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On 29 April Noôdome held a special private screening of V2 – Escape from Hell (Devyatayev in Russian release) at Romanov Cinema. Noôdome ambassador and film director Timur Bekmambetov introduced the film and took part in a Q&A.
When and how did the idea for the film come about?
Everything in the world happens because of love. I wasn’t planning to make a war film but three years ago I was in Kazan with my wife (Natalia Fishman, advisor to the President of Tatarstan and Noôdome ambassador – ed.) and I happened to meet the granddaughter of someone who is well known in Tatarstan, but who I hadn’t heard of before then — Mikhail Devyatayev (a fighter pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union who escaped from a German concentration camp in a hijacked bomber — ed.). I was told his story and then I was introduced to his son, Alexander Mikhailovich, who told me his father’s story in greater detail. After that I read Devyatayev’s book, Escape from Hell.
At a certain point I suddenly realized there was no way back. I gave Alexander Mikhailovich my word and we started to write the script. People asked me why we needed another film about the war — they said people had had enough of them. The thing was, I love flying and I’d always wanted to make a film about flight. I had two scripts to choose from: one about Devyatayev and an American one about a passenger who had to fly a plane when the pilot died. I chose the Devyatayev script.
How did the pandemic affect production? Did you have to make changes?
We started shooting in February 2020. The pandemic was already looming but it was impossible to stop the process so we started to shoot, just counting on the fact that somehow we’d get through. At a certain point though, it became clear that it was impossible to go on. By then we’d already shot the crowd scenes and at the end of March we started to film remotely, with just a few people.
We filmed the flights at a film studio in St. Petersburg. The plane stood on what’s called a gimbal, a structure that lets you rock and rotate, simulating overload. Instead of a steering wheel the actor, Pavel Priluchny, held a joystick and was surrounded by computer game visuals. Along with Gaijin Entertainment, which is the developer for the best World War Two battle simulators, I came up with the idea of shooting the film within a computer game — and that’s what we did. It was the first time this had ever been done. Five other planes “took off” at the same time as the hero’s plane, piloted by gamers who flew into position and started to attack or defend, according to the script. The battles were absolutely realistic.
I was in Kazan at the time and I shot the film in my office on the banks of the Volga. Images from the cameras were shown on monitors and I was able to speak to the actor on another monitor. This was all possible thanks to the people in the 1990s who invented playback, a monitor that the director sits behind. Back in the 1980s directors used to look actors in the eye. They would stand next to them, sensing them and everything that was happening on the set. Now though, directors have moved away from the camera; they’re tucked away in cosy heated booths somewhere nibbling peanuts. I don’t know whether or not you’ve noticed but since that happened, cinema has changed dramatically.
There was something else that was very specific about the filming: in order to make everything look realistic, we also put two camera operators in the planes who were flying alongside as it were, filming what was happening. The camera operators didn’t know what was going to happen and so the camera was often “searching” for the action. The planes would fly, and they would miss their targets. The sense that the camera operator actually didn’t know what was happening comes across to the audience. We have a lot of other secrets, and we’re currently preparing a tutorial about how to shoot films using computer game technology.
Did any problems come up during shooting?
There were two big problems. The first was that the gamers shot down the planes very quickly. We had to ask them to slow down and give the hero the chance to fly where he needed to go. The second was that the gamers turned out to be too good as pilots. Real pilots don’t fly as well as they do: they each fly 600 hours of raids at most, but gamers sit and fly every night — and on top of that they’re not frightened of getting hurt. Basically, we had to hold them back all the time.
How did Priluchny come to have a female action double?
At a certain point it became clear that Pavel couldn’t engage in the dogfights at the same level as the gamers and so we brought in an action double. This is very common practice in film — stunt doubles often perform complicated tricks instead of the actors. Well, I saw there was someone who was flying really well and I said, “Let’s tell him how well he flies.” And they said, “Not him — her!” It turned out that the champion gamer at the controls was a young woman.
Sergei Kravchenko, Boeing President in Russia and the CIS:
My question isn’t about aviation: it’s about a plot line that is unusual for our culture, whereby a friendship turns out to be more important than one’s country — even a friendship with a traitor. Where does that all come from? It shows an unusual attitude to life, country, treason and friendship.
I believe my hero saved the honour of a friend who he loved. By concealing the fact that his friend had become a traitor from the security services for many years, he preserved the memory of his friend as he had been before he fell from grace. I think that compassion can co-exist with battle. Conflict and sympathy can be compatible, and it’s important to me to show that.
Vsevolod Sazonov, Managing Partner of Sazonov and Partners:
It must be very difficult to choose an actor. How do you decide who is exactly the right person to play a role? When do you know who it should be?
It’s different every time. Initially, Priluchny auditioned for the role of Larin. This was a logical choice, especially given his charm. At the auditions I suggested that the actors changed places, and the text suddenly started to work differently. You sometimes just have to take a “what if?” approach.
Now, I can explain it logically. The people who undertook daring exploits were hooligans. They weren’t clean-cut role models — that’s very important. A bad boy that an audience love has to play the role of someone bad, and then you grow into a hero along with him. That’s how it was with Pavel. He’s always played bad guys and it was interesting for me as a member of the audience to observe how he constructed his role.
You said in one interview that this was the first film about the Great Patriotic War for Generation Z.
Generation Z will be happy with it, I promise! You never really know what will happen. About a month ago we showed the film to a focus group for the first time. We thought we’d have a problem with the female audience: there are no women in the film, there’s no romance. In a word, we thought it would be a flop. But to our surprise the focus groups showed that two thirds of those who really liked the film were women. I’ve only got one explanation for this, and that’s that it’s very important for women to choose a man. There are a lot of situations in the film where we can see how different people behave. This good-looking role model turns out to be a traitor and the hooligan turns out to be a hero you can rely on. I think that’s a kind of lesson for women when it comes to choosing a partner. Women’s opinion is important for any film — after all it’s women who make the decision about whether or not to go to the cinema.
Leonid Melamed, Founder and President of the Board of Directors of Team Drive, Member of the Board of Directors of RosnanoMedInvest and NovaMedika:
What gives you pleasure when you’re working on a film? Is it the script, getting good footage, or when the audience applauds?
Some people like to sit in a chair that says “Director” on the back. For me what’ most important is forcing myself into situations that seem impossible and then finding a way out. My method of working with actors is probably to confuse them. They learn their lines and turn up well prepared, and then find I’ve changed everything. I think that’s how you dispense with all the cliches and let people come alive. It’s not an orthodox production method but it’s what I learned from my teacher — a camera operator in Uzbekistan. And I also love that wonderful feeling when the plane takes off and the whole audience start to cheer. It’s a childish feeling. I remember The Adventures of Dennis and when they shot at the screen with catapults in Chapaev. When the audience is so involved that they start to clap the plane as it takes off, they almost become children. There’s not much that compares with that pleasure.
The Noôdome team, Ruben Vardanyan and Timur Bekmambetov would like to thank Romanov Cinema for organizing the screening.