A million for your dream project

The first historical projects contest took place on the sidelines of the “Times&Epochs” festival. Everyone could win a million to realise an original and authentic project.

After the contest finished many participants asked us ‘Why?’. Why their projects failed to win after having reached the final 20.

A contest’s mastermind Alexey Ovcharenko, a chairman of the Expert Council analyses main achievements and mistakes of the last year and gives advice to the participants of this year.

“First of all we chose those projects that would have an effect on the historical reenactment, experimental archaeology and related sciences”.

Please tell us how you selected the participants and then the winners.

I would like to remind you straight away that there was a group of experts to study the projects, each of them with his own point of view. Thus my opinion can differ from that of my colleagues. Although thanks to my experience as a festival, media projects and living history museums organizer I can talk not only as one of the experts, but as an independent specialist.

First of all we chose those projects that would have effect upon the historical reenactment, experimental archaeology and related sciences, thus the projects should be very informative.

It was the first time we organized the contest and got 95 projects – that’s a lot! However paradoxical it may sound, 90% of them proved to be unfeasible: people proposed doing something they had neither competence nor experience for. Some authors failed to work out the inner mechanism of the project, there was nothing at all. Some didn’t count the budget, others didn’t know what they wanted and had no exact plan. Here are the main reasons for not selecting a project. As for those ones we did pick out, the major part was eliminated during the exhibition, when the participants, above all, had to answer our questions.

Generally speaking, all the projects tendered were divided into worked-out and not worked out. Only 10 of them were worked out well, thus we had to choose between the two projects only, and eventually chose 9 best.

“Ideas are not projects; one gives no money for them”

Could it be so that there were so few interesting ideas?

Certainly not. There were lots of good ideas, but ideas are not projects, one gives no money for them. Only an idea with a well-thought plan for realization can win. Everything should be considered and worked out, with an author knowing the final and desirable result. A concrete result one will get after having won the prize. That’s the kind of project I call ‘well-designed’. Others lacked something essential, either a feasible plan, or the idea of the final result, the reason why the project should be realized at all.

There is another important moment about practically all applications. They were written like compliments. No matter whom to. Either to the ‘Times&Epochs’ organisers, or to some mythical officials or businessmen.

Lots of attention was paid to the names, for example, ‘Rocking around Times and Epochs’. The visitors got their share, sometimes they were included into the projects they had no reason to take part in. Maybe they thought the visitors make any event more significant.

The crucial moment is funding, isn’t it?

Sure. Many authors had no idea whatsoever. For a house, for example, one needs enough cubic metres of timber, then its delivery, the work itself – it costs a lot.

If the price corresponds to the market price, I have no further questions. But to understand it one has to see how the authors actually count.

What about the experiments? It’s hard to make the distinct price, for the results can be unexpected.

That’s a problem indeed. Although a sum without any grounds or explanation is worse than its absence. For if you take prices just because you have to put them, it ruins the trust between the authors and the people who study and pick out the projects for the final. And it’s essential for us to keep this trust.

«The main problem of craft is aesthetics. The material culture of the epoch is a combination of various objects with an aesthetics of the epoch, and either this combination gives a harmonic and nice image, that looks authentic, or not»

Were there many living history museums projects?

Living history museums… Well, it’s obvious they are sensation now. We did support the idea and will continue doing it, but very carefully.

Due to my personal experience I know that creating such a museum is the least you can present as a project. One has to solve such basic questions as the land purchase, the equipment, excursions and other activities provided for the whole year.

Many contestants just failed to understand that. It was obvious from the beginning that they didn’t make a correlation between the prize sum and their ideas.

Let’s precise that one can present a project that will be realized with the received money only partially. Thus this project tender can be a separate part of a huge project.

That’s right, the contestants should make separate parts and explain what they are going to do by themselves, what they already have money for and what they need prize for.

That’s why the project ‘Forpost’ (The Outpost) won. Firstly, the authors had not only experience of creating , but also managing such a project for quite a while already.

Secondly, and we saw it clearly, ‘Forpost’ asked money not for the whole project, but for its essential part. They had this idea of the final result, unlike many other contestants.

Historical festivals. There were such projects, but they didn’t win. Why?

Well, because we didn’t pick out such projects of so-called ‘classical’ historical festivals from the beginning. They are everywhere, there is no place where such festivals wouldn’t exist.

It seemed there were few crafts.

Indeed, there were few. The main problem with them is aesthetics. In my opinion it’s a key concept in the reenactment. There were lots of arguments about an aesthetic appearance of an object or costume.

The material culture of the epoch is a combination of various objects with an aesthetics of the epoch, and either this combination gives a harmonic and nice image, that looks authentic, or not.

Here this criterion was of importance. If the application was done well, but the quality of the product itself wasn’t, we declined the project.

So it means one has not only to design the project well, but to make it well himself?

