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Inside World Cup 2018’s Makeover: How Director Rupert Wainwright Is Fixing Russia’s Image Problem

The British filmmaker’s advertising agency Adore Creative has produced several spots touting the country’s virtues

British filmmaker Rupert Wainwright has directed features ranging from Disney’s “Blank Check” to the horror movies “Stigmata” and “The Fog,” but he’s currently tackling a very different assignment — selling Russia to the rest of the world for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

As founder of Los Angeles-based advertising agency Adore Creative, Wainwright developed and produced a series of short films that helped Russia win its bid to host the World Cup in 2018. Adore also created and produced several TV commercials and promotional films that helped Russia land this year’s Sochi Winter Olympic Games, the 2013 University Games (the student Olympics) and the upcoming 2015 FINA World Championships (aquatic sports).

“We came in to work on the international TV campaign for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Russia had bid on four or five major international sporting events and lost them all. They wanted to change Russia’s image in terms of sporting and hospitality,” Wainwright told TheWrap.

Also read: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin Bans Foul Language in Movies, Other Forms of Media

While American entertainment interests in China are all the rage in the media these days, Russia remains a lucrative territory and having a relationship with such a major world power has its advantages.

Thanks to Adore Creative’s reputation and the trust it has developed with its clients, the company was hired to produce two new short films that debuted during the World Cup games in Brazil, including a spot titled “Kickoff,” which follows a meteor streaking across the Russian sky as it transforms into a soccer ball that travels past famous Russian landmarks. The second spot, “Get Ready,” pays homage to Russia’s rich athletic history while highlighting the 11 cities that will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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Wainwright was recruited by a woman who runs the largest TV commercial production company in Russia, which had been tasked with doing all the commercials for Russia’s Olympic bid. She had been a fan of Wainwright’s feature work in Hollywood, and a successful international marketing alliance blossomed from that one cold call.

But why hire an American company run by a Brit rather than just a local production house? Wainwright thinks it was his outsider perspective that proved unique.

“It was about showing Russia in a genuine and compelling and endearing way to the international marketplace… So we provided a Western sensibility rather than a Russian sensibility,” he explained, while crediting his Hollywood background for the company’s success.

Russia Becomes The Game from Adore Creative on Vimeo.

“We came to advertising through storytelling, so our Hollywood bonafides are really important. There’s never been a less interesting time in the world for traditional advertising, but there’s never been a better time for non-traditional advertising and branded entertaining,” Wainwright explained. “We’re making entertainment rather than Madison Avenue’s traditional ‘sell, sell, sell!'”

“We wrote and produced the “Russia: The Door Is Open” campaign, which helped the country win its bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics. It’s Russia’s hope to host these events and showcase the pride and athleticism of its people.”

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The company had pedigree by that point, having handled Russia’s 2008 campaign to host the 2013 University Games. The third project was for Russia’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup, for which it made three films for FIFA and a local organizing committee.

Not only did Adore Creative handle several Olympic productions for Fox Sports in America, Brazil and New Zealand from a studio in Sochi earlier this year, but the company is currently in talks with a variety of different broadcasters to provide production services for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

So what’s it like working with the Russian government given the country’s current geo-political situation?

“The honest truth is, we don’t necessarily work with the highest echelons of the Russian government on a day-to-day basis, but we do work with prime ministers and press officers, writing speeches and making films for them,” said Wainwright, who addressed the current conflict with Ukraine.

“In terms of the current situation, it’s much more nuanced than originally thought. It’s a bit like Ireland and Northern Ireland. There are many Russians — ethnic and culturally — who live in Ukraine, but if Ukraine is pulling away from Russia, then they’d rather stay with Russia. But Russia came from Ukraine, as the Russians moved from Kiev. Trust me, I’m not a politician, but I know a lot of Ukrainians and Russians, and slowly the West has realized it’s not as cut-and-dry and black-and-white as originally thought.”

Russia is still working on its image problem, having taken great pains to overcome the world’s perception of the country that grew out of the Cold War in the ’80s. In fact, prior to hiring Adore Creative, the country had not hosted a major sporting event since the 1980 Olympics.

“This may sound ‘Disney-esque’ but sport is one of those things that brings people together in a great way, even though they’re competing. Sports have been an incredible way of bridging political gaps,” said Wainwright, who elaborated on how the Russian government has influenced his work.

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“When we were working on the Olympic spot, we worked with the head press officer for the Russian Federation. We had put together seven vignettes, the first of which had the camera going into St. Basil’s Cathedral, because we’d barely been anywhere else. He thought it was a bit obvious to start that way, and asked if we could open with something that was a symbol of all of Russia, not just one religion. Russia also has a large Muslim population, so they’re concerned with trying to show the whole country rather than just one section of it.”

Ratings for this year’s World Cup were through the roof, and the 2018 event in Russia is expected to be no different. With that in mind, it’s the perfect time to use soccer’s explosion in popularity as a means to reach an audience.

“It’s not just the World Cup, it’s also MLS. I was in Laguna at a sports conference in May and heard that MLS was hoping to get five times more for its TV rights package. Soccer is the most popular sport for teenage boys in America. We’re talking to major worldwide sponsors who might have boots on the ground in Russia for international advertising, but they’d also like domestic advertising for an event like that. For example, Nike is not a sponsor of the Olympics or the World Cup, but Nike does a huge amount of advertising piggybacking on those events,” said Wainwright.

Wainwright is also currently making a series of promotional films for one of Russia’s host cities for the 2018 World Cup. He’s developing a former HBO series with Robert Zemeckis and Jack Rapke‘s Imagemovers and Canal Plus that he describes as “‘The X-Files’ of the Vatican” as well as a “Game of Thrones”-like miniseries about Ivan the Terrible, who Wainwright likens to the “Alexander the Great of Russia.”