Filmmaking in Mongolia

God bless Bolor, the Mongolian-English online dictionary. Yesterday, they were offline. With only about 5% of a film team speaking any other language than Mongol, this great little Youtube video on Mongolian conversation “Excuse me, could you speak a little slower please” does not help you really to get very far. But first things first:

About ten days ago, I got a phone call from a strange overseas number. When you’re a DP, you always pick up, it might be work. It turned out to be an old film school buddy of mine, who went back to Mongolia after finishing his studies. He worked as the head of a Mongolian TV station, found himself a wife, learned French and worked on his debut feature we all wanna make some day soon.

Thinking about  the herds of European film makers that are shooting in the Mongolian steps documentaries of all kinds, a friend of mine promised me to award me the “I was in Mongolia” order of honor of the German film industry. Only this was an Mongolian production I got a call for. No German cinemas but Mongolian actors. No light stands but safety chains of the type “Chain yes, safety no”. It promised to be fun.

Enabled by easy access to affordable means of cinematic story telling like DSLR cameras, Mongolia like many up and coming countries developed a great regional film industry over the last years. We’ve been told there’s an average of about 50 local film productions each year. Given the 3 million citizens in this country, which is mainly famous for being the least dense populated state on the planet, this is a remarkable figure. Most stories are told on a shoestring budget, we’re at least shooting on the Red having about a week in Shanghai attached to the film as well as prime locations and a dedicated producer, who’s a star in Mongolia.

You can feel all influences from Yasujiro Ozu to movies such as Il conformista or Biutiful to modern Asian action cinema. You can feel the need to attract and please a large crowd in cinema as well as the urge to be individual, measure up to own quality standards and be authentic, true and intense. – I guess it’s the challenges, events, procedures and wishes all debut filmmakers go through. One of the main procedures being waiting.

Plus we got amazing stuff like trying to explain the form and function of a dowel pin, anchor bolt or rawlplug to a clearly hard trying art department, with not one member of the entire department speaking enough English or Russian or anything else apart from Mongol. With the online translator servers down right this morning,  and with drawings not being of any avail. Finally the really willing ladies from art took out their iPhones and took pictures from Wikipedia, to show the vendors on the market what’s needed. And it’s not that Mongolia does not know or use these type of technologies. – Ulaanbaatar is full of construction sites and I’m almost certain plenty of pins and bolts are used.

Arriving at location, the rawlplugs have been purchased, are proudly presented in large assortments in a plastic bag, the picture is still standing in a corner, mt amazing key-gaffer Hanna Mayser, sent from heaven, takes out her leatherman and fixes things in what seemed to be less than 4 minutes.
We’re approaching midnight, the set is lit, the main actor is ready, the real baby needed in shot is not so happy to be put on location at this time of the day, but we roll, slate, shoot and things are good.

Read on about our Mongolian adventure in Comeback, Jack and After Hours in Mongolia.


9 thoughts on “Filmmaking in Mongolia

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