Timur Bekmambetov

Night Watch

Interviewed by Rachel Simpson

“It's impossible to imagine this kind of movie somewhere else than Russia: a movie with a depressing ending, inexplicable storylines and strange characters ”

Bursting with eye-popping effects, Matrix-style action and particularly bloodthirsty vampires, Russian sci-fi flick Night Watch has announced helmer Timur Bekmambetov as an international director to watch. The first part of an ambitious trilogy about the eternal combat of the good (light) and evil (dark) forces, it's become the most successful movie in the history of post-Soviet Russia, even attracting the praise of a certain Mr Tarantino along the way. With Hollywood now funding the final instalment and Part 2 (Day Watch) waiting in the wings, Bekmambetov tells us how the first ever Russian blockbuster was born.

How did you manage to make a movie that looks so good with so little money (an estimated $4,200,000)?

It's my background; I was a director of commercials, so I was able to use different techniques, different styles. Every commercial covers different ground, different ideas, and it's my profession to direct and to tell stories - for me, it's very organic. Also, it was actually a good budget for the Russian film industry. It's enough money to do whatever you want to do here. I also have experience working with American producer Roger Corman who knows a lot of secrets in making movies look bigger than their budget.

Did shooting on location in Moscow help?

It's a very cinematic and mythological city. It has a style, a simple style. It's not like Paris. It's ready to be discovered. Night Watch is the first step. We will shoot more movies in Moscow and international audiences will discover this new world. Because as I understand, the international audience think that in Night Watch everything was treated to be look better. But it's not, it's the city. They've just never seen it, it's their first time and it looks like The Lord Of The Rings, very ancient. But it's a real city, it exists and all these characters exist.

Which directors have influenced your way of movie-making?

Lots of directors. Almost every director I have seen. If I've seen the movie it means it's an influence on my own filmmaking. Every movie has a reflection in Night Watch. Even if it's a bad film itself. The character in Bad Boys II, I really like him - the funny black policeman. For sure, maybe somewhere in Night Watch you will find a reflection of this movie. Fellini, or Cameron or the Wachowski Brothers, I like all of them.

A lot of critics have said the film merely imitates American blockbusters...

I heard a lot of this kind of thing in Russia. But I think that's just a wrong understanding of the movie. Night Watch itself is a very Russian movie. It's impossible to imagine this kind of movie somewhere else: a movie with a depressing ending, a lot of inexplicable storylines, strange characters. It's a Russian reflection of American film culture. It's got our unique way but is a reflection of the genre movie. I like to scare people. I like it. The American film culture has a huge experience of that and I like it. But I cannot repeat it, I cannot be an American director, I will always be a Russian director.

With the success of the Night Watch trilogy, will you now travel to Hollywood?

I will. I cannot say that it makes me happy personally but it helps me to discover new horizons and new people. It's just interesting. It isn't my goal to be somewhere in particular, but it's interesting. For sure if I have a Hollywood budget I will try to imitate Spielberg.

Is Night Watch an indication of how Russia is changing as a whole?

We didn't have a movie business tradition here, but that helps us to be successful because we haven't had any bad past experiences. The CGI for Night Watch is an example. There were more than 400 CGI shots in the movie, but we didn't have a big studio with CGI departments in Moscow. So we decided to create our own mass community over the internet to produce the CGI. We're proud people, we created this directly, we decided we couldn't face doing it through studios. Directly it's much cheaper and we had a special relationship with the artists - we could communicate directly. We had more than 150 people working together through the internet. It's a new experience that comes directly out of our limitations.

Apparently there were changes made to the film for the international release...

With Night Watch we took out ten, fifteen minutes of the movie because there was a sub-plot which was interesting for a Russian audience because it featured a very famous Russian actor, who is my friend. It was very beautiful and interesting to the Russian audience, but not necessary to the story itself. For the international version we don't need it because nobody knows this actor.

Do you have a favourite international cut?

With Night Watch we're trying to do something special for France, something special for Germany, something special for England, for everywhere. I think for Night Watch it was very important to have a good translation. There are a lot of details in the movie that are difficult to translate literally; it has to have some cultural adaptation or it will lose the sympathy of its audience. We didn't plan it to be international.

It's a big problem for American movies that all their movies are produced to be global. Everything has to be globalised, the characters have to understandable in Europe, in China, and it's a big problem for American filmmaking now, for sure. When we made Night Watch we made it specially for Russian people, specially for the Russian market, we had an idea to explore it, which is why we were successful here. It has its own voice.

And how do you think the film industry is changing in Russia?

Five years ago we had two or three cinemas in Russia. Now we have a thousand screens. It grows at the rate of two or three hundred screens a year. So now we have an audience. Before that we had only a DVD market.

In Russia we don't have old and young filmmakers, everybody is young here. For everybody it's their first or second movie. It's why it's so good here, we have a group of people who have the same experience. There's a good energy. We have one hundred and fifty million Russians and they are very proud to be Russian and see movies about themselves.

Stalin himself produced all the movies in Russia at that time. He chose Eisenstein. He was very smart, very evil, but then all producers are evil!

Night Watch is released in UK cinemas on Friday 7th October 2005.