Is it true that Everybody Loves Raymond?
Well, not exactly as we do in America. That’s what television director Phil Rosenthal finds out when he’s asked to convert his hit sitcom — which is partially based on his life and parents — into a Russian series. These often hilarious doc is a lesson in patience, perseverance, and production pain, and offers a blend of overseas travelogue and 21st century cultural immersion to keep things lively.
Rosenthal, who comes to Santa Barbara today to screen his documentary, recently answered a few of The Independent‘s questions via email.
Anyone who loves the intersection of cultures, which should be everybody who has a sense of humor in my opinion, will love this film. Did you realize that this would make a good documentary from the start?
The president of Sony told me that the sitcom did not exist in russia until Sony adapted The Nanny over there a few years ago. He suggested I go, observe how it’s done, then come back and write a FICTIONAL feature film about a show-runner who has his sitcom translated over there. I told him I loved the idea, but if the situation and people really exist in Russia, why not go over and film what really happens? And he said, “I love that. Would you be the guy? Go over and help them adapt Everybody Loves Raymond. So, like an idiot, I said yes.
Did you just start filming and cross your fingers, or were you certain that there would be a final product at the end of the process?
I had no idea what would happen. I guess sometimes you get lucky. The cameras were rolling and everything in the movie is exactly as it was.
Did you expect that the senses of humor between Russia and the United States would be so distinct?
Again, no idea. I was really just hoping I wouldn’t be kidnapped.
Was the bureacracy worse than you imagined?
A lot was worse than I imagined, but the food was surprisingly better than I imagined.
How much do you think that the Russian screenwriters were over-thinking the everyday Russian mindset?
No more than here.
What was more surprising to you: the politics of hiring actors in Russia or the browbeating over the scripts?
Any new situation is surprising. What was most surprising to me is how much vodka I can handle.
Here’s a kinda-joke question: Did you ever fear for your life?
Yes. But that’s a daily occurrence here too. Have you met my wife?
Did you ever find out what was really ailing the Russian driver?
It’s a Russian mystery. But I’m very fond of him.
Phil Rosenthal’s Exporting Raymond screens Friday, January 28, 10:10 p.m. and Saturday, January 29, 1:20 p.m. at the Metro 4 and on Monday, January 31, 11 a.m., at the Lobero Theatre. The schedule is subject to change, so see independent.com/sbiff for updates.