• Interview with Russian production designer Andrey Ponkratov, of the Andrey Zvyagintsev’s films

Production designer Andrey Ponkratov

Interview with Andrey Ponkratov, the Russian production designer of the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s films

Conducted by APDG members – Steven Jones-Evans and Valentina Iastrebova on 4/6/2018 via SKYPE

SJ-E: Australian audiences will be somewhat familiar with your work through your association with Andrey Zvyagintsev and the profile his 2 latest films, Leviathan and Loveless have had here in Australia, with Leviathan winning the Cannes Palme d’or in 2014 and Loveless the Jury Prize in 2017. Both films are deeply rooted within the realist tradition. Can you give us a little background on how you got into production design and the beginning of your association with Andrey Zvyagintsev.

AP: In fact my road into the film industry was quite simple and straight. Talking about how I got into the film industry I should be starting the story from my childhood. I come from a totally different sort of  family that had nothing to do creative arts, a family of mathematicians, engineers, space industry employees. It was perhaps to do with a sort of a feeling of disillusionment about what was happening around me. I think maybe I did not want to live the same way as they (my family) did. That’s why I have decided to choose something radically different. Although I was planning till the last moment to be involved with space science and these sort of things. But at some point in my life in year 11 (The last year of high school in Russia – VI’s comment) when it was time to apply for the university studies, by the way I was preparing for the entrance examination to get admission to MSU’s (Moscow State University, the highest ranking university in Russia – VI’s comment) faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics and faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics, I realised then that all of that had absolutely nothing to do with my aspirations and I went for the entrance exams to VGIK- Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (Which is one of the 13 best international film schools. Founded in 1919 in Moscow by Lev Kuleshov and Vladimir Gardin, VGIK is arguably the oldest film program in the world. One of the founding fathers of cinema, Sergei Eisenstein, not only taught at the school but also reportedly invented the art of montage while there with his 1925 film Battleship Potemkin.- VI’s comment). So, I got admitted into VGIK’s faculty of Production Design with quite an ease (VGIK’s Production Design faculty has 3 specialisations – Film and Television Productions Design and VFX, Film and Television Costume Design, Animation. Study duration – 6 years full time – VI’s comment). I should have also mentioned that I have been attending the state school of Fine Arts for 10 years (Children’s schools of fine arts and schools of music which are run by state authorities, school age children attend them after school hours approximately 4 times per week- VI’s comment) since the age of 7. So somehow that was the start of everything for myself. Talking about how I met Zvyagintsev  (The Russian director of Leviathan, Loveless – VI’s comment), I should be mentioning that before I met Andrey Zvyagintsev it all started with me working as a production designer’s assistant on various films, then as a production designer on various small projects. My career was having quite a straight forward development. I had a rather interesting experience just before I met Zvyagintsev – the story itself was quite ordinary – I was working on a reality show in Germany with very interesting set design where I met a few highly professional amazing scenic artist of a calibre that I never seen for some reason in Russia before. When I met with  Andrey Zvyagintsev, after Andrey Zvyagintsev started telling me about the idea of his film, I understood that the whole design will be built upon the scenic art and painterly effects. I have shown him what I have been working on in that reality show in Germany, Andrey Zvyagintsev said it was exactly what he has imagined and wanted for his film to have.

Leviathan – Koyla’s House drawing

 

Leviathan – Koyla’s House

 

VI: Andrey, did you meet Andrey Zvyagintsev at that reality show in Germany?

AP: No, it happened much later, after his film The Banishment was released and Andrey Zvyagintsev was looking for a production designer, he met a few people including myself. I want to point out that by painting in the film which is quite a different thing compared to an art painting ,and Steven would perfectly understand me, I mean the texture of the walls, aging of the timber, small painted details, patina – the time that you create on a clear surface.

SJ-E: Yes Kolya’s house in Leviathan is very textural in both it’s patina and use of materials.

