Unlike some countries where government approval for filming is illusive, filming in Russia is relatively straight forward, though not necessarily easy, and can be quite expensive. The application process is very similar to applying for business or tourist visas to Russia. However, the appropriate type of visa is generally a Humanitarian- Cultural Exchange visa. Invitations for this type of visa must come from the Russian government, and take weeks to obtain, so plan ahead.
The invitations are generally provided by your Russian production support, or fixer, who obtains them from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Be sure you trust your fixer to charge a fair price, and that the cost of the invitations are included in your preliminary budget. Also, confirm how long the invitations will take, as quotes can vary greatly. Alternatively, Travel Visa Pro can provide its trusted film clients with invitation vouchers from the Russian Ministry in 2-3 weeks, and often at a better price.
Once you have invitations for your crew, visa applications must be filled out online on the Russian government website (visa.kdmid.ru). They are submitted just like other types of Russian visas, with similar fees and processing times. When filling out the application, you should write down your Application ID number and the security answer you choose, as it will become your password to edit or change your application. Be sure to put Humanitarian as visa type, and Cultural Exchange as purpose. The rest of the application form should be filled out completely, and will ask for lots of detailed personal information. As such, it is recommended, where possible, to have each crew member fill out their own application. Have them fill out the applications completely to avoid delays or rejections.
Once you’ve conquered the visa hurdle, make sure your Russian contacts obtain any necessary film permits and customs clearances. Both processes have a history of corruption that may require last-minute cash incentives to ensure a smooth filming process. It is not recommended to attempt to enter Russia with professional audio and video gear with a tourist or business visa, as this may cause additional delays, or costs, at Russian customs.