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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Nastia Korkia

Director and co-founder of SKBD.SH on creative freedom, why poetry is the soul of the Russian people and learning from Werner Herzog

5 Minutes with… Nastia Korkia

When Werner Herzog describes a director as ‘one of the finest talents I’ve seen in a long time’, you can be pretty confident that they’re someone pretty special. And that’s exactly what the auteur said of Nastia Korkia after she participated in a filmmaking workshop in Cuba with the Grizzly Man director. And it’s true, Nastia’s work is thoughtfully observant and deeply human. When you discover her life’s path, it becomes apparent how her many experiences texture her work. There’s a love of literature and language – she originally hoped to work as a Spanish translator. There’s the pithy cleverness of someone who has worked as an ad industry creative. And then there’s a deep commitment to authenticity and freedom of expression; Nastia spent several years working for the journalist-owned independent TV station TV Rain (Dozhd in Russian).

These days Nastia is a commercials director and also co-founder of production company SKBD.SH, where she helps nurture new talent and provides a platform for established directors. LBB’s Laura Swinton fell in love with Nastia’s work and decided to find out more…

LBB> When did you know that you wanted to follow a creative career? Were you always quite creative as a child?

NK> I remember myself standing in front of an open window looking at the sun, then closing my eyes and seeing reflections of the sun in my eyes and thinking that I want to shoot it somehow and show this beauty to the world. I was around eight years old. So, I would say I’ve always had this idea on my mind.

LBB> Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

NK> I grew up in Moscow, Russia. My father is a poet and my mother is a documentary director, so I never wanted to do the same and went to Moscow State University in order to graduate as a philologist and a Spanish translator. But when I graduated I realised that I don’t want to express someone else’s ideas and suddenly for myself I became a filmmaker. Even without studying.

LBB> Why did you decide to co-found SKBD.SH in 2013?

NK> I decided to co-found a company because it would give me a right balance in between making my own thing and producing someone’s projects. It helps me to be independent and to make my own decisions.

LBB> And what do the letters ‘SKBD.SH’ stand for?

NK> Have you seen Kung Fu Panda movie? If so, you should remember the scene where the panda is saving the world. He is doing it with the help of the sacred technical touch that he calls SKBDSH. So, that’s how you save the world. On the other hand, these letters in caps lock look so serious and full of meaning. I love the fact that it is like a hidden craziness.

LBB> You’ve got a great, curated roster of directors – what is it you look for in other directors’ work?

NK> We are always looking for new directors, for talented ones. Some of them have just started but we see the potential and we want to show their work. And some are well established already. We look for directors with their own voice, for something unique.

LBB> How do you balance your creative work with running a business?

NK> Most of the time I’m focused on the creative part of the business and on my own projects and my partners take care of the business. I’m always looking for new directors. That’s my personal joy. I love to meet new and talented people.

LBB> Earlier you worked in TV, for TV Rain and Channel One – how did you get into that area?

NK> Actually that’s how my professional career as a director started. I was working at Leo Burnett as a creative and though I didn’t have a big director’s portfolio at that time, I had already made a couple of “studenty” pieces of work. When I saw an announcement saying that they were hiring an experienced director for the promo and ad department, I immediately understood that I should give it a chance and switch from creative agencies to TV and directing promos. I wanted something real, I wanted to get into the craft. Somehow they decided that I was the right person for them.

LBB> TV Rain must have been really interesting, particularly given the wider Russian environment around freedom of speech. It’s an independent TV station owned by a journalist. What was that experience like?

NK> TV Rain is an exceptional and really important part of Russian media. It was a great pleasure working for TV RAIN for three years. I made a lot of documentary projects, and a lot of ads and promos while there. Most importantly, I met a lot of wonderful people there - they were united in the desire to change the country, to make it better, to show some interesting part of life and possibilities, to inspire others. It was a great period of time when all of us were full of positive expectations.

LBB> And when the station was being forced to close, you made a beautiful short film ‘Words Are Powerful’, that sees all sorts of people reciting poetry on busses. Can you tell us about the poems you chose and why they were so important and resonant with the passengers? Are these famous poems or were they written for the film?