AP: I want to mention it again that the topic of textures of the materials’ surface has always been  one of the most important for me in all Zvyagintsev’s films, and not only Zvyagintsev’s films. Especially in my work with Andrey Zvyagintsev it was a very prominent point . It was very obvious in “The Banishment” where the textures create a major tone of practically empty set’s interiors.  It naturally progressed in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s other films. We will discuss everything about Leviathan separately.

SJ-E: Before we talk about those films specifically can you give some background and describe the size and shape of the film industry in Russia? How many independent feature films are made in Russia per year and what would the average budgets be?

AP: I can only judge by what I see, what is released to pubic screens . I know that an enormous amount of films is made and they do not really get to be screened anywhere. These films are a result of ambitious individuals who want to become a director. I do not even consider those films as a serious effort in the film industry. If you judge the film industry by those films released to public in Russia you would notice an upward trend in volumes and budgets of these productions. When we talk about the numbers there are about 10 big names among films’ directors, that, to my mind, produce interesting work. There are about 10 blockbusters released every year in Russia. This is a very rough sketch of what the Russian film industry is about at present.

Leviathan – Koyla’s House Interior

 

VI: Andrey, of those 10 directors that you have just mentioned , are they independent films or do they belong to large film studios in Moscow and St Petersburg?

AP: The system of film production in Russia relies heavily on state funding. I think about 80% or even 90% of film production receive their funding from the state’s budget. So partially they are made with the help of the government money. So it is rather hard to call these productions independent. I should mention that a part from those 10 large projects partially made with the help of government funding although they are not totally dependent on these funds, but nevertheless  the independent film industry is developing in Russia where people learnt how to find private investors , how to earn the profit from the distribution of those films. I have been working recently on one of those films without any government funding with a relatively small budget, but however a great crew. That was the film “Summer” directed by Kirill Serebrennikov ( Official selection at 2018 Cannes festival – VI’s comment). It will be released in 3 days (07.06.2018 – VI’s comment).

VI: Great, looking forward to seeing it.

SJ-E: Leviathan is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions where the corrupt levers of church & state are used to crush individual liberty. Can you tell us about the process of creating that world which can be read as microcosm of the current Russian State? Take us through some of your thinking.

AP: I understand that we will be talking about the history of making of this film . It is important to start with a location. The whole story is about Nikolai (Kolya is a nickname for Nikolai in the Russian language – VI’s comment) who is defending his own home, fighting for his right to own his property and not to be thrown out of his house. That’s why the position of Nikolai’s house was very important from a design point of view. Having decided on the spot where Nikolai’s house was going to be we were solving the major creative problem of the film. Therefore we were focusing on the main question – where Nikolai’s house was going to stand, how it was going to stand . After considerable deliberations , and there were a few conditions laid out by the story itself – it could not stand in the middle of the town, then it would be lacking its distance from the others, it would look too lonely; at the same time it should be staying within the  boundaries of the town, Nikolai could not look as a stranger living on his own. We started looking for a location in the central European part of Russia and have done so  for almost 2 months . Zvyagintsev, the Director of Photography Michael Krichman and myself scouted the surroundings of St Peterburg and Yaroslavl, where the central European part of Russian looked almost identical and did not have the edge we were looking for. So it did not look like we were going to find anything out there. Then we made a radical step and travelled to Belorussia , where nothing came out of that trip. We started to feel seriously worried  that nothing really suited the needs of the film . In the end after abandoning any further travel in the vain search of the right place I started looking at Google Maps and scanning the photographed landscapes of the whole country in a long search for Nikolai’s house. So I searched and searched and searched… It is a Russian story about the Russian history. But what we have chosen in the end was a place that did not look like traditional Russia at all. Well, nevertheless , there was a reason why we ended up with that location. I, and not only myself, but the rest of the crew as well, were honestly amazed by the fact that there were no trees around the place . The place was very widely open and had a landscape at the same time that was  hard to ignore , which added an incredible depth to the place. I am talking now about Teriberka settlement and the shore of the Arctic ocean.

VI: Andrey, where exactly is this place in Russia?

