Oscar-winning cinematographer revolutionizes film industry

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July 2, 2008, 8:40 p.m. |
Anatoliy Kokush has been recognized by Ukrainian First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko for his contributions to Ukrainian cinema, and his “Russian arm” invention that revolutionized cinema. a, he became even more fascinated by cinematography, which led him to Hollywood many years later.

All of his interest and talent paid off in a big way that is getting more attention in his native Ukraine.

In 2006, Kokush won two Academy awards – or Oscars – for his technical work with cameras. The Hollywood award is the highest honor from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

He also owns Filmotechnic (http://Filmotechnic­, a successful company he founded that employs more than 70 employees.

Kokush has been recognized by Ukrainian First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko for his contributions to Ukrainian cinema and his ‘Russian arm’ invention that revolutionized cinema. The ‘Russian arm’ has been used for more than 10 years and helped create blockbusters like Batman, Titanic, War of the Worlds and many other movie hits.

The constructor’s freedom

When Kokush was young, he was fond of photography and cinema, and his childhood hobby defined his main goals in life.

According to him, the process of shooting in the mid­1970s was very primitive – an operator always had to look into the camera’s viewfinder, which limited his ability in terms of movements and the camera itself always shook.

“At first, I wanted to be able to control the camera from a distance,” he said.

He thought up his idea to “teach a camera ‘to fly’” as a student, when he started to construct a remote control system for cameras. Later he understood that he needed, first of all, to stabilize it, so there would be no external vibrations and pushes. To achieve that, he developed a stabilizing head for cameras – it allowed you to shoot footage in stable conditions, at any height and under any movement.

Many things were created this way: camera cranes of different lengths and models, remote­controlled cranes, cranes for shooting from a car roof, cranes for shooting from a helicopter, motor boat or train, camera tripods for operators, with which they could run while the image remained stable, etc.

“Only our equipment allows shooting an earthquake without any shaking,” Kokush noted proudly.

The actual work towards his own future company was started 1974, after finishing college he was assigned to work at Dovzhenko Film Studio in Kyiv. At first he worked at a scientific research laboratory there. In 1978 he created a construction bureau, later founding his own cooperative. His company Filmotechnic, as it is now, appeared in 1990.

Kokush recalled that his own business gave him a feeling of freedom. “I did not depend either on financing from the Ministry of Culture or the budget of the film studio.” He invested almost all the profits into expansion efforts.

Kokush started to look for clients. To start, he traveled all over the former Soviet Union. At first, the company was focused on the local market. Nevertheless, he found time to participate in international conferences and exhibitions and scientific articles.

Kokush said his company had good public exposure and that allowed it to enter the international market. On the other hand, the company’s openness to the public created certain problems. Inventions that he showed at exhibitions were quickly copycatted by competition.

The Ukrainian invasion

Starting in the 1990s, 15 people worked at Filmotechnic, which now has 70 employees. The company’s main focus is to develop new technologies for cinema.

The company stayed afloat through 1996 providing its services mostly to the television filming business. The company broke onto the big screen only in the last decade.

After 1996 it started to explore the American film market – Hollywood. Kokush had to persuade Americans that something valuable can be made in Ukraine. He said that at the beginning his American partners even forbid him to communicate with potential clients during exhibitions so that he wouldn’t reveal his foreign origin.

He recalled that after his company managed to establish relationships with filmmakers in Hollywood, everything went a lot easier. “Hollywood is a trendsetter in the film industry and everyone takes their cue from it. All the equipment used in Hollywood is viewed by others in a special way.”

At first, Filmotechnic worked in the US through its local partners. Later the company dared to open its own subsidiary. The first success was an exhibition where he met representatives of the director of the film Titanic, James Cameron.

The company shot a scene with the departure of the ship, a scene where the movie’s main characters, played by Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio, meet at the deck of the ship, and a scene at the bow of the ship. “All of this was shot from a dock. Thanks to the long crane, we managed to reach out to a specific place.”

Involvement in the Titanic movie gave the company a green light for getting its foot into the production of many other film projects. Movies about Harry Potter, all four movies in The Taxi series, War of the Worlds, Transformers, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, were shot with Ukrainian equipment.

In addition to cinema, Kokush’s equipment is actively used for shooting music videos, television commercials, ceremonies and television programs. His portfolio of projects includes the following: inauguration of President Viktor Yushchenko, inauguration of President Dmitry Medvedev, both inaugurations of Vladimir Putin, various soccer games, concerts of pop and rock stars and the recent Eurovision­2008.

Major success

Filmotechnic received real recognition in 2006, when Kokush received two Oscars for his technical contributions to filming from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In a statement, the Academy said the equipment, especially the "Russian arm" gyro-stabilized camera crane, “opened new opportunities for film directors.”

The Ukrainian inventor said ‘Russian arm’ is a peculiar Hollywood nickname for his crane.

Its official name is "auto robot." However, the "Russian arm" nickname stuck so strongly to the crane that any efforts to explain that it is a Ukrainian invention and has its official name have failed to stick.

After getting the Oscars, and recognition in the film industry, it became a bit simpler for Kokush to run his business. Yet Kokush feels the competition from all sides and, as a result, is always seeking to find an edge by bringing new film making technologies to the market.

“When numerous competitors copycat your equipment and even your own employees can steal the developments and open their own companies, you have to always be on the forefront,” said Kokush.

While his staff does not always agree with him that all the money earned has to be reinvested, Kokush retains 100­percent ownership of his company, and always has the last say.

Yet, he admits that to retain a leading position, innovative and high­quality equipment is not enough. Often, effective management, ability to promote and sell the products and personal relationships are just as important.

Nevertheless, Kokush is driven more by invention than making a sale.

“Creating something new is what drives me, and to see the effect and the result. Money is just a tool, a side effect in this process,” he said. “At this very moment I already know what I will be developing in a year, two or 10 years,” he added.
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