Author’s TV

How big filmmakers go from cinema to television, which topics they touch on and what happens in the end

The beginning of 2019 brought good news for Russian TV products: the sci-fi series by Andrei Dzhunkovsky “Better Than People” was bought for a record million dollars by online giant Netflix. The project will be their first Russian-language television show, which is broadcast almost throughout the world with a mark Netflix Original.

This is just one of much news related to the promising development of television in Russia and the growth of its popularity with the viewer. In recent years, several resonant TV projects appeared on TV and Internet screens, which were widely discussed in the media space. The directors with recognizable author's style had a hand in most of them. We further tell who exactly of the Russian filmmakers turned to television format, and what the result was.


Grigory Konstantinopolsky - "Drunk Firm"

The author of "Koshechka", "Female" and other witty sketches about the meaninglessness and tragicomic Russian life, Grigory Konstantinopolsky has not made films for five years. And in 2016, he returned with a four-part folk comedy “Drunken Firm”, which was shown on TNT with good ratings. At the same time, the director did not shoot the series in the generally accepted sense, but the ironic declaration of love, in which the word “Motherland” is even on the canopies of the kiosks with drinks.

The beginning of Konstantinopolsky’s history is like a magic saying, the very same fairy tale begins closer to the middle of the project. A physician in disgrace, the genius Grigory Shtuchny (acted by Mikhail Efremov) is able to remove even the most ardent alcoholics from the bout with the help of a magic drip. While he is working not as a healer, but an ordinary guard. But the advent of an enterprising club promoter Ilya (Ivan Makarevich) puts a new sober business on wheels. And there is a crowd of new heroes fighting with the green serpent.

In the cast of the “Drunken Firm”, the faces are completely famous - Evgeny Tsyganov, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Anna Mikhalkova. The list of heroes of the series is also not without recognizable characters: in the false novels told in the manner of the same tales, Boris Yeltsin, Michael Jackson appear (acted by Ingeborga Dapkunayte). When the director lacks visual images, he takes the names of the characters: Marat Basharov plays a police officer with the surname Gnilyorybov, and Victoria Isakova is represented as Malvina. Almost all of these stars appear in small episodes, but with parties so spoken that it is difficult not to notice them. In the new Russian mythology, which Konstantinopolsky paints, everyone has a worthy place.

Balancing between drama and thriller, kitsch and farce, the director first plunges the viewer into the space of ruthless Russian trash and alternately looks back at Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. But closer to the finale of this tetralogy, Lynch and Hitchcock come to mind: not laughter, but horror. At the same time, everything in the “firm” is subordinate to the author's intention: from the script and editing to the music that was personally selected by Konstantinopolsky himself.

Initially, the project that emerged from the RWS studio’s idea actually turns out to be a unique piece of product — no matter how funny it sounds to the name of the main character. It makes more sense the fact that the “Drunken Firm” was recognized by the Film and Television Producers Association as the best television film of 2016 with an emphasis on the second word. A continuation of the “Drunken” tetralogy could have happened, but most likely it will not happen: Valery Fedorovich and Evgeny Nikishov, who have given the green light to the project, are developing another channel instead of TNT. Konstantinopolsky, on the other hand, continues to make exercises about the everyday life of the Russian spirit so far in the "small" form of full-length cinema.



Petr Buslov - “House Arrest”

After an ambiguous reaction of the public to his film “Motherland” about the search for meaning in Goa, the director has not released new projects for almost three years. For the TV-3 channel, Buslov shot a pilot of the series “Close” in 2017, but a full-fledged television film appeared in the summer of 2018. In the series “House Arrest,” in which he is listed as a production director, criminal groups no longer close to Buslov’s films are in the center of the plot. The focus is shifting to the apparatus of officials and the electorate interacting with them in all its diversity.

