Victoria, Slava Ukraini! Thank you for finding the time to answer our questions. Our team hopes that everyone at Film.UA is safe and that the war will end soon and Ukraine will prevail! How is the team of Film.UA holding up?
Heoriam Slava! For us, as for many, the war came as a surprise. Everyone knew about the pulling of troops to the borders of Ukraine, but no one thought that the invasion would be so full-scale and rapid. We were not prepared for the war. The first days were particularly difficult because of uncertainty about our people: we have more than 500 full-time employees, for whom I feel a huge responsibility. Therefore, the first thing I wanted to do was to collect complete information. Today I have a document with the current status of our employees and freelancers. There were a few urgent requests (help with transportation, money, medicine), and we made everything possible to fulfill them as quickly as we could. I am constantly in touch with most top managers of the group, and people know that they can ask for any help.
Realizing that the company will not have any income for a while, we immediately decided that we would pay salaries for at least the next two months in full. Further cuts may be needed, but in the coming months, we will not cut payments to zero or massively lay off people.What does the wartime work process of the company look like?
The key team members recovered from the shock caused by the war very quickly; we resolved life support and security issues, including the studio complex, during the first two weeks. Special thanks to all the film studio service workers who remained there and continue to work – these are technical services, security, and more.
There is a small bomb shelter on the territory of the film studio; in peacetime, it was used as a warehouse for props. On the first day of the war, we cleared its premise, provided water, installed a toilet – we arranged the shelter for everyone who could reach it during an air raid. In the first two weeks, there were 80 people there – mostly women, children, older people, our employees, and residents of the nearby houses.
If we talk about the company in general, now everyone who can work is working. Those who have a stable Internet connection and technical equipment can do it remotely – we, in turn, provide everything needed. The computer infrastructure is fully operational: most employees left without their work laptops, and the company’s IT department quickly set up remote access and all the necessary processes.
From the first days, our production team threw all efforts into up-to-date content production: generating ideas, collecting materials, editing, drawing in talent. At the same time, we are actively working on the international direction; we collect ideas, stories, project applications – everything we can offer to the international market. Our second direction is thinking about content for the future. As world history shows, creative industries will play a major role in rebuilding the country. After the war, no one will want to watch war movies: people will need uplifting stories about love, hope, faith, and we are already collecting incredible stories in which war is not the main topic but rather a setting.
Dealing with security issues, we thought about businesses that can operate remotely. These are primarily post-production, animation, VFX – we are now actively engaged in their relocation. Animation work is well-established by 80%, we continue to make Mavka, although the project team is scattered in different locations.
Naturally, we understand that business related to physical production in Kyiv will not work for some time. However, we do not ignore it, and last week we even filmed something in Kyiv. We are preparing a documentary project about volunteers – it is being filmed and slowly edited. We are also thinking about organizing filming in Lviv – Patriot Rental has some equipment there.
Businesses directly tied to infrastructure (movie rentals, etc.) are still shut down, and the top managers are thinking about what the companies can do in such conditions. I understand that it is necessary to restructure FILM.UA Group, changing all business models. So now I’m looking at employees in terms of competencies that will help us to do that. The priority now is to retain the team as much as possible. We believe that after the war, our country will attract investments, and now it is crucial to get through it, bring victory in all ways possible, and keep the team together.
At the same time, amazing things happen. One would have thought that the company Tak Treba Production (service for adaptation and localization of foreign content) can’t work without having access to recording studios. But they actually manage to make translations, send them to the customers, then make sound mixing, and all that from the shelters. That is, most people have adapted well. Our weapon is content, and we are using it.
The whole back office works: financial officers and lawyers provide strong support, and I want to mention them separately. They make new forecasts and restructure processes under legislation that is constantly changing due to the military action (now the country has a completely different tax and labor legislation).
If we talk about services, it is clear that in the nearest future, Ukraine, as a filming location, will attract only war films for a while; so our high-tech companies are now much more active in developing services to provide to the international market. For example, even before the war, we were going to set up the conversion of materials from older formats to modern ones – 4K, etc. This service is uncommon, although many film studios all over the world have archives to work with.After the war had started, FILM.UA announced that revenues from selling content abroad are going to funds supporting the Ukrainian army and also to war victims and refugees. Tell us a bit more about this initiative. What titles have you managed to sell during this period?
