Phil Rosenthal is the creative mind behind one of America’s most popular shows “Everyone Love Raymond”. He recently took a journey to Russia to help bring the hit show over into Russia. During that process he made the very funny documentary “Exporting Raymond”, which hits DVD August 2nd. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Phil about his struggle through turning his hit show in the US into a hit show in Russia.
Mike Gencarelli: Can you tell us how you were approached to bring “Everyone Loves Raymond” into Russia?
Phil Rosenthal: The head of Sony called me into his office a few years ago and he told me that Sony invented the sitcom in Russia, as they didn’t have them prior to Sony bringing them there. He also went on to tell told that this new form was very strange to the people over there. I was then asked if I would go over there and just observe how we worked with the people on getting sitcoms going. The next part of the task was to come back to the states and write a fictional script about a creator of a show who goes to Russia to have his show translated. I told them that could be good but if this situation really exists then why not take a camera crew and film what’s really happening. They loved the idea and asked if I would go and do a film about bringing “Everybody Loves Raymond” to Russia. I was really excited because this project combined everything that I loved.
MG: What do you think was your biggest struggle in bringing the show into Russia?
PR: I was told that this was a big deal that I would be going over there and that it was a real honor to have the creator of a show come over, as I was the first. It was an honor for me as there was another country that wanted my little show and they are our countries former enemy. I was very excited and told how welcomed I would be. When I finally got there it turned out that I was sort of lied to and was not as welcomed as you would think. Combined with a kidnap and ransom scare,which was real I was a little nervous. However I was more nervous about what they would do to my show. I just wasn’t sure if they were getting the simple premise of the show, which was to keep it real. Our one rule in the writer’s room was to always ask if something could really happen. I didn’t know if they truly got the premise or if they even wanted to understand it.
MG: Was it difficult for you to make the film as well as make the sitcom at the same time?
PR: What I did to make sure things wouldn’t be insane was before I started the project. So, I made a big decision to bring two cameras. Most documentaries and movies are made with one. I brought two so that I would have coverage and not have to think about it. I knew before going over that the movie was going to be about our reactions to one another. If I brought a camera for each side I figured we would get everything and I would have to worry about directing. I could just go and do my job. In that regard nothing was faked in the movie. I just didn’t think about the filming at all until I got into editing when I had to put a coherent story together. I had about 200 hrs. of film to go through and chop it down to 86 minutes. When you are editing you save all the funny stuff as well as the fascinating stuff which bring people to the film and then you back through and take out all the stuff that doesn’t intersect with the story. On the DVD there is extra footage that is funny but didn’t necessarily fit into the story. I really just forgot the camera was there most of the time except when something so outrageous would happen.
MG: Did you ever think that you would be put in this type of situation with the show?
PR: I wasn’t even sure the show was going to be picked up for a pilot! When you write you’re often by yourself and you have no idea if someone over at CBS is going to like it and cast for it let alone give you money to film it. They don’t like to part with money very often. (Laughs) To become popular and have another country want to do the show and now it looks like from what Sony has told me the show is going to be the most produced show in the world! At the end of the film it tells the show will be produced in Poland. Before you ask, no I am not going! I now understand the whole European culture and they can send somebody else. (Laughs)
MG: What other projects are you working on?
PR: I don’t you if you have heard or not but business is terrible. (Laughs) Because of that I have to diversify so I am working on many different things. I have a couple screenplays out there that I hope to get funding for and to direct. I am going to be in a film. Someone saw me in this film and asked me to play a Rabi. It’s the film version of the long running off Broadway play “Jewtopia”. I don’t know if the film will take that name but Jennifer Love Hewitt plays my daughter and Wendie Malick is my wife.