The mayor of the conditional provincial Sineozersk, Arkady Anikeev, was caught red-handed in giving a bribe and exiled to a sickly communal apartment at his place of residence until the end of the investigation. In those flimsy walls, being a child he swore himself to get out of the mud to riches in retaliation to his peers, but he rolls here head over heels from the top of the food chain. The wife and mistress left, the subordinate threw a curve, the neighbors want revenge on the now former mayor, and, unfortunately, the pipe broke through in the bathroom. From this starting point, the 12-episode project unfolds, with each new episode capturing more and more actors in the funnel of the corruption schemes of Sineozersk.

“House Arrest” is not only the first big series of Buslov in a long time. This is one of those rare Russian projects that have a person familiar to the foreign TV industry - the showrunner. Semen Slepakov, inspirer, creator, screenwriter and producer, who worked with co-author Maksim Tukhanin, was responsible for these functions here. Slepakov also wrote and sang the title song of “Arrest”, which sounds on the credits invented by Oscar's owner, animator Aleksandr Petrov. In the ironic scenes created by Petrov, the painted mayor dances with a banknote and swims across the sea from banknotes. Tenacious, memorable images on these introductory are another sign of the modern series, in the arsenal of which is not only the stars of the first magnitude and fascinating story, but also a single stylistically verified image of the whole story.

The director himself introduced his bit into the atmosphere, the episodes taken in the prison cell or at the entrance to the mayor’s country house are referred to “Boomer”, the landmark project of Buslov. Balancing on the verge of satire and tragedy, the director and screenwriter here does not slip into the accusatory criticism of the existing schemes: that there is a corruption chain of interaction, that there is a universal system of relations. The creators of the “Arrest” rather state the fact, they put a curved mirror of the era in front of the series, in some ways inheriting Gogol and Saltykov-Shchedrin.

The first episode of “House Arrest” was uploaded to YouTube free of charge in August, where over 16 million viewers watched it (and this number is steadily growing). Subsequent episodes were released on the new online resource TNT-Premier, the statistics of which has not yet been disclosed. Gone phrases of the characters of the series, which went “to the people”, speak about the popularity of the project better than any numbers.



Zhora Kryzhovnikov - “Call DiCaprio!”

One of the most notorious releases of the past autumn, the new work of the creator of “Gorko!” is perceived as a landmark, not only for the director himself, but also for the history of the new Russian TV as a whole. It was the premiere of “Call DiCaprio!”, in the opinion of many, that the TNT-Premier online service site almost collapsed: it was simply impossible to see the first episodes of the project there due to too many users on the site.

Such heightened interest is easy to understand: “DiCaprio” has a star cast headed by Aleksandr Petrov and a biting, sharp plot. And Kryzhovnikov himself for the Russian cinema is the author with the nominal name, invariably causing the audience a barrage of positive and negative reviews. After the box office success of his first full-length film “Gorko!”, the director was called the main comedian of Russian life in all its absurdity and apparent simplicity. Until recently, Kryzhovnikov confirmed this status with the release of new comedies, but in “DiCaprio!” he took a new height for himself. In his 8-episode film, this is how the director himself calls his project, in addition to the comic, he also swings at the tragic, laughs at death itself, raising one of the most painful topics in Russian society.

The biography of the curiosities of the provincial life from the previous films of Kryzhovnikov is replaced in “DiCaprio” by the everyday life of the capital. In a hypertrophied manner, viewers are shown tough producers, awaiting actors' wages, film sets and trendy bars. And in the epicenter of all of this is the local movie star Egor Rumyantsev, a womanizer, an egoist and an alcoholic, modern Pechorin and Zilov in one person. He is loved here and now, and the rest is not so important for Egor. The terrible diagnosis of "HIV" changes this state of affairs, causing the brother of the protagonist Lev, his conditional double and the exact opposite, to come to the fore.

