“He’s wearing like 15 hats,” Frederickson said of Zhmutski. “He’s the (co-) producer, he’s the assistant director, he’s the translator, he’s an actor, he’s rewriting the script in English, because it was all written in Russian and the translation is weird ...”
And clear translation is essential here, since the director and nearly half of the cast and crew speak little or no English. So Zhmutski — also known as “Peter Z.” — is an important man on this shoot.
“I consider Oklahoma my home now,” Zhmutski said. “I’m from Russia and I lived in L.A. and Florida and everywhere else, but my wife and I came here to raise a family and make movies because it’s cheap, No. 1. No. 2, we have best producer here in Oklahoma, Gray Frederickson, who I love working with, and it’s just so filmmaker friendly. People love to make movies in their backyard and their houses and so it’s very different from Los Angeles.”
Whether Oklahoma will pass for his native country remains to be seen.
“I’ve looked at photos of Moscow, and the photos of our locations, and they’re interchangeable,” Frederickson said. “You can’t tell the difference. And I said, ‘Well, what about the cars?’ And (Uglichin) said, ‘Ah, same cars as we have.’ The world is getting smaller and everything is looking more and more alike. They’ve got KFC and McDonald’s and Burger Kings in Russia.”
B2FX, the company which creates the creature effects for the NBC series “Grimm,” will be making the rat faces look real enough, and Frederickson said friends of his with the Syfy Channel are reviewing “Higher Mission” for possible U.S. exhibition.
The finished product, he said, will end up costing a very reasonable $3 million, a production cost that would be hard to beat elsewhere. And that’s without using the 35 percent Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program administered by the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.
“They gave that all away on “August: Osage County,” Frederickson said, referring to the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which was filmed in Bartlesville last fall.
“There’s none available right now, and (Uglichin) doesn’t really seem to care about that. He was going to go to Louisiana because they had a rebate. He wanted me to go to Louisiana, and I said, ‘I think you can do it cheaper here without the rebate than you can in Louisiana with the rebate, because Louisiana has become a very sort of sophisticated movie center, and all the unions are there, and they’re going to climb all over it, and I think it’s going to end up costing you more.’”
As production was ending last week, the director seemed happy enough. And so did the star.
“Well, you know, I’ve been wanting to work with a producer of this caliber for a long time, so I feel really honored to be working with Gray,” Van Dien said.
“He’s amazing and Oklahoma should be proud. His films are the reason I was inspired to even be in this industry, so I’m lucky. This is my first 3-D film. And I have a wonderful, lovely co-star (Victoria Summer) who’s just amazing, and just the greatest crew, and the people on here have been lovely and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m waiting to do a 3-D western with Gray.”
As for the “Higher Mission” plotline, Van Dien grinned and said, “Politicians as rats? Who’d think that?”