Oh yes, it’s important how well and nice it will look.

Another thing one has to keep in mind is that the product should be consistent with the sources. Although one can do everything from super-authentic materials and according to the authentic methods, and yet it will be different from what our ancestors did 1000 years ago.

Thus in crafts the product has to have an aesthetic look to get financial support.

There were multimedia projects as well. Historical context wrapped up in the modern technologies.

In this case the budget should be counted even better. If not everybody proved to be good enough in calculating the building part, then for the multimedia.. It’s much more complicated.

Even if someone says that he will make a website for 100 thousand, I understand that it will be not the website they had an idea of. It will be not of that quality, for the database, data keeping, the further administration of the site, its filling – it does cost a lot.

I have some concerns about it, to tell the truth. Am afraid that they will tender films (we had such projects already) without knowing what is the actual prize. And a simple financial calculating would stop people straight away.

What about old good paper books?

With books is the same story as with living history museums: when you have something specific in mind, you should consider whether you have enough experience or at least potential to realise it.

For example, books publishing is a serious thing. Without experience, without understanding how the business works it’s very complicated.

There were few commercial projects, although there were no rules to restrict it. Is it because the contest is a new idea?

Well, we will treat these commercial projects with special attention. For when people are realising the project within their own commercial activity, they need it to earn more. It’s weird, and I doubt such projects will pass through next time.

One has to examine all the details. One thing is when people are going to produce some new products. And another when de facto it is about money, but the project is not commercial.

One can say that visitors will buy tickets to see something there, but if I see that the project is not reliable, then it’s not commercial. Financial part is not a business yet. And if the contest helps to get money for a loss-making project, it’s all right.

There were many photo projects.

Today a photo is such a common thing that one has to have a special, innovative point of view. And to make foundation for such a project, to show its necessity. Then it will certainly get the funding.

That’s the reason why 100% of photo-projects were declined straight away. We are not against them, but the contestants have to come up with something absolutely original.

Last time there were only two or three foreign projects. And they didn’t make it to the second round.

Here we had timing problems. The contest had been announced three or more months in advance, as well as the whole festival, and for the foreigners it was not enough.

We don’t make any difference between the Russian and foreign projects. It’s just that the foreign projects sent to the contest were weak.If there was a foreign project of high quality, no questions, it would win.

“It’s important the project supported the subculture, somehow moving reenactment on. Like, for example, the ‘Gypsies’ Cauldron’ is dealing with a brand-new topic in the reenactment.

Among the applications we saw some interesting formats, that we can call a ‘historical attraction’. It seems there were very few projects, but they all were very interesting.

Oh yes, and two of them won: “Gypsies’ Cauldron” and “Azbukovnik”. The latter is both an attraction and the educational project.

However many people asked us why we supported such projects. They say, there is nothing special done. I can explain. There are two important moments combined.

Firstly, such projects match well to the ‘million’ format. One can make such a project with a million rubles very, very well.

It’s impossible to build a house for a million. A million is not a budget one can get involved into building with at all, and everybody who tried it know it well. We saw projects of mansions, castrums with a million budgets. It means only that people didn’t calculate it correctly.

However one million is enough to realise such a project as ‘Azbukovnik’ almost perfectly. That’s why experts backed up such projects.

Secondly, it’s important for me that a project supports the subculture, somehow moving reenactment on. Like, for example, the ‘Gypsies’ Cauldron’ that is dealing with a brand-new topic in the reenactment.

Generally speaking, all these historical attractions are something that can be done well for a million and it will bring new plans, ideas and sense to the historical reenactment.

Thus we will support this kind of projects further on, but only if there are great ideas, with clear plans and a good calculating of budget.

So the contest is a kind of an engine of progress?

Sure! Unusual, striking project that could appear differently at various festivals have always been motive forces of the reenactment. We initially joined together not for the festival, but for a really cute idea.

Remember the Oleg Sokolov’s story! He read a book and got enthusiastic over the idea. And read everything he could reach on the subject, and they went to reenact the soldiers of a great army.Nobody thought to make a festival for spectators. The idea was to reenact the soldiers.

“Probably the guys thought if they knew myself personally, they could present anything they wanted and get the money. It doesn’t work this way”

Main mistakes one shall avoid doing

The most glaring example is a festival devoted to the most important stage of the Crimean War. Probably the guys thought if they knew me personally, they could present anything they wanted and get the money. It doesn’t work this way. Besides me there are a few experts and their names are on the secret list before the meeting with the contestants at the exhibition. By the by, this year the experts will be the same.

I’m totally neutral to everybody, other experts too, so it doesn’t matter friends or not friends take part there.

How important is the visual design of the project?

Oh yes, one has to understand what the Expert Council pays attention to. Since the format is free, the presentation is a serious problem.