Military drama U311 was widely sold in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and other countries. In addition, the series The Sniffer (4 seasons), Love in Chains, Dr. Baby Dust, Twist of Fate were sold to various territories. Our partners, namely ZDFE, TVP, our colleagues from Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, have purchased the FILM.UA Group catalog. Other partners (for example, in South Korea) have extended the rights to already acquired content.
In a week we managed to raise more than $200.000, which were transferred to three funds – the Ukrainian army support fund, the Red Cross, and war victims assistance fund.Despite the war, you are still bringing Ukrainian content to MIPTV in Cannes. Who will be present at the market, and what do you have in the catalog?
Regrettably (and this is what I have been talking about constantly while attending international events), Ukraine is greatly underestimated around the world. Despite the constant presence at all international markets, festivals, and events, Ukraine is known for on-point projects, and the full potential of our industry is not realized. And now we have a unique chance (unfortunately, given at such a terrible price) to attract maximum attention to Ukraine. So we decided that it was necessary to attend MIPTV not virtually but in person: to explain who we are and what we can give to the world for the common good and shared benefit. The three largest Ukrainian TV groups (Media Group Ukraine, StarLightMedia, and 1+1 media) joined FILM.UA’s initiative to be present on the market.
FILM.UA has agreed with MIPTV that the stand, which has been attached to the company for more than ten years, will become a joint Ukrainian stand, the country’s representative in the market. Also, the four organizing companies will present a joint catalog, including their selected projects (both ready-made and in development). Representatives of these companies will work at the stand; a digital platform, where you can find relevant information about Ukraine, content catalog, contacts, and quickly reach the stand participants (and later market participants) is also being prepared. Today, international partnerships are critical to rebuilding our industry and then our country. But we are not presenting ourselves as a victim – we have a lot to offer the world, foremost Europe, in terms of content co-production. We have enough creative resources to make a significant contribution to the development of the European audiovisual market. We will talk about this and prove it with examples of projects developed in Ukraine.
Mavka.The Forest SongYou also announced you were providing content that showcases Ukrainian traditions and culture for free. Has there been interest in that offer?
Approximately on the third day of the war, it became clear that we must take up weapons that we had, namely our stories and content. So we picked up our Back to Basics project, which was well known in Ukraine, but never widely released – it wasn’t published in full on YouTube. We added special subtitles with a global message to this content: here is the Ukrainian culture, the existence of which is denied by the Russian Federation – look what the aggressor is trying to destroy. Our distribution has started offering this content worldwide for free to tell who we are. Various territories snapped up the Back to Basics project – in addition to Eastern and Western Europe, the list includes, for example, Latin America, South Africa, India, and Mongolia. In Ukraine, Back to Basics first appeared on both television and digital platforms.What other kinds of support are you getting from your international partners?
We feel the support of international partners from the first days of the war: large companies bought content in packages, paying large sums – $20-50 thousand. Out of competition, the Series Mania Festival has given our project a place in its pitching program; and we are confident that our projects will take part in other pitchings and festivals we are currently planning to apply for. We cooperate with countries that hospitably receive and help our compatriots. For example, the distributor ACME Film purchased our children’s content (The Stronghold, Foxter & Max, etc.) to organize cinema screenings for refugees.
In addition, partners from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, France, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Germany, and other countries offered assistance with evacuation, transport, housing, visas, and other issues as moral support. Also, many partners offer Ukrainians jobs, to which we are very grateful, but we still ask you to procure our services, instead of luring away our employees.
Special thanks to the international industry publications who wrote about us and offered their information platforms for placement.According to your data, how many ongoing productions were there in Ukraine before the war started? Do you expect those to be resumed shortly after the war ends?
I can only give some general figures: about 50 series, more than 200 films (feature and short feature, documentary, animation), more than 100 advertising projects. It is hard to make any predictions about a possible resumption today. But the advertising market that provides for TV channels will be down at least until the end of the year. Without being well-developed, the pay TV market will lose its previous revenues in Ukraine, and the income from international distribution is insufficient to support its activity. There will be no film distribution for some time, and when it is restored – no one expects the pre-war level of revenues. Accordingly, it is essential that after the end of the war, the state creates the conditions for the resumption of production. Everyone in the market, including FILM.UA, actively develop the international component, but it would be hard without the support from the state. Although, I emphasize that we do not give up, we do not leave the country, and we are ready to work and believe in the potential of our industry more than ever.We know that you are already working on a plan to re-start the production segment when the country returns to peace. Can you mention some of the key points in this strategy?
