Imagine being in Moscow right now.
Imagine being a Hollywood producer in Moscow right now making a madcap American comedy when the city is erupting in the bloodiest political battle since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Producer Paul Maslansky is in such a predicament as he is trying to film the seventh installment of the "Police Academy" movie series on location in the capital city--which is under a state of emergency due to the unrest.
Following last Sunday's violent uprising, when government troops stormed the Russian White House and TV Center, Maslansky was forced to shut down production for a day to ensure the safety of those working on the movie. "We were supposed to shoot at the airport (last Monday), but I called it off because I thought it was prudent that everyone just stay in the hotel," Maslansky said in an interview last week from Moscow's government-owned Financial Academy Hotel, where the entire 52-member cast and crew of "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow" is being housed.
The scene being shot was the movie's opening sequence in which the American police academy arrives at the airport. The $6.2-million sequel, which is being financed by Warner Bros. and directed by Alan Metter ("Back to School"), follows the misadventures of the police academy team on a mission to take down the godfather of the Russian Mafia and end his reign of terror.
While he was given the go-ahead on Tuesday to lens at the airport, Maslansky said that when he and 40 vehicles arrived there at 8 a.m., "we were told we can't shoot because of the state of emergency." Instead, the production moved over to Mosfilm--Moscow's main studio--to shoot on the cover sets. Maslansky said he shifted the schedule to shoot the airport scene in about 10 days, when "hopefully the state of emergency will be lifted."
On Wednesday, Maslansky said that while the city had quieted down, it was tense having to shoot a scene in the cemetery where the dead from the civil disturbance were being buried.
"It was a bit dodgy today. We got in and out as quickly as possible, we didn't want to linger any longer than we had to," the producer said.
Maslansky said although at this point he has lost two days, he is optimistic that filming would not be further interrupted. Meanwhile, he said that cast and crew "are perfectly safe," and that the hotel is "very secure."
"It's all quiet now except you can hear some sporadic firing not too far from here and you can see occasional tracer bullets through the window," the producer said.
Until the recent outbreak of violence, the production--which got underway Sept. 13--had been "pretty much on schedule and everything was going great."
Maslansky said that within the first three weeks of filming, "we made sure that we shot all the very identifiable landmarks," including Red Square.
However, the filmmakers do need to return to Red Square to shoot the film's traditional ending sequence of an awards ceremony in which the American and Russian police receive medals. Maslansky said that Moscow's interior ministry of police, whose members know the "Police Academy" movies ("they've seen pirated copies"), requested he delay shooting both at Red Square and at the police station until the period of emergency ends.
Maslansky said he expects the production to wrap on schedule Nov. 9, barring any further postponements.
He added that "if things turn sour," he has a contingency plan to move to Budapest to finish shooting.
When asked if he planned on incorporating any of the topical events unfolding in Moscow into the shooting script, Maslansky said, "maybe what we'll do is try to get it in background and make some passing joke about it, but it's a very serious issue over here--a lot of people have died and it's rather tense."
The producer, however, couldn't help quip that maybe he should retitle the movie "Police Academy: Crisis in Russia."
Unlike the movie's six other predecessors, "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow" is not planned for a theatrical release in the United States but rather is expected to go out on video domestically next year and will appear in movie theaters abroad.
"But my hope is it will go theatrically like the other ones," said Maslansky, hoping that once Warner Bros. brass sees the finished product they will change their minds and release the film in U.S theaters.
The "Police Academy" series, which has generated close to half a billion dollars in worldwide revenues, has waned in popularity over the years. While the first "Police Academy" grossed more than $140 million worldwide, the last two installments only managed around $20 million each.