The story of the fim Elena goes back to February 2009, when British producer Oliver Dungey invited Andrey Zvyagintsev to participate in a multinational project in which four independent directors would each produce a full-length film – without direct connections, but all on one theme: the Apocalypse. The screenplays were all to be in English. Oliver intended to include directors from four regions of the world: North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
The proposed budget for each film was between 6 and 7 million dollars, which, for the art-films that Dungey imagined, was impressive. And the producer's own conception of the project was broad enough to allow the directors’ individual and artistic liberty to interpret the proposed theme.
Two months after the initial offer, a screenplay had already been written. Old friends and co-authors Oleg Nedin and Andrey Zvyagintsev had had little in the way of ready ideas, back-log, or raw material. And yet, after one and a half months spent in conversation and in search of inspiration, in just 10 days Oleg Nedin finished the text of a screenplay called Helen. The screenplay was in Russian but the producer quickly had it translated into English.
Oliver was enthusiastic about the story of Helen, but thought that the text was in need of serious revision. As he put it, "You guys are putting the carriage before the horse". The heart of the problem was that the screenplay for Helen was finished before Oliver had come to an agreement with any of the three other directors. And the upshot was that Zvyagintsev and his group were now to sit at sea with screenplay in hand and wait for the winds to change. Oliver could not go to the investor without the texts of all four screenplays, and this circumstance significantly complicated the situation.
By mid-May 2009, Zvyagintsev had withdrawn from negotiations with Oliver and started looking for funding in Russia. Helen became Elena, and the return to his homeland, as the director himself believes, added depth to what was, in fact, a universal story. Elena's story could happen anywhere and at any time, but the unfolding here and now, in 2011 Moscow, gives it a particular and immediate significance.
At the end of August, Zvyagintsev met producer Alexander Rodnyansky, and the latter inquired what occupied the former at the current moment. By the following morning, after having become acquainted with the screenplay of Elena, Rodnyansky announced that he intended to soon commence preproduction for this picture.
The film crew set to work in October 2009. It was decided that the interiors of Vladimir's and Serezha's apartments had to be built on a set. Thus, the first scene of the film – in which a crow alights on a branch just as early morning twilight is thinning and surrendering its place to the direct rays of the sun – was shot in a pavilion where the sun could rise several takes in succession at the will of the lighting-crew chief.
Shooting began on 9 April and ended on 7 June 2010. On the calendar this period corresponds to two months, but the actual number of days on which filming occurred was only 42. During this time Andrey Sergeevich Smirnov (Vladimir) fractured a rib in a domestic accident, but his strength of will and energy allowed him to continue acting, and even to swim, with his unhealed fracture.
The film was finished in February 2011, and in May of the same year it was presented in the "Un Certain Regard" program of the Cannes International Film Festival, where it was selected for the Special Jury prize. The head of the jury in 2011 was Emir Kusturica, and it was from him that filmmakers Andrey Zvyagintsev and Alexander Rodnyansky received the prize.
Elena has been sold for distribution in more than 45 countries.
|February 2, 2009|| – ||Initial offer from British producer Oliver Dungey to make a film on the theme of the Apocalypse;|
|February 2009|| – ||Start of work on the screenplay;|
|End March 2009|| – ||Completion of work on the first (Englih-language) version of the screenplay;|
|Mid-May 2009|| – ||Withdrawal from negotiations with the British side;|
|May-August 2009|| – ||Search for funding for the project;|
|End August 2009|| – ||Introduction to Alexander Rodnyansky;|
|Beginning October 2009|| – ||Start of the preproduction phase;|
|April 9, 2010|| – ||Shooting begins;|
|June 7, 2010|| – ||Shooting is completed;|
|June 14, 2010|| – ||Start of post-production;|
|February 9, 2011|| – ||End of post-production (final version of the film was shown to the film crew);|
|May 21, 2011|| – ||International premiere in Cannes;|
|June 11, 2011|| – ||Russian premiere at the closing of the Kinotavr Film Festival in Sochi;|
|September 29, 2011|| – ||Russian release of the picture.|