Filming in Irkutsk and at Lake Baikal. The absolutely best location for winter filming in Russia.

Irkutsk region and Lake Baikal are the best places for filming in winter in Russia.

Irkutsk  as a location for a TV production.

As a filming destination – Irkutsk is the most attractive Siberian location. It is one of the main cities on the Transsiberian train itinerary. Situated on the bank of Angara River it’s considered the cultural capital of the Eastern part of Siberia. Found in 1661 on the shore of the river Irkut – this city is situated on the crossing of many trade routes. All the trade with the Far East, Mongolia, China, Alyaska went through Irkutsk. And starting from the XIX century it also becomes the main gold mining city in the Eastern Siberia.

The downtown of Irkutsk has many wooden houses built in the traditional Russian style. One district of the city was renovated entirely and the old wooden houses now are used as restaurants and night clubs.  

Just in one hour of drive time from Irkutsk you will get to the shore of the Lake Baikal. It’s the biggest freshwater lake on earth. A natural miracle with very clean water. You can drink the water from the lake as it is. Situated between Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia the lake Baikal has many names: Saint Sea, Eye of Siberia, Siberian sea and many more.

Lake Baikal – the dream place for filming a winter story.

More than 300 rivers flow into Baikal and only one river – Angara flows out of it. In wintertime, the lake freezes making breathtakingly beautiful ice fields and ice structures. It’s possible to make driving-on-ice shows, to make experiments with the cold, or to camp right on the ice. Local filming possibilities are only limited to your fantasy. TV productions of all sizes yearly come to Baikal to shoot great stories about nature, ice, and the Siberian cold winter.

The island Olkhon is one of the main attractions of the region. It’s quite big – over 700 square kilometers. Thousands of tourists from all over the world come here to take a look at the Shaman rocks, play with dozens of kinds of ice and make breathtaking photos in the area. Authentic Buryat shamans live in the villages on the island and on the shore close to it. The way you get to the island changes depending on the season. In summer there’s a ferry that can take you from the mainland to the island. During late autumn and spring – hovercrafts are the main transport here. Only a hovercraft can travel on the ice and water at the same time. In wintertime (approximately starting from February) a winter road is built on the ice of the lake. Even heavy loaded trucks can make their way to the island using this road.

Great locations for filming on the shores of the Lake Baikal

On the shores of Lake Baikal you can find a lot of interesting locations for filming great stories. Thermal springs in the northern part of the lake – another great thing for film in this region. Surrounded by ice and snow a swimming pool full of hot water. The northernmost city situated at the shore of the lake is Severobaikalsk. This small town has a local airport and it’s an important station of the legendary BAM railroad.

On the eastern coast of the lake Baikal you will find the Barguzinskiy national resefve. An incredible place with amazing nature. Over 40 mammals have their habitat here. You can film Elk, Musk-deers, white hare, Brown bears, shrews, marmots and many other species.

Warm springs can be found close to Ust-Barguzin town.

On the western shore of the lake Baikal you can find the city Baikalsk. During many years a paper factory was the key industry for this area, but the high level of pollution caused by this factory led to closing of the production under public pressure. Today it’s quite a poor city with the only attraction – a modern mountain ski resort.

Filming in the northern area of the Lake Baikal: BAM railroad and GULAG camp leftovers

BAM railroad – it’s an alternative route to the famous trans-Siberian railroad. The soviets were afraid that in case of aggression from China – the railroad link between the Russian far-east and the European part of the country is very easy to break. The Trans-Siberian in its big part goes right next to the Russian-Chinese border. Thus the Soviet government decided to build another railroad that should be constructed more to the north.

The construction of the BAM was very difficult. In the thirties, a special department of the GULAG system was created – the so-called BAMLAG. Only after the 1960s the construction of this railroad was conducted by civil authorities with the help of the engineering department of the soviet army.  The construction was finalized only in 1989, and one of the tunnels – Severomuyskiy – was open for use only in 2013.

The area around the BAM railroad is very attractive for filming “survival”, “wildlife” and endurance shows. Also considering the difficult history of the region – many historic stories can be filmed here. Due to the difficult access to some of the areas – leftovers of GULAG camps can be found in relatively good conditions. Dugouts used by the security of the camps are still in use by local hunters, barbed wire and watchtowers are still there. Not far from the town Chara leftovers of a GULAG camp that had uranium mines can be filmed. Nowadays it’s a national reserve due to the great local nature. Sounds incredible, but here, in the middle of Siberia, you can find a send desert – the Chara sands.

The BAM possibilities for off-road driving are incredible. During the construction of the BAM – a road along the railroad was in use for maintenance purposes. But from the early 90s this road was abandoned, and it’s only in use by locals who dare to drive there. You face the need of amending old bridges, chopping trees and getting out from the mud or snow. The pearl of this road is the “bridge of death”. On paper it doesn’t exist. But locals still use it. Without railings, only 2,8 meters wide, 18 meters high and with huge holes in its central part. Will you dare to cross it? This location surely can become one of the greatest moments for any show filmed in Siberia.

Filming close to Irkutsk the Circum Baikal railway

Another great tourist attraction that can be useful for any TV show that comes to the area – the circum Baikal railway. It’s a historic railway that runs along the northern shore of the lake Baikal, from Kultuk to Baikal settlement. Old locomotives are used on this railroad, which makes filming here especially attractive.

Shooting great and crazy winter activities around lake Baikal or in the Irkutsk area.

For embellishing the story you are filming – around Irkutsk and around the Lake Baikal it’s possible to organize the filming of many visually rich activities. Riding a sled pulled by Huskey or by malamute dogs. Visit for filming a malamute breeding farm. These incredibly kind and nice dogs are the perfect company to spend a couple of hours.

