From the frigid terrain of Siberia to the archive treasures of Moscow’s Krasnogorsk library, Russia is full of potential for documentary programs. However, international filmmakers often stop short of pursuing these stories for one reason: access. The land of Stolichnaya vodka and snow is notoriously difficult to navigate, beginning with customs and ending with checkpoints on the roads. That’s where companies like St. Petersburg-based PredWorld Entertainment come in.
PredWorld – co-founded in 1999 by American Linda Predovsky and her Russian husband Alexander Predovsky – facilitates film production in Russia and other areas of the former Soviet Union. Predovsky says clients provide her with a wish list of what they want to do and where they want to go, and then she takes over. ‘We purchase all the travel tickets, handle accommodations, supply letters of invitation so they can get visas, hire any additional crews that might be needed, and arrange for any additional equipment. We meet them at the airport when they arrive, and from then on we’re with them 24 hours a day.’
PredWorld’s pool of language skills – Predovsky is fluent in English and speaks some Russian, while her partner is the reverse – is an added bonus for English-speaking filmmakers. Predovsky also has a background in production. She first travelled to Russia (from Los Angeles) in 1998 to work on a documentary about the burial of Russia’s last Czar. The project didn’t work out, but Predovsky stayed. ‘I really liked the people I was working with and felt there was big potential to set up something here,’ she says. ‘There was a need for good facilitators and good producers from the West in Russia.’
PredWorld’s fees vary, depending on the project and how many people are involved. Predovsky says her company’s range is roughly US$300 to $500 per day. For a six-week shoot, that could mean a $20,000 hit to a filmmaker’s budget, but in Predovsky’s opinion it’s a wise investment. ‘[Clients] make only one phone call. They call us and we handle it all from our side.’
Filmmaker Gabrielle Pfeiffer, who has shot in Russia once before and plans to return in February, agrees with Predovsky. ‘It’s impossible to shoot in Russia without [a facilitator]. The only reason I would ever advise someone to try to go without one is if you’re shooting in DV by yourself and you look like a tourist.’ Pfeiffer (whose prodco Epix is based in New York, though she has spent the past year in Berlin) is working on The Commissar Vanishes, a one-hour doc about the falsification of photos during Stalin’s time. She expects to spend about $13,000 of her $250,000 budget on a facilitator.
Predovksy says PredWorld will help with all kinds of projects – whether kids, drama or non-fiction. The first doc program the company worked on was ‘Steppes’, a one-hour episode of the series Landscapes of the Earth, produced by Munich-based Tele-time for Bavarian Television in 2000. The director wanted to film the steppes region of Kazakhstan, so PredWorld arranged for the excursion. Says Predovsky, ‘We had worked in Kazakhstan before, so we already had a sense of the country. It operates much like Russia, being one of the former members of the Soviet Union.’ Tele-time hired PredWorld again last year, to help organize a shoot of the tundra and Nenet people in Siberia, for Landscapes of the Earth. Predovsky is confident other companies will tap into PredWorld’s services too. ‘Russia’s a big place, but there aren’t many companies like ours that offer a Western mentality.’