project in the cinemas showed that our gamble elicited response. I think, one of the things that made it possible was the unorthodox promo campaign. Having created Gogol, we realized that this innovative product required a new approach to marketing and promotion. We decided to take full advantage of having our own airtime and being part of the largest media holding in Russia, and one of the largest in Europe. This way, Gogol had amortized most of the risks that movie producers usually face, before its premiere and received advertising support, which major distributors dream of.

Nikishov: We sent Gogol to the football game between Spartak and Lokomotiv, created a comic series on Instagram and launched an entire web series, in which Nikolay Vasilievich traveled into the worlds of popular series, including The Cop From Rublyovka and Chernobyl. The Exclusion Zone. We tried to show that Gogol is still as funny, scary and relevant as two centuries ago, and we’ve achieved that goal.

Valery Fedorovich, General Manager TV3

How are you planning to further exploit the series and promote it locally and abroad?
Fedorovich: Two new installments will be released in cinemas next year – Gogol. Viy and Gogol. Fearful Revenge. They will receive powerful advertising support. Russian-speaking audience in Europe already has access to Gogol. Origin. On top of that, we have started negotiations regarding distribution of a dubbed version.

You are also very active in the interaction with your viewers and giving them the option to choose which shows will get to make it on air in To Be Or Not To Be. Are you satisfied with the results?
Fedorovich: If we speak about practical results, we received support of the viewers for the series Detki, the screenplay of which is being written right now. However, we see To Be Or Not To Be not only as a new format, but a discussion platform that opens new possibilities for everyone. We are working on the second season of the program, in which any author, regardless of the experience and status, gets a real chance to realize the ideas on air of the federal channel. In the end, we will form a pool of prospective authors and ideas for ourselves. To Be Or Not To Be is a place of power, where professionals of the industry and active viewers who root for it, can come and talk face to face about the hottest topics.

Evgeny Nikishov, General Producer

TV3 has been steadily increasing its ratings year after year. To what do you attribute this and what are your plans to continue this trend?
Fedorovich: With the start of the new season (February 2017), the channel has been showing monthly results that outperformed the corresponding numbers of the previous years. This came as an effect of the goal to go out of the box, which was set for 2017. It means doing something that has never been done on TV, expand the territory of presence of the channel, converge with viewers in new spheres – all in complete accordance with the slogan of TV3 – Everything Except Ordinary. To Be Or Not To Be and its continuation and project Gogol – both are part of our the new paradigm.
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