Our greatest desire to make Armenia attractive and interesting for foreign filmmakers and producers shouldn’t to be considered unrealistic. At least, the foreign filmmakers who have worked in the country see real potential which can be developed, putting co-productions on a firm basis.

The shootings of “Evil Touch”, an international commercial film project, finished just two weeks ago. The TV mini-series has been produced jointly by Academy Films Armenian production company, Associated Television International and Blitz Films American-Russian company.

The director of the film is Sergey Sarkisov, the executive producer is David McKenzie.

In an interview to Kinoashkharh, Academy Films Director, “Evil Touch” co-producer Aram Torosyan has talked about their successful cooperation with Associated Television International, a company with a great experience in the US market, detailing how they had the film fully shot in Armenia.

Horror story in Armenian village  

We discussed several possible scenarios, but our partners from Associated Television International and Blitz Films picked up this very screenplay from horror genre. The set of the story is Armenia. A group of young men travel across Europe, later arriving in our region – Armenia. They happen to be in a remote village which seems mysterious and dangerous to them. The young people are forced to sleep over in the village and soon find out their doubts to be true. The Evil Spirit (Char Vogi) has lived in the very same village for centuries and transmits the evil through a touch. The film topic and story are American; I think the young generation will watch it with a great interest.

First co-production attempt with prospects for the future  

“Evil Touch” is a commercial project, our first joint work, which is a prerequisite for further cooperation and bigger projects. Moreover, we aim to shoot them in Armenia together with Armenian production companies. Bringing foreign production companies to Armenia and presenting our co-productions to foreign companies, we will show that Armenia is a country with a great potential and full of locations, having professionals who can achieve good results, create high-quality products.

Overcome challenges, satisfying results

We have worked in adverse weather conditions. The script changed during the filmings, turning the horror movie into a mystery drama. In addition, we faced several difficulties, but we wanted to complete the film shootings this year to finish the post-production processes and have the final version no later than 2019. We have an initial order to air the TV series from CW TV network, one of the famous television companies which has its own place in the US market. The film includes six installments, with each of them lasting for an hour. The TV series will also be adapted into a separate film intended for the big screens. We have shot the film through a technique to also correspond its format to the standards of cinemas.

American movie with Armenian emphases

Producer David McKenzie is half-Armenian, Sergey Sarkisov from the Russian side is also Armenian. They have specially focused on Armenia to show what locations our country has, what rich, impressive sites exist here. Mountains, canyons, forests, multilayered nature, rural environment: Armenia has it all, while all this needs to be created in other places through special shooting pavilions. The shootings have been held mainly in Dashtadem, Yerevan’s Kond district, Ashtarak, Oshakan and Bjni. Everything has been adapted to the requirements of the film; areas have been changed, constructed or renovated when needed. For example, there is an old bathroom close to the Ashtarak bridge that has been rebuilt and renovated so that shootings can be done there. The building is a private territory which we have returned to its owner but in a renovated state. We have selected specialists to form a team in Armenia: the cinematographer is Mkrtich Baroyan, the main film cast includes Americans, but there are also Armenian actors playing in the movie – Alexander Khachatryan, Arsen Grigoryan and Anush Arakelyan.

The film is in English, but it also features Armenian dialogues which will probably be translated into English or be available in English subtitles.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained   

When David McKenzie arrived in Armenia with his spouse Laura McKenzie to prepare the “Travel Show” (ATV has secured the rights to show it), they got to know our country and that’s when it occurred to them to create a film and establish a film production here. We studied the market and Academy Films launched active cooperation with Associated Television International, providing them with information on local pricelist, professionals and legal specifics. They said, “We could shoot this film in Georgia, Montenegro or US, since those countries have well-experienced companies and it would be easier to work with them, but we should try and start working also in Armenia.” We started to recruit professionals for a team that worked 12-20 hours a day, and the project turned out exactly the way we wanted it to be. The shooting took 36 days; we finished them only two weeks ago, with 70-100 people working on the shooting area daily. In the end, the film director, Sergey Sarkisov said, “I got what I wanted.”

The film was hard to shoot. 90 percent of its crew are Armenians. One of the film designers said: “Last time I saw such large-scale filmings with a great team work during the Soviet period.”

