The husband and wife duo of Michael and Lily Idov are making quite an impact in Russia. The American-raised Michael got his start as a journalist when he left New York City to work on Moscow’s edition of GQ. After working in journalism for a number of years, Michael created the series Londongrad in 2015 and co-created The Optimists in 2017 with wife Lily. The duo wrote the upcoming music biopic Summer (Leto), the story of Viktor Tsoi, Mike Naumenko, and the Soviet rock movement of the early 80s. The film made its premiere in New York on June 7 and L.A. will get to see the film on June 21 from Gunpowder and Sky.
World Film Geek had the chance to talk to the Idovs about the film.
Michael and Lily, thank you so much for talking about Leto. I saw the film and it was a great story that was more than a biopic, it was a story about a movement and it was well executed.
Lily: Thank you so much!
Michael: That’s really cool to hear! Especially because we set out to do something more of an “anti-biopic”, but that’s really great to hear because Viktor Tsoi is such an iconic figure in Russian pop culture that it was only fitting to give him the full Bohemian Rhapsody treatment. Within five years of the film’s events, he would be playing stadiums and it took admirable restraint from the producers to let us write a film about his beginnings before he started making these hits.
That’s really amazing to hear! What inspired you to write the film?
Michael: To be honest, there was that idea that was floating around the producers wanted to approach it.
Lily: What inspired us to write this film were the memoirs of Natalia Naumenko. She was very short and very sincere. She talked about this love story of sorts and we knew that this was never seen before.
Michael: We’re talking about Natasha, who we consider to be the main character and is played by the very wonderful Irina Starsherbaum. Natasha wrote the memoir about this very innocent love triangle that may have possibly happened between her, her husband Mike, and a very young Viktor Tsoi. We took the story, and as Lily mentioned, we took the angle of this rock myth never seen before. We had the opportunity to show that these people were vulnerable and trying to figure themselves out. It was amazing!
What research did you do to help bring the script to life?
Michael: Well, it also helps that we’re huge fans of Kino. I spent my entire teenage years reading about Viktor Tsoi and Kino that I never imagined I would ever need it to write a movie about him (Laughs).
Lily: I’ve also been a huge fan of Kino for many years, even listening to their lesser known albums.
Michael: Some of it was research but it was mostly just refresh years from our own teenage years. Lily and I had written a TV series called The Optimists that was set in the 60s and was set in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that was pure research for years on end. For this one, we tapped into put pre-existing conditions. (Laughs)
What was it like working with director Kirill Serebrennikov? One thing that struck me was some of the film’s visuals, such as seeing lyrics appear on screen with drawings of various items such as clouds and flowers. Was this something you wrote in the film or was that part of Kirill’s vision of the film?
Lily: Oh, it definitely wasn’t us. The visuals themselves, that was a collaboration between Kirill and the director of photography [Vladislav Opelyants].
Michael: Yes! Let’s make one thing clear. This was Kirill’s movie. He is responsible for everything that makes it great. Especially all these amazing flourishes and things such as the musical sequences, the scratched film, and these super-rated inclusions. Basically, everything that makes a movie greater.
Lily: It was Kirill’s vision.
Michael: It was, and there were things that he made that we didn’t have in the script. A perfect example would be that we didn’t write any musical sequences. We would hear the music when it was performed, but there is no chance to take credit from Kirill. Which makes it more of a terrible injustice is that he wasn’t able to enjoy the reception at the Cannes Film Festival because he was under house arrest.
I did read about that and it was sad that he didn’t get to enjoy that. I did think it was amazing that he was able to complete the editing process while he went through this ordeal without the use of any Internet, which is astounding.
Michael: He edited the film himself because he didn’t have any access to Internet of the phone. But, you were allowed to give him the hard drives of the footage. And he basically, through his lawyers, he was able to get it done.
Lily: He was somewhat lucky to have even been able to use a computer. He just wasn’t allowed to the use the Internet
Michael: His lawyers would give him the raw materials and he spent three months editing the film.
I thought the film was visually striking and the cast gave out wonderful performances. What are your thoughts on the final film?
Michael: We got to go to Cannes. And it felt astonishing. You never imagined seeing something you wrote come to life.
Lily: For me, to finish this sort of accomplishment, it was surreal.
Michael: Yeah! I kept telling Lily, because I had written a few movies before this, and Lily never wrote one before. I told her, it’s only going to get worse! (Laughs)
Finally, what is next for the two of you in terms of projects?
Michael: We are constantly writing together, and we are currently at work on Deutschland ’89, which is this German-set show for Amazon. We also wrote a romantic comedy that I would love to direct myself. I directed my first film last year and watching Kirill work was an amazing school-like experience and if I can use 1/10 or 100 percent of what he can bring and attach it to my own work, that would be amazing!
Summer (Leto) is playing in New York and will hit Los Angeles on May 21. This is more than a biopic but rather a film about a very important movement in music history. Thank you again Michael and Lily for taking the time to talk about the film.
Michael and Lily: Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure!
A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Michael and Lily Idov for making this interview possible.