Maybe if we had only 9 applications, we would be fussing over each contestant. However there were 95 applications, and there were no additional hours in the day. So those applications that were designed badle were not taken into consideration in the 2017 and won’t be in the 2018 either.

For us, judges, it’s a signal: if the project is important for a person, he will try to design it properly. And if one doesn’t need it, then the project may fail. So why shall we award him a prize?

Why the projects presented at the exhibition failed to win?

There was a striking project, a painting reconstruction according to the 15th century technologies. I liked the idea a lot, and the format itself is very interesting. It can be presented differently, and each time originally and vividly. But again, the final quality of the photos seemed strange for me.

We declined a European medieval settlement as well, they wanted to build it in north-west Russia. The presentation itself was done well, thus we started to discuss it with the authors. And then we understood they had no idea of their budget, as well as some basic conditions like their own plot.

It was obvious our million would not be enough for its realization even partially,and they had nothing of their own. The organizers said honestly that they had made the project directly for the contest, and that was all they had. The project was worth trying, but it didn’t work.

Another living history park didn’t, either. Although it did start working, even without our support. Why without it? I personally was concerned over the project, their quality of reenactment wasn’t too high. And we think it crucial to have the projects worked out well. It’s again about aesthetics in the reenactment. Moreover, the ‘Romans’ had no concrete calculation either.

And finally one more interesting project on the 17th century. They thought to expand, to deepen and to finish the museum exposition of the military-historical club. Here we have another case, for the museum works already. And it’s a project more of quality than of originality. However it was the originality that we had among our criteria. I had the impression that the museum was doing well. Everything goes as it should go and they won’t have any additional breakthrough if we give them a million.

I originally initiated this contest as absolutely free, with as few restrictions as possible. We will comply with this in the future.

What it will be like in the 2018? Any changes, improvements?

This year we have a completely electronic application form. One can send his project via the website ‘Times&Epochs’. This year one can attach only one file and we recommend to use presentation, google-presentation or pdf file with all the illustrations inside.

We publish rules and all the stages in advance. They have changed a bit since the 2017. If the project’s presence in the information space was only a plus of the project last year, now it is obligatory.

Does the exhibition format help participants to present their idea to the experts?

I can talk only for myself, not for the participants. So, in general I can see from the application what people can claim to. Although in my opinion it’s important for the contestants themselves who have already passed through the previous stages. Direct communication with the organizers, the preparation itself helps to improve the project, to see some weak points, to see your own project as a visitor, not as the author.

Can give you my own example. We had an idea, to make a living history park in Crimea. And we made the presentation straight away. The general concept was clear and it didn’t change much afterwards, even when a general architect started working on it. Even when we made a business model, it didn’t change significantly.

However, there was a middle phase, when we presented a project to the investors but hadn’t turned it into the construction concept yet.

That was then when we clarified some important things. We understood that the sum we initially requested would be enough for this and that. So we had to look for additional funding.

So I think that it’s very important moment when you actually present your project after having sent it.

Did it help them to win?

I wished so much the late ages reached the final. Unfortunately the major part of the projects was badly designed that it even seemed people had applied just to get rid of.

That moment appeared a contestant from the Great Patriotic War reenactors with an interesting idea of the festival, by the by. During the communication I tried to make the authors think originally, create something new. I even asked directly, how they saw the project, would it be brand-new? What I understood though was that there was no idea how to make something original from a classical traditional festival.

So it automatically became a classical festival for me, held in different places and forms. So I think you will agree, it would be stupid to support one classical festival devoted to the Great Patriotic War, when there are many more that for some reasons remained without this aid.

Given all this, I would like to emphasize that I would happily back up an innovative historical festival.

What can one do if a project costs more than a million? With taxes deducted.

Everything is easy. If you see that your project costs more than a million, you have to think straight away where are you going to take additional funding from. And if there is no place to take money from, you have to know exactly how to change the project to make it fit the sum.

It’s necessary to understand what can you do for one million rubles to achieve some results. Otherwise there is no sense in spending you time.

What can one do if there is no idea what to write into the budget?

Nothing to worry about. We understand that there is no ‘typical’ project in the contest and can not actually be any. So in any case everything is individual.

If there is no information for the estimate, please don’t think it up. You can well write the project is experimental and nobody knows how much it will eventually cost, but it’s a super experiment and we suppose this and that.

For example, Sapog and I are now planning the Seven in the Past project, and we need a historical cow. From the modern point of view, it’s a seriously degraded cow and we have no idea how much it may cost, and will we take it from Buryatiya or from Ireland. But we know we need exactly this cow. And in the budget it’s written this way: a cow, with details etc.

Can one actually send the same project of the last year again? Or the improved version of it, or some new part of it?

I think each variant is possible. I originally initiated this contest as absolutely free, with as few restrictions as possible. We will comply with this in the future. All the projects of the last year may be re-worked and sent again. It’s stupid to think though that it will secure the victory though.