Serhiy Havrylov, scriptwriter and creative producer, on Mykyta Kozhumyaka, the first Ukrainian full-length 3D-cartoon
Work on the first Ukrainian full-length 3-D cartoon, Mykyta Kozhumyaka should be finished by the end of the year. It is based on the Ukrainian story about Kyrylo Kozhumyaka, but the cartoon is a compilation of the imagination and most diverse legends, books and other cartoons.The Ukrainian Weekspoke about the forthcoming 3-D film with Serhiy Havrylov, its screenwriter and creative producer.
U.W.: Your project is based on the famous character from Ukrainian folktales. It can be said that they are a safe option for animation and cinema as a whole, which Americans consider to be comics?
Just like American comics, all legends and myths are based on archetypes: a social misfit, who overcomes adversities and becomes a hero. And just like original legends and subjects, there are not so many of these archetypes. But of course, it’s always easier to use stories that everyone understands as a basis. The story of Kyrylo Kozhumyaka, is the story of a dragon-slayer that is known throughout the world. Since our project was commercial from the very start, it’s impossible to recoup the project on just the Ukrainian market, so we are counting on the West. Having said this, it’s very difficult to to break onto the market – The only things associated with Ukraine at this stage are the Klitschko’s, Shevchenko and Chornobyl. We have learned that the Ukrainian story about Kozhumyaka is appreciated in Europe, Asia and America. This story about a little boy who is different from his parents and is searching for his own identity. When he finds himself in a magical world, it turns into reality. We did not base it only on the legend. I was interested in learning the legend about Kyrylo during the process of the film’s development and finally reach the concept, which is now beginning to dominate in the world – evil cannot be conquered by evil. It’s as if Kyrylo did the right thing – killed the dragon. But in stories from the East, it is impossible to ultimately kill a dragon: if you destroy it, you become a dragon yourself, having absorbed all the evil that was inside it. So in our cartoon, we chose a somewhat different path: in the instance before Kyrylo is going to kill the dragon, his hand stops …
U.W.: You began work in 2007, but you only applied for the cinema project tender of the newly-established State Cinema Agency last year. Why so late?
In truth, we received funding from a private source five years ago, which fully covered all necessary expenses. But in 2008, in the heat of the crisis, our investor went bankrupt and the project ground to a halt. We were trying to sell it to someone else until 2011. We failed, and only applied to the state once we understood that the project could die altogether. Everything has changed now: after the Cannes cinema market, 40 countries have already expressed interest in acquiring the rights to show the film after its completion in December of this year, simply on the basis of the trailer. We already have a Ukrainian distributor, B&H, we are in negotiations with American and German companies on the sale of distribution rights throughout the world… Actually, we were aware of our goals from the very start, and understanding that the rest of the world would have a hard time pronouncing “Mykyta Kozhumyaka”, our English friends, after digging around in the Oxford dictionary, found an equivalent – Niki Tanner. However, there are many interpretations, and among them, “Tanner” is not the most wide-spread one.
U.W.: The Moscow-based Melnitsa studio took the course of updating the language of its heroes and filling it with slang and actual allusions, that can be easily understood by the masses. What did you choose?
We have one hero, Rysyk, who speaks in slang, just like the children of today. But the main issue is the subject. From the very start, we decided not to make an exact division between good and evil: in other words, this is white, and this is black. We never wanted to kill anyone – and we didn’t. Our anti-hero is a witch, who wanted to destroy the world, ultimately gets better - because this is what the child wanted. At the end, the witch, mocking Mykyta as only an adult intellectual can ridicule a child can, asks: “What good do you see in me?!” To which he responds: “You are very beautiful”. It’s as simple and candid as that, after all Mykyta, just like every child, sees only good in everything he sees … In truth, by 2008, the screenplay was very complex, we worked really hard to make it the way it is now.
U.W.: In a recent interview, for some reason you compared the film to Harry Potter as far as depth and scope is concerned…
In “… Potter”, society is clearly divided into “wizards” and “muggles”, where only one caste, only those chosen could practice magic. In our cartoon, everyone has access to sorcery and everyone can become a sorcerer, providing they stick to eight rules. Harry Potter killed Voldemort, while Mykyta Kozhumyaka does not kill the dragon, but accepts it within himself. The point is this: there is no need to kill anything within yourself; it’s better to come to terms with it … I understand that this is quite daring. But we wanted to combine a commercial format with spiritual and meaningful messages. We were concerned with some things and we tried to reflect them. So the words “first Ukrainian cartoon blockbuster” are only at the top, while the contents make up a very personal product, a very personal film. It’s made up of our ideas, for example forgiveness, the acceptance of everything because everything we have comes from God. If you want, this cartoon can be called a compilation of a range of different ideas with the national Ukrainian characteristics.
He has been involved with TV commercials since 1997 (“Maister-Video”, now – StartMaster). His clients include the most famous brands and chain agencies. In 2006, he created the renewed Vechirnya Kazka (Bedtime Story) with Drimka the bear cub, in a 3-D format for Channel 1. He then received a proposal for the creation of the first full-length cartoon as a screenwriter.