IndieWire: Bekmambetov Makes Movies on Computer Screens

28 August 2018

With his Screenlife software, Bekmambetov has already produced several well-received projects. But this is just the beginning, he said, outlining a plan to release 50 movies a year.

Eric Con for IndieWire

Timur Bekmambetov has seen the future of the movies, and it has nothing to do with the big-budget blockbusters he’s made for years. At least, that’s the ethos he’s preaching about Screenlife, a technology developed by his Bazelevs studio that the Russian-born filmmaker created for the exclusive purpose of producing movies that unfold on computer screens.

“When you try Screenlife, it’s like a drug,” the 57-year-old said, during a conversation at IndieWire’s New York office. “You enter a world with no rules,” he said. “There are no Sergei Eistensteins, no John Fords, nobody! So you can do whatever you want.”

Veteran directors often turn to new approaches when they grow weary of the same old tools, sometimes with mixed results. In Bekmambetov’s case, however, the mission has already yielded promising results: There’s two entries in the profitable horror franchise “Unfriended;” “Profile,” a real-world thriller about an undercover journalist who contacts an ISIS recruiter online; and the missing-person drama “Searching,” which stars John Cho as a father using every digital tool at his disposal to track down his teenage daughter.

Next month, the Bazelevs-produced comedy “Party” will open in Russia; the company is already developing an English language version, which Bekmambetov described as a “‘Hangover’-type of story set around a birthday party.” Then, it’s back to the horror genre with “Unfollowed,” the first vertically framed Screenlife project, which revolves around a teenage girl live-streaming her experiences in a haunted asylum. The company also recently produced the digital series “Future History 1968,” a Buzzfeed series that recounts the events of that watershed year as if they unfolded on smart phones and social media. Additionally, Bekmambetov planned to produce a contemporary adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as an interactive version of “Profile.”

In other words, he’s just getting started. “I hope to do 50 movies a year,” he said. “Only one group of people will watch one movie. But I’m sure that some of those 50 movies will be good enough for the whole country.”

In early 2018, Bazelevs hosted an open call for stories that could work on Screenlife. The company received around 200 ideas and selected three projects. Bekmambetov is certain more and more filmmakers would become attracted to the approach. “There’s nobody behind you,” he said. “The budget’s so small, so you don’t need executives. It’s a game changer for the film industry. You’re free.”