Ukraine has put itself on the audiovisual map for international production as well as becoming a coproduction partner with plenty to offer. Here, C21 explores the options, as part of this week’s Content Ukraine On Demand.
Thanks to recent changes to Ukrainian media legislation, the local audiovisual industry is firmly on the rise, with increasing global coproduction opportunities.
Filming incentives such as generous tax rebates and reduced filming costs, spectacular scenery and state-of-the-art production facilities are enticing the international business to the Eastern European country, situated just over a three-hour flight from London and Paris.
“Ukraine has a unique competitive advantage: years of successful operation in a very aggressive environment has made us mature, flexible and able to adapt quickly. We have significant experience with international productions and working with international talent,” says Victoria Yarmoshchuk, CEO of Kyiv-based Film.UA, one of the largest Eastern European media groups, and executive director of the Ukraine Motion Picture Association (UMPA).
“Huge progress has been made to improve the investment and production climate and increase the competitiveness of our production services. Ukraine is now aligned with the international market, has a global footprint and carries weight in the CEE region. We have strong potential to become the most attractive partner and one-stop destination for international productions.”
A cash-rebate scheme from the state-run Ukrainian Film Agency allows foreign film and TV producers to recoup up to 30% of production costs spent in Ukraine. Additionally, international producers can receive an extra 10% payback from labour costs in Kyiv and 4.5% payback in the rest of Ukraine.
Further incentives were introduced in 2020, removing VAT costs for foreign partners provided they meet certain criteria, including those relating to the originality of script and the potential of the project. These new incentives apply to producing and composing work on films, TV shows, music videos and other audiovisual content, advertising materials and computer graphics.
Maryna Kuderchuk, head of the Ukrainian Film Agency, believes the incentives are key to driving international collaboration. “In 2020, the Ukrainian Film Agency started financially supporting production of multi-episode TV series. This support is also available for foreign producers if they have a Ukrainian coproduction partner,” she says.
“Moreover, the new cash rebate initiatives allow foreign producers to claim back up to 30% of their eligible production expenditures in Ukraine. We are open to international coproductions and welcome shooting and production teams from all over the world to discover our unique locations, work with our trained and experienced service production companies and benefit from working with our professional post-production companies.”
For the international audiovisual business, a key advantage to partnering with Ukraine is the coproduction agreements in place with France, Israel, and Canada. Since 2020, Ukraine has been a member of Eurimages, a European fund that helps create international coproductions and supports the joint production and distribution of cinematic and audiovisual content, allowing producers to claim partial compensation of expenses for video games, documentaries and animated films.
In 2020, the total amount of support granted to the various Eurimages programmes amounted to €23.2m (US$27.5m). Recent international coproductions include Ukraine/Lithuania documentary The Earth is Blue as an Orange and Czech/Slovakia/Ukraine drama The Painted Bird.
Ukraine doesn’t require a visa for entry from many countries, including those in the EU, America, Canada, Japan and Brazil. International productions are attracted to its varied scenery, from the coastal town of Vylkove and the Carpathian Mountains to its diverse urban areas, including the Lviv region, with its industrial terrain, and historic backdrops such as Pidhirtsi and Olesko castles.
For Iryna Klymenko, Ukrainian location supervisor and member of the Filmmakers Association of the Lviv region, a key benefit to filming in the country is many areas can also replicate other European countries for a fraction of the cost.
“The region of Western Ukraine is primarily interesting to producers as a double for European cities. The streets of Paris and Berlin can easily be filmed in Lviv much cheaper than in the actual cities, including periods from the 17th century to the modern day. A recent example is the German-Israeli thriller coproduction Plan A. Shooting permission in the city is free of charge for film companies, and the city authorities provide full support, with the average time to get a filming permit being just 14 days.
“The second most popular request is a USSR aesthetic – streets of Moscow or St Petersburg and pompous, richly decorated interiors. Ukraine’s railway infrastructure is also a magnet for international producers, with its small regional railway stations and unique railway lines in the Carpathian Mountains,” says Klymenko.
Ukraine is one of the cheapest European countries in which to produce thanks to low production, post, crew and accommodation costs. Over the past 20 years, more than 50 foreign projects have been filmed in the region, including HBO’s Chernobyl. Recent Netflix original The Last Mercenary was partly shot in Ukraine, coproduced by British-Ukrainian company Apple Tree Vision and post-produced by Ukrainian outfit Terminal FX.
Ukrainian production and post facilities are well known all over the world, with producers coming from areas including the US, China, Europe and India. More than 20 companies run a total of 70 state-of-the-art sound stages, based in cities including Kyiv, Dnipro, Odesa and Lviv. The biggest film studios with multiple sound stages include Film.UA, Victoria Film Studio, Kyivtelefilm and Film Studio P53.
Anna Volkova, international relations executive officer at UMPA, says: “Ukraine has all the ingredients to become one of the most attractive filming destinations – a developed infrastructure and good technical base, equipment rental, set decoration rental, catering, props, creative resources, professional and English-speaking crews, premium animation, post-production and VFX services. All this at an affordable price, often lower than in Central and Eastern Europe.
“Beyond that, one of the advantages of Ukraine is the availability – unlike other countries, where pavilions are booked months in advance, we are ready to take in foreign film crews in our stages.”
More than 40 post-production and VFX studios provide supervisors and a full range of services from early development to delivery, including post facility Postmodern, with international credits that include The Wandering Earth, Jade Dynasty and Chernobyl; and Terminal FX, which is responsible for Enemy Closer, Getaway, Universal Soldier 4 and Dead to Tombstone.
Postmodern CEO Egor Borshchevsky believes the country has much to offer the international business. “One of the most unique features of Ukrainian studios is the combination of highly talented and cost-effective professionals with broad experience on international projects. Having extensive experience in the production of content at different stages, we actively cooperate not only with filmmakers but also with games companies, developing cinematics, cut scenes and cross-media content from scratch.”