Lessons from amazing projects: Russian Ark

We’ve all had tough projects, but this one might just top them all, and it hits on three of my favorite topics: design, management, and film making. Here’s the rundown:

  • Russian arkIt’s one continuous 90 minute shot.
  • It’s a feature length film shot on an independent film budget.
  • The film spans 33 rooms of the famed Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.
  • It has over 800 actors and performers.
  • It has various plays, dances and orchestral performances, all performed live and in a scripted sequence.
  • It took years to plan, write and develop the custom steady-cam technology.
  • They only had budget/time for 4 tries, and got it on the 4th.

I’ve both seen the film, and have visited the Hermitage (prompting a 2nd viewing of the film). Understanding Russian history helps make the film more than a stunt, as the story can be hard to follow (It’s an abstract and art-y film, both figuratively and literally as it’s shot in an art museum). But even without it, the film is a visual delight and a project management wonder.

If you’re a designer or a manager you’ll be in awe even if you only make it through half the film. Moreso, the DVD includes a making-of featurette that entirely blew my mind: it will put whatever is stressing you out right now into deep relief.

Trailer, netflix listing, and reviews.

6 Responses to “Lessons from amazing projects: Russian Ark”

  1. Nikolay

    Sokurov is one of the best Russian film-directors and filmed many great things. Shame on me, never seen this one.

  2. Paul

    I find it realy interesting and useful exercise to compare and contrast software development and film production.

    Another recommendation I would make is the “special features” on the extended DVD set for Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy.

    Yes, you get to find out how they did all the effects etc, but I also found it a fascinating study in the management and leadership of a creative process involving a large team of highly skilled professionals over an unusually long project timeline (for film). Sounds very familiar, yes?

    I always thought Jackson was a brilliant film-maker, but now I would also rank him as an insiational leadership role-model.

  3. Scott

    I agree: All the bonus features on DVDs are great for people who want to understand the creative process. I think the Pixar Incredibles DVD has some excellent stuff as well about collaboration, roles and how to keep one vision together even though hundreds of opinionated people are involved.

  4. Scott

    Nikolay: I don’t know much about Russian film, but I have to say visiting Russia, and especially St. Petersberg, made a big difference in my ability to follow the film.

    Although on the other hand, having been to France a few times, I still have a hard time with most French films I see :)

  5. David Perry

    I never tire of watching Russian Ark.
    I have seen the film, have the DVD and have visited the Hermitage on three occasions.
    I have a basic understanding of Russian History.
    What I would like to know is the route which the camera took and the rooms (in order) through which it passed.
    The end was obviously the Jordan Staircase to the street. But where was the the start? The ball was obviously in the St George Throne Room, and i think we were in the Malachite Room at one stage. But apart from that, I was lost. Does anyone have the route or camera track map?



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