AP: It is located in the polar region on the shore of Kola Peninsular in Barents Sea which is a part of the Arctic ocean. This spot is the most uninhabited and remote place on Kola Peninsular .  Roughly speaking, although it is the wildest natural place, it takes only 2 hours to reach from Moscow by plane. A few things arose from this location – the first being its openness , which has an astonishing depth, complex landscape and the stunning light. The place had an amazing lighting – the sun that sits in the middle of the sky for 2 months.

Leviathan – Koyla’s House Interior

 

VI: Did you use Google maps to find it?

AP: Yes. When I saw it I immediately understood that that was the place. I had no doubts about it after I saw those photograph. The only thing left to do was to actually go to the place and see it for yourself and understand if it truly exists. We went there and literary spent only 2 hours. We realised that this place does truly exist and decided that this was it, this was the place for our film.

SJ-E: That’s interesting because watching the film you think that the sea is an integral part of the story, with the dead whale carcass and everything, but that wasn’t the case as you first started scouting towns in middle Russia the relationship where there is no relationship to the sea. So this link to sea wasn’t in the script but came about as a result of the scouting process.

AP: Speaking honestly this world came about as a separate character, who is watching the unravelling of this tragedy. The story is taking place in the backdrop of the astonishing mightiness of the North’s nature. This nature has seen a lot during its existence. It gives a different scale to the whole story.

VI: So nature itself is a primal factor in this story?

AP: Yes, it appeared in the very first shots of the film and in the final shots. The story is about this place, this world. So, that was our very first encounter with this place. Then I went there with Michael Krichman ( DOP) only, where we walked and meticulously searched for the exact positioning of the spot where the house would stand and the rest of the surroundings around it – we found a town nearby. It all started happening for us. So we started with Andrey Zvyagintsev and then Michael and I

SJ-E: One of the great shots in the film is through the house windows, when the jaws of that giant excavator rise up and start ripping it apart. The house feels like it was designed around that one pivotal scene. Can you talk about that demolition sequence and how it informed your design thinking? How many takes did you get?

AP: This scene was done in one take. We had it in our plans that first we pull apart a living room. I think that both shots went into the film, then we separately did a shot of pulling the veranda apart. Honestly speaking, everyone was very worrying for awhile about how it would work. A detailed plan was made about how the front end loader swings its arm, what it does first. It all went into the one and only take. The way the dinner table moved , and the bottle rolled and spilled – all of it happening in that take was a miracle for us.   Andrey Zvyagintsev always has a core /central shot on his mind, as far as I can remember, during the phase of planning or writing the script . This core shot is the basis of the development for both the story and the design. In this case it was a shot of the house’s demolition. Naturally it was the strongest in its impact shot . We live in our home and then it gets ruined. It was Zvyagintsev’s idea that in one shot we see how the front of the house gets opened by the bulldozer , pulling out a part of the house and we see the whole perspective shot into the distance. The demolishing part of the filming was affecting the house designing process, where it was positioned and what places it was overlooking . Another part that the design had to embrace with the history of Nikolai’s family – it was a house belonging to a few generations, it was not an random home that you could easily lose, Nikolai’s family owned it for many years, it was inherited by the every next generation. I had to express all of that in the architecture, making the house out of multiple layers, segments, where there was a central core of the house of one particular period in time, made from one sort of timber, one sort of type of architecture. Then additional wings were built when the family grew in size, veranda has grown, another room was added signifying another period in time. The demolishing of the house dictated us the choice we made in the house’ construction – the house had to be built to last. It had to be built properly, not like a set construction but as a real house where you can live. There are set building techniques where we see the front of the construction and everything that there is inside has no value to us as a viewer. In case of Nikolai’s house we used proper timber and other materials outside and inside the house.  Demolition had a potential of exposing fresh timber on the breaking points, whereas the house is supposed to be old, and all the surfaces had a patina effect. We had to apply aging techniques and patina to every piece of the construction material before it was used in the construction.

SJ-E: Did you use a lot of recycled architectural elements in the building of the house. It looks like you did.

AP: No. I had a long discussion with the set decorator and we found two issues to deal with – firstly, we were building in the polar region where there was little timber to be found, we brought everything in containers from St Petersburg travelling the distance of 1,600km.There was no point in using the recycled materials as we had to apply aging and patina anyway to achieve the desired look.

