Russia. To many in the West the name conjures up images of everything from powerful Czars to Red Army parades, from hot chicks in fur hats sipping on vodka to bears roaming the streets. So just what is the “real” Russia? Capturing the Russian soul is a task many have tried – even the Russian greats themselves (just ask Pushkin), but for a country that stretches eleven time zones the task can be difficult. What a better place to start then Ufa, capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia?
Enter Sergey Baklykov and Sergey Pichugin, two Russian twenty-somethings hailing from Ufa and their show “The Real Russia Reality Video Blog“. They have become a hit on YouTube for their entertaining videos covering everything from transportation to Sergey Pechugin’s shotgun marriage to a girl he met at a club and knew less than a week. Did you know the world’s largest McDonald’s was located in Moscow in 1990 while the Soviet Union was in its final months? That lines stretched for miles as Soviet citizens queued for just one bite of a Big Mac? Neither did I until I chanced upon their blog. Sergey and Sergey have started their own up and coming video production company of which the Real Russia video blog is a project. They spend hours filming, editing and releasing their videos as well as marketing them to hungry Russophiles the world over.
Baklykov worked in both radio and for a local TV channel where he spent long days and nights working on projects the company wanted but he wanted his own show. In May of this year he left the TV channel to pursue this desire. But his dream hit a snag: by August his original business partner took all of the money for their start-up and ran.
“It was a point in my life when I was left without a job, business opportunity or money. But I’ve tried to look at it as my chance. This was actually what I was waiting for for a long time. I had nothing… nothing to loose and finally I could do whatever I want to do. So I gave it a try.” Baklykov stated.
Baklykov’s idea to present to the world the “real” Russia was inspired by a fellow Yuri Mosha, a Russian now living in the USA who has his own YouTube channel dedicated to showing the “real” America to Russians.
“I really liked his videos and I came up with an idea – what if I did the same but vice versa? Tell Westerners about real life in Russia without any censorship, direction, pre-written scenarios and so on. A view of Russia through the prism of our own lives.”
It was not long after this idea that Baklykov met with Sergey Pechugin, a cameraman with whom Baklykov had worked with on the cable TV channel. The pair wasted no time in starting their project, they recorded their first video the next day.
“The reaction was huge!” said Baklykov.
“Many people from all over the world starting commenting on our videos, writing messages and comments and such feedback assured us that had made the right decision.”
Western viewers might be shocked to see the free use of Soviet symbols, but as Baklykov puts it, ”They are probably the most famous and recognizable symbols of our country among westerners.”
They are now working on their 15th episode. The two make use of the “live camera” effect.
“We want people to feel like they are right there with us. Also one of our key features is trying to capture everything in just the one take, without preparation and without direction.”
Baklykov also spends hours answering comments and messages which he feels makes the experience more intimate with the viewers. However, not all comments are the most positive. Some comments make him feel that their is still a distorted and sometimes even ridiculous view of Russia from the West- a holdover from the Cold War years.
“Many people ask me if we still trying to resurrect Communism here,” Baklykov explains.
“We work for nobody, we are our own bosses, we don’t have censors, nor any groups who pay us to promote any form of propaganda. Everything is shown as it is. I can easily say that “Real Russia” is one of the best example of faithful reporting!”
Baklykov goes on to say that they are not trying to change people’s views of Russia, but rather present what they see
and let the viewer make up their own mind. This form of direct reporting in the form of entertaining videos seems to be working, in the first two months of posting videos subscribers donated over $670 to the pairs PayPal account and Sergey and Sergey have launched a tongue-in-cheek web-store that sells USSR and Russian memorabilia the profits of which will be to keep the channel alive.
“Our final goal is to get enough subscribers that we can generate enough views as to be able to exist only for earnings from YouTube Ads, so we do not have to ask for any donations or depend on t-shirts sales. But we are in the middle of the now. We know that if we continue to produce good and quality content the subscribers will come,” said Baklykov.
But the fact profit needs to be raised to maintain the channel comes not without its backlash from none other than the pairs fellow Russians who write in to accuse the pair of selling out their country for Western profit.
It seems that in general most negativity for their project comes from Russia. As Baklykov explains, ”It’s absolutely surprising and unpleasant to me but most of the hateful comments we are getting are from our own citizens – from Russians! For this reason we have had to started blocking some of our videos from Russian viewers.”
Baklykov goes on to say that aside from earning money through donation, Russian resentment stems from quality.
“They wants us to show more polished videos. For example, one lady complained about showing my Grandma’s grave because the grave was un-kept. She said that I should have painted it before to show or that I should not have shown the dirty stove in Pichugin’s apartment (in first episode).”
But Baklykov stands by the decision to not create polished and idealized videos about Russia. ”That’s absolutely against our format and the basic rules we set up from the beginning! No direction, no pre-written scenarios, no attempts to make Russia or Russians look better than we are. Everything must be “as is”!”
So for those interested in starting their own production company or YouTube show be prepared for lots of work.
“We are different from other video bloggers who just sit in their rooms in front of a web camera; we are always in action, running everywhere and it takes a lot of time and efforts to both film and edit a piece. Not to mention maintaining communication with our audience. It is all about the time you are willing to put in, and time is the most expensive thing we have.”
As far as self marketing Sergey and Sergey use Google AdWords for YouTube to promote their videos.
“I use ‘in search’ type of advertising. It’s when our videos appear at the top of YouTube search results when people search for certain keywords like “Russia, Russian, USSR, Soviet Union, Russians” and so on. With marketing, it’s investment in your future. We currently spend the more on promoting our videos than we earn from the ads that show before our videos on YouTube. We have to build our audience at first. I think the key is that we pay for the subscriber only once, and when the subscriber comes back to our channel again, we don’t have to pay for his attention again.”
Baklykov’s view of investment goes beyond his channel. He considers what he is doing an investment in his nation,
“An investment in my country. That’s what I do. I am a honest citizen of Russia, I have a family, I care about my wife and help raise our daughter. Presently, I am helping Westerners better understand my country better and many people are thankful to me for it.”
Baklykov says this thanks extends from a revolutionary realization. ”They are thankful for my videos because they now see that we are all actually the same. That despite all the borders and and the games of our politicians we have only one world. We are the world and we are one people!”