NK> When the TV Rain channel was on the verge of closing and had a really difficult time I couldn’t think of anything but help them to get through this. Poetry is an important part of Russian society. I would say it is the soul of our people, actually. We are quite a closed nation; we are cold on the outside but our people are really open to culture and mainly to poetry. I chose the most well-known poem for this project which every Russian knows from elementary school. We learn it by heart and it remains important until the end of our life. We decided to see how people would react while listening to poetry they had known for so long. The results were fascinating. As soon as people understood that we were not trying to sell them something and that there were only a few actors reading popular poetry, they were really touched by it and started to participate as well. Some even started to cry because memories from childhood returned. That was the idea - to show how beautiful and powerful words can shift the mood and change a lot.

LBB> What was that shoot like?

NK> It was an interesting filming process. We had just five actors, we were rehearsing with them before the shoot and we had three DPs with small hidden cameras to capture the emotions. We also had a sound guy who recording our actors. I should say that the shooting was done over four takes, it took us no more than two hours to shoot it because every time we started to read out loud the poetry people reacted beautifully. It was a really emotional shoot.

LBB> And, touching on the film’s message, how do you manage being a creative person and dealing with or negotiating these limits on freedom of speech?

NK> There should be no limits to freedom of speech. It is a very important issue for a creative person to have the possibility to say what he or she needs to say and to not be afraid of going to prison.

LBB> The masterclass with Werner Herzog must have been incredible! What was he like as a teacher?

NK> The masterclass with Werner Herzog was definitely the most inspiring and important encounter that has ever happened to me as a filmmaker. It was a practical masterclass and Werner gave us a brief so that we come up with ideas and develop them and shoot and edit. The film had to be completed within ten days.

It was really intense and full of meaning. Werner is incredibly quick at making decisions. He was there for us all day long and he was sharing his thoughts and giving us advice. One piece of advice that I remember best and try to follow is “Get on your horses fast!” – don’t waste time, get straight to the point, take decisions quickly.

LBB> And what are your defining memories of that experience?

NK> The film school where the masterclass took place is well known for the walls in that they are all decorated by famous directors with a collection of their quotes. You can find words by Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and so on.

Werner chose the most hidden corner of the wall right near the entrance and wrote in the smallest possible way – “EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF AND GOD AGAINST ALL”. This is a name of one of his films and it is really powerful and full of meaning for me. I feel the same quite frequently.


And the most memorable moment after the masterclass was definitely the day when Werner decided to show my film as a part of his lecture on Music and Film in the Metropolitan Museum grand auditorium.

Here is the lecture and below is a screenshot of some of the words that Werner said about the masterclass:

LBB> The result of that masterclass was a short film ‘Forget Everything’, which really uses the Cuban setting to its advantage. What’s the film about and what was it like making it under the eyes of a master?


NK> The film is about memories. It starts as fiction and ends as a documentary. It is the story of an old lady and loneliness, but more than this it is an essay to think about memories and how it is important for us, how it forms who we are. And what it takes us to forget and to remember.

LBB> I love the Approved By Grandmas spots – how did you cast the grannies?

NK> They are all real grandmas living in the countryside. The agency set us the task of finding real characters in the remote countryside who know how to cook dumplings. We searched for a few weeks in the countryside and we hired a local butcher who knows everybody, so he could contact us and make introductions. Our casting director on this project was the butcher and it was the best decision for us. Grandmas knew him and were not afraid of letting us inside.


LBB> How would you characterise your work?

NK> I love the documentary approach and going into real situations, exploring, talking to real people and make them change in front of the camera. I love to see how they open their heart and soul and share it with you.

LBB> How do you refuel creatively? What do you enjoy doing to relax or find inspiration beyond work?

NK> The best way to refuel for me is to travel and to go to the library. My favourite one is the Public Library of New York where I’ve spent a lot of time recently as I live in between Moscow and NYC now. It is so inspiring and so easy to write in this library. So many interesting people around. The stories and my future characters just surround me in these types of places.

Also the best form of relaxation is just switching from one type of work (like shooting commercials) to another – my personal film projects. And now I’m actually quite deep into working on the preproduction of a film somehow connected to my short story shot in Cuba during the Werner Herzog masterclass. I’m looking for producers and production companies in US to join me.So, as you can see, I’m restless and my work is the best form of relaxation for me.

Nastia Korkia with the actress Nuris Martin Quintero