VI: The was brilliance of the Russian artists , I guess.

AP: Yes, we had a great crew . During this project I met an amazingly talented group of scenic artists from St Petersburg, they could do anything . Yes the house itself was built from the brand new timber. Although the auxiliary building around it used a combination of both new and recycled materials. As the house stood on top of the hill it had to have some prominence and presence in the wide shots. Being on its own it would be lost among the grand looking landscape. That was the reason why we had to build up the presence of the house by adding other structures and infrastructure to the house – we built a greenhouse, added a speed boat and other boats, built a large garage. All the these additions were made with the local recycled materials to reflect the fact that in real life we also use a lot of recycled, recovered materials for the needs of smaller structures.

SJ-E: Yes that also helped the house feel imbedded into it’s environment and create a feeling of history.

AP: Yes, we had to add a road, put up utility poles to connect this world with the rest of the world and make it real.  To continue the theme of growth and settlement on top of the hill we also built an 80 M zigzag path leading to the pier.  I am not sure if we kept the shots of it in the film. Figuratively speaking we were building the roots for the house spreading everywhere.

SJ-E: So just to be clear there was no infrastructure before you arrived just an empty plot of land .

AP: Nothing.

SJ-E: It looked very good. It looked like it had been there forever.

AP: I should also add that nobody expected this. It is such a harsh place that if the house is abandoned for 2-3 years,  as we have discovered, the house simply vanishes. It is blown away by the winds, it sinks into the sand . The first day, when we had our construction materials were delivered and spread them out on the ground, we were met with a strongest wind, 80-100km p/h. One third of the material was blown away – sheets of iron, timber planks were all taken by the wind.

SJ-E: What time frame did you have to complete the house?

AP: 2 months. Just with the furniture and everything.

VI: Andrey, how was the physical design & documentation of the house achieved?

AP: I made a draft of the plan and elevations, every room was drafted by me. Then I passed it onto my assistant who developed it further detailing every single piece of material to be used. My assistant has a 100 pages book think, I think, listing every timber plank and so on, like you would see in IKEA instructions manuals. So he has done a huge job of turning this draft into the draft suitable for construction. I would like to add another point – my assistant travelled to the location and we built a model of the house out of the light weight  materials at 1:1 scale 3 months before the construction started to see if we had any issues with the scale of the house or positioning of the windows. We made a carcass of the house out of thin sticks and ribbons, stood where the floor was suppose to be and took photos through the modelled windows to make sure that we had correct views out of those windows, the correct height of the windows, the correct scale .

SJ-E: Can you talk about your process working with Andrey Zvyagintsev on Leviathan, how did you reach a consensus of opinion, did you use photographic reference? How were your designs presented? Did you reference any other films etc? Was it all done back in Moscow during preproduction or did the whole crew move up there during that phase?

AP: It all started with the references that I collected for myself, reflecting different parts of the house. I also went on a separate trip collecting life references, taking photos of the real life interiors where real people lived. What I mean to say is that instead of making up the design that is not based on real things I collect various resources, make a collage of my own observations . The decisions about the principal plan, architectural execution, scale and location are made at the very beginning, and they are the core of the design. The rest of the life of the house is formed according to the examples that I scrupulously collect beforehand. Work on Leviathan was based on total trust between Andrey Zvyagintsev and myself. I would show Andrey Zvyagintsev my sketch and a number of references and he then would give a total freedom to me as a designer and not interfere till the whole set is built.

VI: So you did not have to pitch your ideas in a formal way?

AP: Andrey Zvyagintsev is always after a certain plan. He and the DOP Michael Krichman sit together at the desk planning every shot, sketching all the views, directions, points. I work out a super detailed plan of organising every space, room, then we might change a few things on the plan and that’s plenty to go with. Michael Krichman’s (DOP) input is collecting detailed references for lighting decisions –  light in general, light on the actors and so on. The three of us – Andrey Zvyagintsev, Michael Krichman and myself always start a discussion together

SJ-E: Another very strong image in the film is the dead whale carcass lying on that rocky beach. It’s particularly symbolic. What was the origin of that idea as it couldn’t have been in the script given you first started looking at towns in middle Russia.