In addition to the two brothers in “Call DiCaprio!” there is a whole polyphony of heroes: interesting, bright, and never definitely bad or good. It seems that in order to create this slice of on-screen Moscow, Kryzhovnikov needed a new television format: long-term timing made it possible to tell this story in all its fullness and diversity. And the transfer of the project from the TV to the Internet allowed to go beyond the generally accepted framework: the project’s series vary in time (from 40 to 50 minutes), and the plot moves that seem simple and clear at the beginning closer to the final of the project go to a new level. Thus, the confrontation of two brothers does not end with the usual confrontation or change of places of the components, and a terrible diagnosis does not force the hero to rethink his life in a magical way. The rules here are dictated by reality itself, and not the laws of drama.

The TV movie of Zora Kryzhovnikov, joking about the serious and crying about the ridiculous, even after entering the Internet media causes a stir. Already in the beginning of 2019, several shows of all the series of the project were held in the capital, and this practice is likely to repeat in the future.



Boris Khlebnikov - “Ordinary Woman” 

Even before its premiere on the TV-3 channel, there was a lot of talk about the project of the director of “Arrhythmia” and “Crazy Aid”, and these conversations began with the praise of foreign colleagues. The international film festivals in Lille, Zurich and the world's largest TV content market in Cannes, MIPCOM, were very positive about “Ordinary Woman”. At Series Mania, the lead actor Anna Mikhalkova even received a prize. The series was called the female version of the American television hit “Breaking Bad”, and Cineflix began promoting the project in international territories.

The plot of "Ordinary Woman" is based on a twist present also in “Breaking Bad”: the hero is not what it seems, and his double life leads to irreparable consequences. Such a “hero” is the mother of two girls (who is also pregnant with the third child), a seemingly balanced Marina, who deftly juggles relationships with children, unfaithful husband and a grumpy mother-in-law, as well as running two businesses. The first one is the one that is on display, it is based in the usual flower boutique, the second one is associated with pimping and is fraught with all sorts of dangers.

Luring the viewer with a detective story - and in this series there is both a murder and its investigation, Boris Khlebnikov, along with the authors of the script, concentrates more on the psychological component, which usually distinguishes his cinema. At first, the almost grotesque situation of the protagonist - who hires a new girl for an escort in the children's area of ​​the shopping center, hides a corpse in a mattress, with each new episode takes on a tragic tinge and an ever wider scale. “Ordinary Woman” raises a whole range of gender issues, the main one being about the fate of half the population of a large country, in which women often drag on their backbones, if not the pimp business, then a whole box of other people's problems.

Interestingly, the discourse on the topic of the eternal "will stop the galloping hors" did not discard foreign users from the project, but perhaps in some ways it did not attract the Russian audience: the premiere of the first series did not show high ratings. The mix of drama and detective, flavored with black humor and a pile of problems familiar to the audience - this is the nine episodes of “Ordinary Woman”, an interesting, but heterogeneous project. Acting as producers of the project are the general director of TV-3 channel Valery Fedorovich and general producer Evgeny Nikishov, one of the reasons for the low start is precisely his novelty and originality. At the same time, it is worth considering the fact that the “Woman” on the Internet had a resonance, and over one and a half million users watched the first series on YouTube.

According to Fedorovich and Nikishov, in the future they are going to continue promoting the line of dramatic series: projects, with a reflection on important topics for society, which they plan to clothe in a TV format. Judging by the results of MIPCOM, the quality of projects produced by the channel is already close to the western level. Now it's about the quantity.



Roman Prygunov - "Dead Lake"

The series, which has not yet fallen into the on-air network of TV-3 channel, but has already managed to cause a resonance in October at the Movement festival, where they showed its first episode. Soon after, the project of Roman Prygunov was to be seen by an ordinary viewer, but they decided to postpone the premiere until the spring of 2019. The reason for this decision has already been voiced by Valery Fedorovich and Evgeny Nikishov themselves: more time, effort and finances are needed to promote the project. Not so high ratings of “Ordinary Woman”, which had a word of mouth, but not a forced promo, made the producers back up and prepare for the new loud premiere of the channel they were entrusted to.

