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Magic Under Skin: An Interview with Olga Tugaeva, Yuri Maslak

Please tell us about yourself. How did you two start your careers, and how did you get into the world of filmmaking? What are some of the projects you worked on, before making Magic Under Skin?

Olga Tugaeva: I graduated from the directing department of the Rostov-on-Don branch of the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography named after Sergei Gerasimov last year. We started working together when I was a 4th year student. Our first film, on the script of which we worked for quite a long time, was Earth Man. It is a philosophical film about the harmony of Man and Nature, the universe and eternity. While working on Earth Man we shot Anchor in the Steppe and started a series of short musical comedies called Fitness. And then we made a film about football called Magic Under Skin.

Yuri Maslak: I've been in the arts since I was fifteen, starting as an artist in the theatre. That was back in 1983. Then I joined the film industry, where I worked as a painter, stuntman, in productions for a few years... Then there was a ten-year break, because of the difficult situation in Russia. In 2004, I returned to cinema. In 2019, Olga and I began work on the philosophical film Earth Man, which we didn't finish until 2021. In parallel we made a documentary about the Second World War, Anchor in the Steppe (2020), three short comedies in the Fitness series - Student Fitness (2020), Living the Dream (2021) and No Fitness - No Love (2021). And finally, our sixth film is the mystical drama Magic Under Skin (2022). These films have already brought us more than 100 festival victories worldwide and continue to do so.

As filmmakers, who or what are your influences?

Olga Tugaeva: It wasn't some external impulse. Cinema is a desire that lives inside you. A kind of energy that spills onto the screen. We make movies because we cannot do otherwise.

Yuri Maslak: I agree with Olga. You can watch movies as a spectator and love them, but in order to start making them yourself you need an inner impulse. Without this you cannot make the first and most difficult step. And speaking of technical influence, you cannot exclude the influence of older colleagues who preceded you in making famous films. The other question is the form that influence takes. As for me, it is expressed in the formula "however I would not make it", that is, in learning from other people's mistakes.

What are your visions as filmmakers? What types of stories you endeavor to tell through filmmaking?

Olga Tugaeva: When we make movies, our approach to storytelling leads to the birth of a new genre. We don't have a specific type of story, but we have a specific narrative style.

Yuri Maslak: I agree with Olga again. We have already made different films: a historical film, a philosophical film, a comedy and finally a mystical drama about football. And every time we get a new genre. In Magic Under Skin there's no football as such, it's shown through the feelings and experiences of the ghost of Lokomotiv Moscow Football Club's first fan, who has supported his favourite team throughout its century-long history. At the same time there is practically no text in the film, the main character does not say a word during the whole film, but thanks to the beautiful music of composer Sergey Moiseenko everything becomes clear to the viewer of any nationality.

What are the most difficult aspects of co-directing a film? How do you decide on the important things during the production?

Olga Tugaeva: What at first glance seems complicated as a result of long and emotional discussions turns out to be a common aspiration. We feel differently, but at the same time in the same way. And the best solutions are born as a result of sharing thoughts and feelings.

Yuri Maslak: Our creative tandem is actually a classical union of a young and an experienced director, which has many examples in cinematography all over the world. Olga has creativity but lacks experience. I have a lot of experience, but with creativity, consequently, I sometimes have problems. It's actually more complicated. That's why we argue often and very emotionally, but as a result of these arguments good cinema is born!

Your film has an exciting premise. Football has a special place in people’s hearts. What made you want to tell this story? How long did it take to develop the ideas into the script?

Olga Tugaeva: We found the story very interesting. Because football really has a special place in people's hearts. But we, in our usual style of work, looked at this subject from a different angle. We told the story of football through the story of a fan. And, strangely enough, we have once again opened up a new genre. And all this rather extensive work was done in a short space of time.

Yuri Maslak: Football is probably the most emotional sport for the viewer. This is why thousands of people come to the stands at the same time, and an even greater number of people watch football on television and on the Internet. It's this emotion that unites people that we wanted to show in our film, and we think we have succeeded! It doesn't matter which team people root for; what matters is the emotional message! In terms of deadlines, a year passed from idea to realisation. Of which four months were spent working on the script, a month on the shooting, and the rest on the production.

What are the challenges you faced during the production of Magic Under Skin? Especially working with your actors and setting up the scenes.

Olga Tugaeva: Now I want to remember shooting a particular scene. We filmed the final at the stadium during a real match. We needed an appropriate reaction from the fans, which depended directly on how the game played out. And the footage itself was shot from a crane - and for an hour and a half of the match our crane was flying, but the takes were still unsuccessful. And suddenly, in the final seconds of the match, a miracle happened - our team scored the decisive goal!

Yuri Maslak: There were many problems. Olga has already told a little about the shooting at the stadium. One of the scenes we shot during a real match in the Lokomotiv's fan section. In the very epicentre of emotions! And the people who are in the frame are also real fans. But none of them were supposed to see the ghost. And the great guys - the leaders of the fan groups - did a great and difficult job to make sure that no one in the stands looked at the actor! And what about the complicated staging scenes with steam locomotives and retro cars! Let alone old football flags, posters, match programmes that we had to beg for (on my word of honour that nothing would happen to them) from collectors and in the Lokomotiv museum. Or about the main character's T-shirt, for the tailoring of which you had to find patterns from a hundred years ago...

How was the film received at film festivals? Please tell us about your festival run.

Olga Tugaeva: At the moment, the film is just beginning its movement in festivals. But it's off to a brilliant start - ten wins in a row!

Yuri Maslak: It's true. At one festival we even won in three categories at once: 'Best Short Film', 'Best Cinematography' by our wonderful Alexander Dvortsevoy, and 'Best Make-up'. We also have several finals and semi-finals. Unfortunately, due to the policy of the Russia (whose citizenship we have) and the resulting sanctions, new entry fees for festivals from Russia are not possible. But we are actively looking for workarounds.

What would be your best piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers/artists?

Olga Tugaeva: Be sincere in your work.

Yuri Maslak: As usual, Olga is not very wordy. You cannot become a filmmaker only after studying at university and watching other people's movies. You have to have your own life experience, to see life from different sides. The more experience you have, the more interesting and profound your art is.

But learning, of course, is a must! A man of art has no right not to be educated, multi-faceted.

And most importantly - You cannot look at cinema only as a career. It is a very difficult profession that takes a lot of moral and physical energy from a person, with the fact that the result of all these efforts is always unpredictable. Cinema is a whole life!

What project(s) will you be working on next?

Olga Tugaeva: There are many ideas. We are thinking about new projects as well as ongoing ones. Such as the comedy series Fitness. It's a story that can and should grow into a large series.

Yuri Maslak: Yes, I see a great future for Fitness! It's a series of short comedies around the topic of fitness, which subtly plays on women's complexes. Judging by the number of festival wins that the first three films in the series have received, it could be a long and rated internet series. Hopefully, we'll get a sequel commissioned from some European or American streaming platform. In the meantime, we have a fourth film in the series in construction.


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