Leviathan – Whale carcass

 

AP: The idea of a whale’s skeleton formed at the location. Somebody heard, I think it was Michael Krichman, from the local teens that somewhere laid the bones of a whale.  We got interested in that thought, drove to the place in search of the bones and found a small skull of some sort of an animal . But the idea has already imbedded in our minds and started growing exponentially . We decided to make our own large real life like skeleton of a whale. It was manufactured in Moscow and assembled at the location. A bay with quite a difficult configuration of a landscape around it was chosen to place the whale’s carcass. The high tide would come and cover the whole carcass being 4 meters high. The carcass had to stay in that spot for about 2 months, as we had shots in autumn and then 2-3 shots in winter. At the basis of the skeleton was a metal structure , then styrofoam, plaster and plastic on top for water proofing. The props makers miscalculated the weight of the metal structure and instead of sinking it ended up floating. Each time the tide would come up   the carcass was taken off the ground and swept into the sea.  We ended up solving this issue by digging large trenches around the whale carcass and putting anchors inside to tie the carcass down. It lasted for 2 months in the given conditions.

VI: How did you come up with the name Leviathan for the film? Was it in the script or came about later?

AP: The name came during the shoot . At first the name of the film was “Father”. The idea of the film itself was based on an American news story about Marvin Heemeyer who was fighting with the corporation to protect his private property, that story was quite known in Russia. The corporation has surrounded his house and his workshop, he tried in vain for a long time via the courts system to have a passage through  the corporation property. He was isolated by the roads and everything else . He locked himself in his workshop where he fortified  the bulldozer “Catterpiller” and went on demolishing administrative and corporation  buildings through the township. The initial script of Leviathan was very closely based on that story. Then we came to a turning point where the script writer said that is quite impossible to happen in Russia where such a revolt is quite improbable. Everyone will surrender to the authorities without a fight.

SJ-E: Was there a lot of discussion about the color palette of the film with Andrey Zvyaginstev and the cinematographer Mikhail Krichman? The film has got a very subdued colour palette, almost monochromatic. The light in the film is very soft from great overcast northern hemisphere overcast skies. What were your discussions with cinematographer Mikhail Krichman about the light particularly in regards Kolya’s house, placement of windows, window coverings etc.

AP: As for the light, the location provided a fantastic light we could only hope to achieve. We did not particularly discuss the light  as we just fell in love with this natural light. That was it . We made the size of the  windows as large as it was possible walking on the fine line of maintaining and seriously breaking the rules of architecture. The idea was to open up as much as we could to the landscape around the house. Usually we should follow the direction of the sun’s movement, but in this case the sun was moving across the sky on the same level above the horizon.

SJ-E: It looked like an environment where you would never really see the full blaze of the sun. Always overcast, an artic light very soft and hazy. It must of been a beautiful light to film in.

AP: We had to wait every time for the right moment. The weather over there changes every 15 minutes and you can get anything you like, any palette – sunshine, rain, soft light. We always had to wait  patiently . We did it every day. Everyday it was either a fog or overcast. Ultimately it was Michael Krichman’s idea that he was shooting everything without the direct sun light, everything had to be shot with a soft, half dusk light.

SJ-E: How long was the shoot?

AP: I think it was 55 days

SJ-E: It’s a long time, a generous schedule. At the end of the film a church is built on the site of Kolya’s house. How long did you have to turn this around, how much of it did you actually build and how much was VFX?

AP: We had 1 month to turn it around. We have created the church of about 6-8 m in height. At least the lower part of 5-6 had to be solid as there were the gates into the church that we had to build for the actors to go through. The rest was CGI.

VI: So only the front of the church was built , is it correct ? What about the side walls and the roof?

AP: We have built the front and a few meters of the side wall , the roof was made as a CGI.

SJ-E: There was one shot where they are all walking out of the church and you can see into it’s interior.