In the case of the "Dead Lake" there is something to prepare to. The director of the financially successful crime dramas "Duhless" and "Duhless 2" for the first time tries himself in the TV format and a new genre. And Prygunov undertakes a rather complicated task: rethinking the format of the Scandinavian detective story in Russian. The director strives to breathe new life and transplant well-known paths to Russian soil on this type of TV series, which has repeatedly proved its popularity with the Russian audience.

Judging by the first episode of the project, it turns out that Prygunov is quite organic. In the town of Chanagadan located behind the Arctic Circle, investigator Maksim (Evgeny Tsyganov), gloomy looking, arrives at a gloomy look. The girl of the local tycoon was killed: local shamans seemed to have tried, but everything is far from being as transparent as it seems at first glance. And Maksim himself is not so simple: an unfriendly investigator is tormented by strange visions and suicidal tendencies. And the atmosphere of the northern city, fenced off from the whole world by a chain of mountains and a huge lake, does not add joyful thoughts.

The development of the storyline of the series can be assessed only later, but already in the first series it can be seen that the work on creating the necessary tone and style of the project was done painstakingly and efficiently. And not without the help of the team that previously worked with Prygunov. The cameraman Pavel Kapinos filmed breathtaking views of Changadan in the Murmansk region, Peter Anurov was one of the producers of the project, and Roman Kantor, who worked on the film “The Good Boy”, was in charge of the script.

All these introductory statements say that “Dead Lake” is at least a great job. And as a maximum - a potential new channel hit. Not only the well-known spirit of the Scandinavian noir, but also the no less familiar and beloved one and all, the leading actor can play to the benefit of the series. However, even without Evgeny Tsyganov, the cast of the project looks more than impressive: Nadezhda Mikhalkova, Pavel Tabakov, Andrey Smolyakov, Viktor Khorinyak, Aleksandra Rebenok and many others. The results of their work can be seen this spring.



Individual approach

The history of Russian TV, as practice shows, is being written by enthusiasts: people who are burning with their projects so much that they are ready and able to control the entire filming process from beginning to end. A positive feature of this approach is the emergence of the role of the showrunner: willy-nilly, and the directors who took the project (and when the screenwriters also) take on the functions of this person to bring the story to its logical conclusion. On the other hand, this approach leads to a quick burnout of the authors who come to TV: almost all the iconic Russian series contain about 8 episodes, the only exception is “House Arrest”. The same Vladimir Fedorovich and Evgeny Nikishov explain this fact by a banal lack of time and creative forces: the director who has taken on the project simply will not pull more than 10 episodes. It seems that there is another stage ahead of the domestic television reinterpreting the rules of the western TV industry. Episodes in major TV series there have long been filmed by several different directors (sometimes the performers of key roles themselves are involved), giving the right to shoot the pilot and final episodes directly to the ideological inspirers of the project.

One can only dream of such a harmonious team of filmmakers and screenwriters charged with a single idea - at the moment Russian filmmakers prefer to perform solo. But on the other hand, producers and directors of channels, who dream of creating a new grid for a new viewer, begin to play an important role in serial production. Examples of total changes on TNT and TV-3 are clear proof of this, as is the emergence of TNT-Premier and START online platforms. The authors and producers of new Russian TV shows are aimed not only at TV owners who watch the screen as “background” at dinner and household chores, but also at the Internet audience - people who purposefully come to a particular resource for certain content. And this content in the Internet space, where there is less censorship and no commercial breaks, goes beyond the usual framework. Thinking, drawing conclusions audience that is ready to watch projects on complex and controversial topics - such viewers are increasingly turning to these resources. And get a response in the form of high ratings and wide discussion in the press and the Network.

In 2019, the situation with the emergence of a greater number of individual and different projects only strengthened. The following months are scheduled for the release of such projects as "Contestants" by Konstantin Bogomolov, "Karamor" by Ilya Naishuller, "Outpost" by Egor Baranov, "Call Center" by Aleksey Chupov and Natalia Merkulova and many, many others.




22 Mar 2019
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