Copyrights, budget, film market

The copyrights of the “Evil Touch” belong to Associated Television International, which will air the film on CW TV network in the second half of 2019. Those who want to show the film need to purchase the streaming rights from Associated Television International. Naturally, Armenia is not facing such an issue. We can broadcast the film here for some time, but a bit later. The film preparation and shooting costed $350,000. The post-production process will take place in the US, which, in turn, requires additional expenses. I think, the post-production works of future film projects should also be organized in Armenia. “Evil Touch” is our first attempt, it will be followed by bigger projects that will be brought to life through local efforts, involving professionals of the sphere. We dared to enter the market, to understand its pros and cons, positive and negative aspects.

Legislative field without unacceptable gaps

This project serves as an example for many proving that, yes, it is really possible to shoot a film in Armenia. The next film preparation will also be implemented by keeping maximum transparency in legal actions. I am talking about the financial issues; we only cooperate with private entrepreneurs or limited liability companies (LLC). Payments should be made exclusively via bank transfers under a clearly worded contract. We realized that the industry is mostly based on the cash payment system, which is simply inappropriate. If we intend to develop film industry, we must unequivocally ensure a transparent, law-abiding workstyle in cooperation. Otherwise, one or two more projects will be implemented and that’s it. The world is guided by deals based on contracts and documentation, it’s high time that Armenia also adopted such a workstyle. In order to implement commercial projects, attract professionals and producers and develop Armenia as a filmmaking country, all parties should work with maximum financial transparency. More funds will flow into Armenia, the future film projects will be long-term, more and larger production companies will express a desire to work with us. Thus, the opportunities to enter the international market will increase through our own partners, since they not only produce, but also sell. In other words, we initially carry out an order, then we create our own products that can be attractive for the international market, which will increase the number and volumes of co-productions.

Seeking legally regulated sector   

This film was also some kind of a test, revealing a lot to the state structures: legal issues have started to be raised, with ongoing talks about the concept of cashback and freeing a filmmaker from VATs. The law on cinema will regulate all the issues of those people who want to start from scratch. In case of preparing a film project and trying to present or sell it to a leading film festival, the country’s legislative approach is of key importance. For instance, if I intend to involve 20 actors in my project, how to legally regulate such cooperation? Should a legal contract be concluded or a temporary job be arranged with 30 percent VAT? For example, Georgia has lifted a VAT. We need to take into account the fact that the film industry can attract serious resources to Armenia, which will give tangible results to a small country like ours. We will have highly qualified professionals.

Promising prerequisites of Armenian film production

We plan to launch, for example, cinematography classes next year so that our cinematographers be able to work with drones. IDeA Foundation occasionally invites qualified professionals to Armenia, we will try to cooperate [with them] to organize master classes. Armenia’s film industry has a great potential for development. If the work is organized properly, naturally, the effectiveness increases, and foreign filmmakers work with our specialists with pleasure. “Evil Touch” is a vivid example of this, with a clear project and work schedule.

Recognizing your homeland as a key to get recognition

I have worked as a guide. I know Armenia very well. I stress it also as a call to our young people to be interested in our country, to walk a lot, to travel, to get information on the locations and apart from this to master foreign languages. This will benefit them throughout their life. I and David McKenzie got to know each other through the tourism sector. I have served as an advisor to his “Travel Show”. Besides, Academy Films has implemented several projects. Through movies, we have presented Armenia and Artsakh as top tourist countries. Then the “Evil Touch” film project came to light, and the production volumes of Academy Films grew strongly. Our website will be launched soon, and we will present ourselves to the public with our whole potential, films, information on the work we have done. By the way, we intend to implement large-scale documentary projects on various topics. In parallel, we plan to launch a few TV projects, while film production will be our key focus. Thus, my advantages of being well informed of Armenia have greatly helped the project of “Evil Touch”.

Honest work as a guarantee of further success

We announced a competition of scripts on our Facebook account. A great number of people reacted. We have submitted the best screenplays to the US, with American producers working on them at the moment. Four of them, I believe, may serve as a basis for international films.

The film industry has been elemental in our country. People have tried to make more money on a project, not knowing when the next one will be. We are convinced that the honest work is long lasting. First, you work for your good name, then the name does the job. We all should try to work as transparent as possible so that a foreign investor be sure of the safety of his investment. I assure you that in a year Academy Films will carry out a few more projects jointly with foreign companies, since it’s hard to find companies ready to invest large sums in our country. We are not a monopolist, we will work with our colleagues and will produce new films together. There are fantastic scripts that should be turned into films.

Naira Paytyan