AP: Yes, that‘s what happened. There were entry gates, next set of doors and the wall behind those doors. We had to considerably change the location’s grounds and level out the soil. The place was turned into a public place.  A carpark was built to accommodate 50 parking lots. The basement of the church was Nikolai’s house’s basement that we have reused.

Loveless – Night Translight

 

SJ-E: Let’s talk about Loveless. Loveless is another tragedy about the loss of a child and their parents inability to nurture love. Describe the world of the film and how you pieced its various elements together.

AP: The development of design in Loveless similarly to  Leviathan had a core principal shot . Of course there was a house, apartment, where the main characters of the film lived. That apartment had an important turning point shot when a young boy is eavesdropping on his parent’s talking about how their going to send him to an orphanage and getting divorced, then they walk into a different room, and as the door swings shut, we see the boy crying his eyes out. Andrey Zvyagintsev came up with a mise en scene; he thought of a particular space of the rooms in relation to each other, how the camera would move. He drew the whole mise en scene of the actors’ movements. I have designed a plan based on this mise en scene and built the apartment. This all refers to the Sleptsovs family’s apartment’ s design.

SJ-E: That sort of answered my next question. As Loveless is a film within the realist tradition why did you choose to build apartment rather than film in an existing one. What were some of the key decision in making the apartment a set?

AP: The Sleptsov’s apartment was important for me but mostly important was the place, the suburb where they lived. We have been looking for a long time for such a place. I wanted to find a place that presented an astounding contrast . A contrast between a multi-storeyed modern city and an absolutely virgin landscape within eyeshot. We found such a corner in Moscow – Skhodnensky Kovsh, a large national park, a sanctuary, with a river basin, surrounded by tightly built high risers all around the perimeter of the sanctuary. It is a piece of wild nature with old fallen trees, home for beavers, who work relentlessly on building their dams, wild grass of 3 meters high that was never cut.  We have built the apartment on a sound stage. It was a very defined mise en scene and everything had to be done  to serve that mise en scene. We always build. We build every interior with  Andrey Zvyagintsev. We never considered a possibility of shooting in a real  apartment, because of the mise en scene , the trajectory of the actors’ movements . We clearly understood that we would never find a place like that. All the interiors that we build for Zvyagintsev we create with a maximum possible depth. We try our best to build the spaces – 1, 2 or 3 – on one axis to be able to have the deepest background. You can not find this in real life, at least in Moscow flats  in any case.

Loveless – Zhenya Apartment Interior Pre-Viz

 

VI: You have made a good point . I remember that the same effect has been achieved in Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev as well.

AP: Yes.

SJ-E: What did you do outside the windows to create that realistic effect of the outside world. Were they photographic prints? What size were they and how from the windows were they placed?

AP: We’ve built the  set on a raised rostrum at the height of 3 meters off the studio’s floor. But the trees outside the windows were standing on the studio’s floor. The question of distance always pops up  – the longer the distance ( between the set and  the backdrop) the more convincing it would look like. From my own experience I have been allowing myself  10 meters distance away from the set. As a result all the backdrops were positioned at this distance . While the area of the apartment was 250 square meters the area of the studio was 1,500 square meters to accommodate all the backdrops.   The photographic backdrops were done by myself. I was looking for various locations to take photos from , took panoramic photos, used a crane to take photos at the needed height . We had various versions of the backdrops – morning, daytime, evening, winter, so that the whole panoramic view would change  accordingly.

Loveless – Zhenya Apt Interior

 

VI: It looked very realistic. I would have never thought that they were photographic backdrops.

SJ-E: They must have been very large photographic backdrops?

AP: They were about 10 meters high and the length was about 70 meters.

SJ-E: That’s big!

AP: And we had 4 of them .

SJ-E: And did you change them over from for dusk or night? light?

AP: Yes. Also I would like to stress that the distance to the backdrops and equipment is very important for the light otherwise the light would be looking totally unnatural.

SJ-E: I can remember one shot inside where I think camera creeps up slowly to the window and I think it is the boy’s bedroom. And then looks out the window and you see all the kids playing in field below. Was this a comp shot or achieved on location?

