“We reached out to HBO,” Kateryna Halytska, Radioaktive Film
One of the speakers at Social Media Week conference held in Kyiv was Kateryna Halytska, executive producer of Ukrainian Radioaktive Film. The company has been helping to film commercials for international brands and popular western artists for many years. In the spring of 2019 Radioaktive Film became famous for HBO’s hit TV series “Chernobyl”. Aleksandra Marchenko, Head of PR and Communications of Depositphotos, inquired from Halytska about the cooperation between Ukrainian production industry and the world’s leading world directors, operators, and companies.
On “Chernobyl” TV series
We reached out to HBO. Darko Skulsky, a co-founder of Radioaktive Film, began simply bombarding the production with photographs of locations, showing what we did and what we could do. Our portfolio already had elements of full-length films and entire feature films. Then we finished working on the fourth season of the French series “The Bureau of Legends”, which is talked about less, but which was also almost entirely filmed in Kyiv. And at some point, Darko managed to convince HBO. And the news that we are working together was followed by legal and financial requirements, so everyone sighed heavily and got down to work.
HBO cannot work with a Ukrainian company directly. Therefore, we worked with a Lithuanian company and most of the filming took place in Lithuania. We filmed 30% of what was on the screen, and sincerely believe that without us the series would have been different.
Being a production service, we embody any ideas. Our art department has done a huge amount of research. Now they say, “I had the same wallpapers at home,” or, “I had the same carpet at home”. Our prop makers were on the lookout for absolutely authentic things all over Ukraine, to the extent that the string bags that the heroes carry are real string bags of ’86. Amazingly, we found them in Kharkiv, neatly packed and still having labels of the packaging factory.
On Soviet esthetics and video
The thing that distinguishes service production from full-cycle production is that we do not work directly with the client. We work with foreign production, which for some reason cannot film anything wherever they are: in the case of Apple Watch advertising – in Los Angeles.
Initially, the idea of the agency was to shoot all the video in the subway. Ukraine is one of the few countries in the world where you can legally film in the subway. But there are limitations: you can only film for 4 hours after hours and when electricity is disconnected from the rails. There are exceptions. We moved along a separate additional tunnel for the Lacoste commercial. As an alternative, we offered Apple our Central railway station, which everyone loved.
Soviet monumentalism or brutalism and light devastation are what everyone comes to us for. It was propelled by Daniel Wulf when in 2013 he filmed Iron Sky mini-video for Paolo Nutini in Ukraine. The clip received the award at UK Music Video Awards for the best pop video and best cinematography. Essentially, Wulf has set the trend for Ukraine.
For us, these are the same locations. You finish filming, another film crew arrives, and you travel to the same locations. Hello, VDNH, hello, the cybernetic building of Shevchenko University, hello, hydrobiology. And every time you can see your hometown through someone else’s eyes. It allowed me to understand how beautiful it really is.
There is beauty even in panel houses. In June, short feature Troy premiered in New York. It was filmed by Gordon von Steiner. He shoots fashion-campaigns of Prada, Miu Miu. The entire short feature was filmed in Troyeshchina on the director’s money and based on his script: in schools, houses, apartments, flower stalls. This, again, showed me from a very unexpected angle that we have a very beautiful city.
Since we do not work with clients directly, requests that we get are rather technical. Once, we were working on a commercial, where in the finale, all the cars had to be suspended vertically to form the shape of a rocket. At the same time, three cars from the list did not exist, we had to produce and print them based on 3D models. As a result, the client said that their cars should not get off the ground or fly into space.
We filmed with thermographic cameras. Often we film with surveillance cameras. And besides the filming tasks, we need to think about the comfort of the people with whom we work. If a basketball player comes, we need to expand the bed in the hotel room. We recently rented a house that should be destroyed by a hurricane. We built it in full size, the exterior. We build houses often, and then we definitely subject them to something. And you never know what is coming.
On technologies and professional competence
When we need to film vertically, we put the camera on its side. But to be honest, we are retrograde in this regard. People who have been working in production for a long time, they like to say, “back when we used a film…” Now the era of the film is back, and clients have budgets to use it, which makes us extremely happy about it.
Because when they come and say that they will film commercials with two iPhones, I remember that you can either eat cookies at home, or you can eat them in a good restaurant. The cookies are the same, but the sensations are very different.
We are not showing off, we watch what the youth do and how everything progresses. When we filmed Guy Ricci’s Beats last year, we filmed it both with Arri Alexa camera and with 16 mm and 8 mm film, and two iPhones and GoPro, we are not squeamish about it. I tend to believe that professional competence is like riding a bike. “Chernobyl”, too, could have been shot with a mobile phone. But everything that happens in the frame, the props, acting, the way people are dressed, it is exactly what we are valued for.
We participate for free and invest in social projects if we like the idea. For example, a video for Oxfam about how, because of tax evasion, countries do not receive the funding necessary for health care.
The video was directed by Tom Green, with Benoit Soler as a cinematographer, currently a very popular cinematographer. Myron Mens, one of the best gimbal operators, was roller-skating and holding a 40 kg camera in his hands. Behind the masks were Tolik Sachivko and his dancers from the Apache Crew.
We try our best to entice Ukrainian talents. For example, Tolik Sachivko as a choreographer works a lot on various projects. Our production designer Vova Radlinsky received a British Golden Arrow in the production design category, which is a very important award in the industry.
I want, and this is my personal goal, to prove to everyone who comes to Ukraine that we are not a third world country. Now, this stigma is fading away.
In the past, when foreign groups came to us, we could feel the stigma, “And now we are going to tell you what people wear in Paris.” I really want to communicate to these people that everything is OK, and we are part of the same cultural context and that we also have something good to show you.
Author: Aleksandra Marchenko, Head of PR and Communications of Depositphotos.