Filming experiments with the cold is possible starting from December till March. For having great visual effects the temperature outside should be lower than -25C. You will be able to film the explosion of boiling water, freeze and break any fruit, make a test what freezes first – brandy, whiskey or vodka and make frozen sculptures out of ordinary food.

Filming local cuisine in the Irkutsk region and Buryatia. The most important local dishes are dumplings (Pelmeni or Manty in Russian) and frozen local fish “Strioganina”. All local women have their own technique of making these dishes. It’s possible to organize a culinary master class or to assist in the preparation of this dish in a traditional rural log house in a local village. The famous local dish “Stroganina”:  fresh fish gets deeply frozen and then is cut into very thin slices. Somehow similar to the concept with sashimi, but totally different on the taste and on the way of cooking.

For getting great footage from the Lake Baikal area it’s possible to film some shaman rituals. Some shamans are easy going and will explain you everything they do and the meaning of each action, others will only allow to film part of the ceremony and will give you only general information, and will ask you to respect the secret knowledge they have. A ceremony we recommend filming – thanksgiving to the spirits of the area for welcoming you at the lake Baikal. It’s a thing to which the shamans will agree as it’s not a complex ceremony and also not very harmful to the spirits.

Shooting in Irkutsk or at the lake Baikal in winter is impossible without covering local traditional winter activities. The most popular – visiting the Russian sauna (Banya) and after heating up jumping directly into a snow pile. Another great option for filming in the area is winter swimming. Locals can swim in a hole in the ice when the temperature outdoors is lower than -25C. Sounds incredible and gives great footage.

The big flat fields of ice at lake Baikal allow to practice winter kite surfing and other similar sports. Visually great competitions are yearly held in the area close to the island Olkhon. Speed driving is also possible but requires a lot of preparation work. Our local fixers and production managers have the knowledge and the skills to build up a race track on the ice of the Lake Baikal. Following all the requirements and recommendations of the local emergency services and getting all the required permits for such sportive and filming activities in the area.

Production tips for shooting in the cold in Russia.Filming on the ice of the Lake Baikal and on its shores.

Information about the production services FilmspbTV can provide in Irkutsk

FilmspbTV has great local fixers who were working over the years on dozens of major TV and film projects. Local experts can help to build up the logistics of a filming, provide transport for getting to the filming area on lake Baikal and to help to find the locations that fit best to your production needs. The ice in some parts of the lake can have methane bubbles, that are very cool for filming purposes but are very dangerous if you try driving in such a zone. Good knowledge of the area and of the ice zones is a must for any TV production on the ice of the lake Baikal.

The branch of FilmspbTV based in Irkutsk can provide you the following services: location scouting and location management led by local experienced guides with a great background in the organization of extreme projects throughout Siberia. Transport services on the lake Baikal, in Irkutsk, in Ulan Ude and travelling off road in the area (traveling along the BAM railroad or traveling on the winter road No130). Production support, accommodation, catering services to film crews that visit Irkutsk region and Buryatia.

Recommendations on how to build up the production process in winter in Siberia.

It’s very important to have the right outfit, gear and equipment for the whole filming crew. The cold drains the batteries very fast, thus we recommend using special thermo boxes for keeping the batteries warm. Our production managers in Irkutsk have in stock all the special gear that a camera crew needs when filming in the cold. Special gloves for the cameraman, hand and body warmers, extra shoes for saving the film crew members from frostbites.

When planning long filming days – it’s a must to have a heated tent for the crew to have a rest inside. The call sheet shouldn’t have periods of more than 2 consecutive hours outdoors. Let the people have a 15 minutes break and get w cup of hot tea or coffee. Otherwise, the film crew won’t overcome this challenge.

Only filming a lot in winter conditions you get the required production knowledge. For example we know that most remote focus systems stop working with temperatures lower than -22C. The lenses rings get too tight to be rolled by the remote focus. You’ll have to go manual.

Permits for filming at the lake Baikal area and in Irkutsk

Permit getting procedures in the Irkutsk region and in Buryatia are time-consuming. Some shootings are quite straightforward and can get the required paperwork within a week. Filmings that require the presence of local rescuers or that happens inside the grounds of a national reserve require up to 3 weeks for getting the permissions.

We need to get from you a detailed description of the upcoming shooting, the crew size and estimate dates of filming. Basing on this information we will be able to send a request to the local authorities to get the green light for the realization of your TV or film production in the area.

Camera and professional filming equipment rental in Irkutsk

Equipment rental services in the area are very limited. You only will find some simple things like canon lenses, several DSLR cameras, GoPro cameras and that’s it. A professional Russian camera crew has to travel to the region from Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Professional camera equipment can only be rented in Moscow or St Petersburg and has to be brought to Irkutsk. FilmspbTV has all the required deals with rental companies that can give the equipment for traveling to Siberia. We work with the best English speaking DOPs and cameraman that will surely deliver footage of the highest quality.

Risk assessment for filming at the lake Baikal. Safety and security protocols.

FilmspbTV as a production company has the skills to prepare the risk assessment for productions that involve filming on the ice and filming at extremely low temperatures. As part of our Siberian crew we have paramedics, rescuers and people with unique experience in the organization of filming processes in inaccessible areas. We have a list of local reliable choppers that can be rented for the organization of the logistics of complex shootings. Our Irkutsk fixers can organize warm meals for the whole filming crew in the middle of the lake. Fast and effective.

Filming in Irkutsk in winter is related to many difficulties that can be solved with the help of a skillful production company. FilmspbTV can proudly tell that we have organized dozens of successful projects on the ice of the Lake Baikal and in the Irkutsk area. For building up a safe shooting in the best place in Siberia – you only need to contact us!

 

5/5