Sunday, November 18, 2012

Up and away: Mongolia’s first sitcom and its origins

Published November 19th in the UB Post 

Mongolia’s first sitcom is coming faster than winter. The sitcom, Batbileg’s Family, will be a single camera styled television show based heavily on tried and true sitcom format America has been broadcasting since the 1950s. It will be an interesting mix of movie cinematography and mockumentary styled interviews. In last week’s installment, I spoke of the finer details involved with creating the sitcom (i.e. chicken suits) and promised to keep everyone updated regarding the sitcom’s progress. This installment will do just that, as well as dig deeper into how the sitcom came about.
Oliver Claycamp, the sitcom’s head writer, originally developed the idea earlier this year. Growing tired of Mongolian television and its lack of comedy, as well as it import of Korean shows and bad overdubbing of western shows, Oliver proposed a question: Why doesn’t Mongolia have its own sitcom? Mongolians watch plenty of television and are highly influenced by Western programming, from music to cinema. So, why not write the first Mongolian sitcom? Why not create a wholesome family show and film it in a style that has rarely been seen on television here?
Oliver first proposed to me the idea of the sitcom through a series of text messages. By this point in our friendship, we’d proposed so many strange writing ideas to each other I was sure he was playing a joke on me. Regardless, I readily agreed for two reasons. One, I have a problem saying no to people especially involving creative endeavors. No sense in missing an opportunity to try something new. Two, I was intrigued. Was it possible? Could two American writers pull it off? Who would produce it? Could we find an American to act in it? When would we actually start filming it?
The answers came over the following months. Yes, it was possible. Yes, two Americans could pull it off with the help of a clever Mongolian woman, Zola, Oliver’s wife, our translator and go-to-guru for culturally relevant jokes.  Mongol Grand Media, a new production company setting a new standard for Mongolian media productions would produce it. Strangely, I would end up acting in it playing the American character, Rick, which wasn’t the original plan but since feels like it has been the whole time. And for the final answer, December will be the month it starts filming.
This week MGM studios have seen many things: from countless sponsor meetings to heated discussions regarding a three minute episode to better advertise the show. Originally, Joon Wook Kim, our Korean director, wanted something Simpsonsesque, an opener involving an extended action shot that details the shows youngest character, a 10 year old boy named Batta, moving through the family’s home and weaving in and out of everyone’s business. Oliver wanted to film an actual scene from the show, to show the interview style as well as the settings and theme. After a long discussion involving Oliver, myself, the executives producers, Joon Wook Kim, and phone calls to Dan Peters, our lead cameraman/go to guy for anything and everything technical in the show, a decision was reached: the three minute episode would be a quick storyline in which the family is attempting to take a portrait at a local photo studio. The shoot is planned for the following weekend.
Saturday also saw the first official video shoot for the sitcom. In the scene, Rick, the American character in the show, sits in an abandoned playground as the snow falls round him. He comments on the coldness of the weather and how he is feeling lonely. His phone rings and he suddenly grows excited that someone is calling him. He takes the call only to tell the person on the phone that he is busy and that he can’t be bothered. The short can be found via Youtube: Lonely Rick.
On Sunday we shot our first commercial featuring members of the sitcom. The commercial, for the Niislel gym near Zaisan, features a long shot of the gym, the people working out there, and a quick cameo by Rick who’s running on a treadmill when he becomes distracted by the pretty girl running next to him. The commercial also features Mongolian top model Temka, pumping iron and looking fierce.
Progress can come in different spurts. It can be fast, nearly blinding, and seem to appear out of nowhere and it can be slow, molasses slow, with no end in sight. Batbileg’s Family falls into the former category. Since first hooking up with MGM in September, the show has barreled towards it filming date. With the official filming date taking place this next week, the cast nearly solidified, and all the pieces falling into place, it’s starting to feel as real as the first mockumentary of a fictional Mongolian family can possibly feel. Excitement is in the air, and history is soon to be made. 

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