After the war, there will be a demand for entertainment content, so we are already collecting stories and creative ideas for local products that will help Ukrainians recover mentally.
The international direction is the source where we can find financial resources, so today everyone is working on projects to be offered to the international market. Here, I would like to say something about our animated film Mavka – we are rethinking and restarting the program of its sales to streaming services because this content is more relevant than ever. Today, Ukraine protects not only its borders but also the principles of humanism, common sense, universal values – and this is exactly what this cartoon is about. The project is almost ready, it contains a vast number of Ukrainian narratives, and it is just a matter of honor for us to arrange Mavka on the global platform so that as many people as possible can watch it. But, of course, we desperately need resources to finish production.
As I said, we plan to continue to actively develop animation, as its infrastructure can be relocated away from the hot spots.
Additionally, before the war, we launched an information campaign about the potential of uniting the countries of Eastern Europe into an alliance, as, for example, the Scandinavians once did. In practice, this means that countries could set up a general fund; even at the production stage, the producers of the co-financed projects would know for sure that all the alliance member countries would provide them with airtime. It would make finding the missing funding in other territories possible. Alone, no Eastern European country has made it to the topof the industry, and together we have a great chance at it.How will the state be involved in the process?
As I have already noted, content production companies need support from the state, and the state, in turn, needs help from international organizations, as the local resources are not enough.
We need help to implement as many international projects as possible, namely participation in pitchings, festivals, etc. It would be great if we could offer educational programs to Ukrainian specialists on preferential terms. In general, do everything so that people survive and save the resources for future work.
Documentary about volunteersAre you working on projects that focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes that are being committed by the aggressor?
In the first days of the war, we had an impulse to create content for the Russian audience – to tell the truth, to convey what was really happening. It turned out that even Russian media professionals, people we have known for many years, do not believe that the Russian army bombs peaceful Ukrainian cities, shoots unarmed civilians during the evacuation, and kills children. They are sure that we are bombing ourselves here! We realized that this was a dead-end that could not be broken through. And a week later, we stopped wasting resources on this pointless work, directing all efforts to produce content for Ukrainians (to maintain morale) and the international community (with calls for help, close the sky, and so on). This is what we continue to do now.
We were one of the first to start making morale-boosting commercials, almost all of which ended up being shown in the ‘United News’ information marathon, which is co-produced by the country’s leading TV channels.
Animagrad, together with 1+1 media, created an animation for children explaining in a very accessible, understandable language what is happening and why we are being attacked. Humorous animated videos playing with folk art associated with the war are produced separately for adults. Humor helps us all not to go crazy, so besides scary and truthful videos, we also try to make comic content about whatever can be made fun of.
We started shooting a documentary project about volunteers; several more documentaries are in development; our Research and Innovation Department is developing a project to recreate the destroyed Ukrainian cities (Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and others) in augmented reality.
We are trying to place all currently produced content (both ours and from other Ukrainian market players) on all possible platforms. These include FILM.UA Group entertainment Pay TV channels broadcasting in Moldova, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Spain, Israel, Poland, and the international service Kartina TV. We reformatted our FILMUALIVE brand channel which now features a lot of relevant content showing what is happening in Ukraine, helping to strengthen the spirit and counter Russian propaganda. Our distribution team received a lot of requests from European providers to include Ukrainian entertainment TV channels in their networks, and today we are actively working in this direction.There were a lot of Russian-Ukrainian co-production and format deals in the past. Is that just a page in history now? If so, which markets do you see as potentially replacing Russia?
It is important to be clear here: since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and occupied part of the territory in eastern Ukraine, there has been less and less cooperation. FILM.UA, like many other market participants, even then refused to cooperate with the Russian Federation. Every year we have less and less in common: the themes, narratives, and messages of Ukrainian content, created over these eight years, are radically different from those acceptable in Russia. It is a big mistake to believe that the gap in our markets has taken place just now.
Talking about replacement, Ukraine has been in the world market context for many years. We have been selling content to all territories and streaming services for a long time. Ukrainian films receive prizes at international festivals, Ukraine co-produces projects with other countries. Unfortunately, due to the small volume of the domestic market, this is not enough. Therefore, we will continue to develop cooperation with the global market, strengthen our presence in the European audiovisual market, and build close partnerships with Eastern European countries. During the war, Ukrainian media players are all united around common goals. Together we are stronger than ever and will overcome any challenges. And then we hope to unite neighboring media markets with a similar unity of purpose.