A Glimpse Behind the Scenes: The Three Parables Film Series

The Three Parables, a film made by the Studio in honor of St John the Warrior at St. Elisabeth Convent, has already become popular with the public and is well known both in Belarus and abroad because every person can find something important for his or her soul in these interesting and wise short stories. There is nothing surprising in the fact that during the production of the next Three Parables chapter the passers-by who noticed the film crew would stop and try to come closer in spite of all prohibitions in order to see their favorite characters. Many would ask when they would see the sequel of the film on screen and what it was about this time but, perhaps, there are few who know how long and labor-consuming the process of filming each episode is, how much strength and effort it calls for from every person involved: just a couple of minutes of screen time are worth several hours or even days of hard work by a professional crew of filmmakers.

During the production of the previous series of this film, many people, including even the monastics, would approach an elderly priest and ask for his blessing. “Oh no!” he would reply. “I have no right to do it.” And he was right because in real life he is not a cleric but an actor, a People’s Artist of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Tkachenok, who plays the part of the Elder. He had played the same part in the previous series of the Three Parables. “I had played the part of a priest in films produced by the Belarusfilm film studio,” Alexander Tkachenok says. “So this role is not new to me but I certainly grasp the responsibility it implies. The ideas found in The Three Parables do not contradict my own worldview. They are kind and of everlasting importance; they attempt to present its main ideas in an easy-to-watch and sometimes even entertaining way. I was present during the first nights of the previous series of the Parables and I saw that there were many young people who came to watch the film, I noticed some of the people cry and laugh during the film. This is the proof of the fact that the film did not leave people indifferent. Of course, I am not a priest, I am advised and guided by the director and the crew but when people ask for my blessing, I realise that they acknowledge me in this role.”

The fact that an actor is acknowledged in his role means, first of all, that the makeup artist did a good job on him. Olga Babitskaya is a makeup artist. The characters painted by her looked so natural that many of the passers-by who saw the elder and the young novice thought that they were real. Olga told us that another makeup artist had worked on the previous parts of the Parables; that was why some of the images had already been created and all that was left for her was to reproduce them accurately. On the one hand, this may seem easier but on the other hand it lays double responsibility on the artist. There is always something coming unstuck and falling on the floor during the production of a film. A makeup artist has to readjust and even remodel some elements, so he or she works in extreme conditions. “If something like that happens on stage, this is a disaster but in filmmaking this can be fixed. It was quite an easy task to make up Mikhail Yessman because he is very picturesque in his role even without the makeup. However, it was the first time that Alexander Tkachenok wore this kind of beard; he had a different beard in the previous series, so my work on the image of the Elder was rather difficult. Nevertheless, all difficulties can be overcome if you are surrounded by a friendly crew who understand each other well and are always ready to help each other.”

“I saw how they were making up one of the characters,” Leonid Martyniuk, one of the extras, shares his impressions. “A middle-aged man turned into a senile old man after an hour or so of making up, and then… the way he stood and walked, his looks and facial expressions were like those of an 80-year-old. I was so surprised to see his transformation!”

Leonid is not a professional actor: he came to the filming location after he read an advertisement. He works as a janitor in one of the housing maintenance services of Minsk and has already taken part in the crowd on Belarusfilm studio. “Belarusfilm specializes in military films but I do not like this genre, I prefer religious or history films. In fact, it seems to me that we do not have enough spiritual films even though people need them badly.” Leonid has been participating in the crowd for two years, and he has even received a small part of an old monk in this series of The Three Parables.

“I have always been afraid of amateurs in film industry,” says Vitaly Lyubetsky, the film director. “However, it turned out that I had nothing to be afraid of; there are just moments when people should be themselves, not someone else. I try to do my best in order to allow every person on location to demonstrate his or her creativity, I listen to everybody, and if they have nice ideas that do not contradict the general concept that I have drafted in my mind, I accept them because cinema is team work. The Parables are, so to say, a genre of its own, which is popular not only in Belarus but also as far as Siberia, the Urals, and the Kamchatka.

"Three Parables" in the Catalogue of St. Elisabeth Convent

Naturally, the audience looks forward to meeting their favourite film characters again but aside from the actors each episode of the film demands a certain place, certain objects and certain details that seem invisible at first sight. The quality of the film and its perception by the audience depends on these details. According to Mikhail Smirnov, the executive producer of the film, The Three Parables-4 features quite a few difficult locations, in particular with regard to the interior: take, for example, a businessman’s office in The Ladder. It had to be created from scratch in a completely empty room. Mikhail Smirnov believes that the projects related to spiritual nourishment give the feeling that you do not simply work but also do good because such projects have not just the aesthetic and cognitive functions but also nurture the souls of the audience. Mikhail Yessman who plays the part of the novice says that serious and important ideas in this film are reflected through the prism of our times, sometimes in an entertaining manner; this makes these ideas more likely to be understood by the audience. Perhaps, some people would recognise themselves in the novice and will be able to look at themselves from a different angle. Mikhail has been playing this part for three years now and this role is especially dear to him today. The actor definitely understands the responsibility that his role lays on him because the viewer’s perception of the novice in the Parables might translate into his perception of monasticism in general.

“We had a hard time thinking how to make a stairway to heaven in such a way that it would look nice in the film,” decorator’s assistant Oleg Lesun narrates. “This was the most complicated task because all the steps were golden and we had to polish them well. According to the script, the golden steps were supposed to hang in the air and the character had to walk on them; all this is the field of work for a CGI specialist. We had to meet with such an expert and to discuss all the details with him so everything depends on how well people understand one another, too! All furniture for the office of the main character of the Ladder was manufactured at the territory of the Convent with my advice and support because it was made by people who had never made decorations before. It must be noted that they did a great job: the furniture looked nice on screen; you would never tell that it was wooden. Unexpected problems do arise, of course, when the production process comes to a halt due to bad weather or other reasons but if you have all materials at hand, it is possible to restore and refurbish everything. Almost everything depends on the decorations so even in the case of a slightest problem the entire filming process may fail.”

The film is filled with various church items. These items were selected by Mikhail Volchek, an assistant director. He thinks that the more details are in the film, the more interesting it will be. “When I worked on this project I could feel the grace-filled atmosphere of the Convent, which shone even from the things I selected for the film: liturgical books, frescoes, church utensils.”

The greatest challenge was to find tomato plants and bring them to the Convent. The director brought a couple of plants from his dacha, and Mikhail Volchek brought the rest. It is common knowledge that these plants fade very quickly once they are uprooted. That was why they had to be handled with care during the filming. A person who sees them on screen will hardly even think how difficult it was to shoot them, although every shot of this film has its own story.

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