AP: Yes, we did comp it with VFX. We did not film the scene out of the apartment’s window, but did it outside, we had a notional boundary for the window and filmed it off the skylift crane. We shot that scene from the exactly the same spot where I took  the panoramic photos of the background for the windows. That spot has been already marked for that purpose.

SJ-E: Andrey can you talk about the size and make up of your team on Loveless and Leviathan and what the their respective budgets were.

AP: There was a different approach to the make up of the teams on these 2 films. The work on Leviathan was done in its entirety at the location. Therefore I took my whole team over there. On the other hand the work on Loveless was done in the studio where we could outsource some of the work. While working on Leviathan I had my assistant and a set decorator involved in the set’s construction, these are my 2 main assistants, a team of about 20 set builders, 4 scenic artists , 2 props makers and their 2 assistants. That was my team in brief.  The whale carcass had a separate team working on it. There is always a preproduction period when everything is built followed by the shooting period when we fix up what has not been done. My team during the shoot on set is myself, my assistant, 4 set dressers and a props master .

VI: Andrey , what is the male to female ratio in your team?

AP: I should say that now, after filming Leviathan, I do all the work with my assistant, who is my wife as well. All the set builders in Russia are male, there are no female builders. Scenic artists female to male ration is 50/50, dealing with the props are mainly female.

SJ-E: And do you know what the overall budgets were of Leviathan and Loveless were?

AP: Both films’ budgets were approximately 250 mln roubles. While we filmed Leviathan the currency rate was quite favourable in Russia , translated into US dollars  it was about 8 million US dollars, while Loveless filmed later costed 5 million US dollars.

VI: Andrey, what about your art department budgets?

AP: My budget on Leviathan considering every single expense was about 1 million US dollars, possibly 1.5 million dollars. Loveless art department budget had a bit under 1 million US dollars, maybe about 700,000 US dollars.

SJ-E: They seem like very good budgets in proportion to the overall budgets. Here we sort of work on a rough rule of thumb of around about 10%.

AP: If we are talking about the budgets, no one in Russia has such high budgets, in the independent film industry.

VI: That’s because of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s name.

AP: Yes. And also because no one has an approach to the film like he has . No one in the independent films in Russia build sets.

SJ-E: Do you have another project with Andrey Zvyagintsev lined up or are you doing another project with a different director?

AP: I am currently working on another film at the moment. It is a fantasy blockbuster Attraction directed by Fedor Bondarchuk. Talking about cooperation with Adrey Zvyagintsev , we are starting this summer to work on a project together, and this project will be one of his largest scale productions. It is a long film about the Great Patriotic War (The Great Patriotic War is a term used in Russia to describe the fighting against Nazi Germany between 22 June 1941 and 9 May 1945 – VI’s comment). It will be comprised of 3 novels, a film of a totally different scale for Zvyagintsev, compared to all his previous work.

SJ-E: Sounds fantastic, can’t not wait to see it. I want to thank you very much for doing the interview and giving us some of your time today

AP: Steven, I saw your work also. It impressed me.

SJ-E: Thank you. I was thinking earlier while viewing your website that we share a similar sensibility, especially in terms of the kind of detail we try to achieve, the interest in set finishing and mostly working within a realist tradition.

VI: Andrey, have you seen Steven’s film Breath. I am not sure it  has reached Russia yet.

AP: No, I have not seen it .

SJ-E: I think there is similar thing thinking about our relationship to landscape. Like Russia, Australia has large tracks of wild & extreme physical environments, not so much the cold and frozen landscape you have rather the opposite. Both countries share environments that are very inhospitable and I think you see this anxiety about nature played out in our cultural works, our films, as they seem to do in Russian films too.

AP: I sometimes think or imagine that one day I would love to get to Australia. But it is so far away that it is hard to imagine when I would be able to find the time to do it. But I always think about it. It is such a mysterious part of the world for me, the land that I know nothing about except may be that there are amazing waves over there great for surfing.

SJ-E: Thanks Andrey great to chat.

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