Mongolian Bling is complete!!!
I first heard Mongolian hip hop in 2004 whilst working on the Trans-Siberian railway. It caught me off guard and my first thoughts were that it’d make a great episode of the Ali G Show, possibly titled ‘Ali G’s clubbing guide to Mongolia’ or ‘In da Ger’.
Two years later Mongolian hip hop was still stuck in my head when I discovered filmmaking at a course run by the inspirational team of Nubar Ghazarian and Davide Michielin. It was here that I met a bunch of great people including Nacho Penche Perez and Bojun Bjorkman-Chiswell both of who would later become involved with the bling. I had done the short film course cause I wanted to create an 8-part series about an adventure in Asia. After discovering how much work was involved with making a 5-minute doco, I decided to start somewhere smaller. Naively, and some would say foolishly, I figured Mongolian Bling was a good place to start.
Fiona Whittaker (story development, production manager) soon came on board and unable to land funding from ABC’s JDocs or research anything from Australia or online, I went back in late 2006 with Fiona and Nacho (cinematographer) and we spent three freezing months discovering the local hip hop scene. Suddenly immersed in a story of youth, traditions, music and culture, it became apparent that the story of Mongolian hip hop was more than a 5-minute novelty story. After three months we returned to Australia and I set about editing the film.
Over two years and three countries I attempted to pull the story together with help from Bojun (story consultant and development) until I realised I needed less talking heads and more action. In early 2009 I called up the hugely passionate, creative and slightly mad Nubar Ghazarian who agreed to be my producer and we set about making the film.
Despite missing out on funding from the ABC again, Nacho and I went back to Mongolia with Steve Bond (sound recordist) for two months of shooting at the end of the year – again in a minus 30˚ winter. With a much better idea of the story, we spent our time with rappers Gennie, Gee and Quiza, as well was a traditional musician and eccentric Shaman.
Within the first few hours of filming her, we’d fallen in love with Gennie. Her passion and energy was infectious and she loved being involved with the project and hanging out with us. She was always up to something and inviting us along to capture it.
Quiza was also great to work with and luckily one of the more prolific artists in the country. We were able to film him live three times which is pretty much unheard of in Mongolia, especially in winter. The live music scene is ok, but there’s hardly any hip hop. Quiza had a young family who were incredibly accommodating of us. He also fed us pizza for breakfast one morning on an early shoot.
Gee on the other hand played hard to get. He has his image pretty well defined and, well, we’re not the most gangsta of crews, so he had to play it cool when we were about. But word got back to us that he was excited about us filming him and he slowly let us into his life, revealing a real passion and maturity under his tough exterior.
To juxtapose these young westernised rappers, we spoke to Bayarmagnai and Zorigtbaatar.
Bayarmagnai is a cheeky traditional musician. In his basic home, we met him numerous times as he told us of hip hop’s true roots, a grin always on his face. He eagerly played traditional instruments and sang songs that had been passed down thru generations to him. His stories always fascinated us.
Zorigtbaatar was a wild shaman. After interviewing him we returned for a ceremony (we had to bring a bottle of vodka) and saw him in full flight. What I loved most about both Zorigtbaatar and Bayarmagnai was that even though they feared the loss of their traditions, they were 100% accepting of the country’s young rappers and musicians who were taking on foreign music.
On top of the main characters, we hung out with Gennie’s producer – hip hop godfather Enkhtaivan, a socialist music checker who couldn’t stop a revolutionary song, young rappers from the Ger District, a passionate music teacher, a family doing it rough on the city’s dump, traditional musicians, Gennie’s grandma, herders, breakdancers, graffiti artists and Black Rose – Mongolia’s first rappers who blended rap and techno in the early 90’s.
While most of our experiences were great, we did have some testing moments. We had to battle temperatures between minus 10˚C and minus 30˚C, testing not only our equipment but also our fingers, toes and noses. Steven foolishly hooked his recorder up to a motorbike battery the wrong way and blew it up, then had a nerve racking few hours sitting in a café while a Soviet trained engineer who had never seen his machine before fixed it across the road with parts express shipped from Japan. Steve also had to deal with a mutton loving nation, and his vegetarian diet was often limited to ‘rice with meat picked out’. I on the other hand ate too much mutton and got gout. We constantly had to postpone catching up with people for interviews as everyone was on ‘Mongolian time’ and one time we got stuck in a taxi in peak our and it took us an hour to go 6km. But we made it back to our bad, The Clinic, and for three guys living in two rooms in a soviet apartment for two months, we did pretty good.
Then we came back to an Australian summer.
Not only did we return with some great footage, but we also managed to get some development money from FilmVic with guidance from Steve Warne which helped out with our shoot and gave us an awesome website thanks to Luke Guiliani and Will Dayble at Squareweave.
Early 2010 and a few more people had joined us; Tom Hederics (graphic designer), Mikey Leung (online marketing), Field Carr (animator), Amgalan Sukhbaatar (drawings and graphics) and Ned Beckley (composer) all came onboard and amped up the team.
Not just happy with joining Team Bling, Griff Burnell (sound mixer) travelled all the way to Mongolia to get a real taste for the project during the shoot, something that was invaluable when we got to mixing the film.
Back in Oz, Davide Michielin (editor consultant/story development and consultant) joined the team and Nacho and I got to editing the flim. We spent months at my parents working on the cut, with support from the whole team and my amazing family.
After showing them a rough cut of the feature, we finally landed funding from the ABC’s JDocs to create a TV hour version of the film. The funding is a joint initiative between Screen Australia and the ABC. Amanda Duthie at the ABC loved the project, but it was Claire Jager who spent hours working with us to develop the story, providing some great insights and getting us out of some jams that we were in. To have her come on board full of passion was amazing. Another person who came on board was Liz Burke as consultant producer.
When we landed the funding, Davide took over as editor and we spent the second half of 2010 working on a 57-minute version. It was a great couple of months as the project evolved and the story took shape.
Mid 2010, I also got back to Mongolia to screen the rough of the feature at a conference about the countries identity. The film was well received and I was able to get some more footage for the film. Gennie was preparing for a trip to France to perform at a festival called Hos Ayas that my friends Machu and Phanette were organising. It was the first time that Gennie had performed overseas and when she headed there in August of 2011, Nacho was able to make his way from Spain to France and film her.
Back in Oz, Davide and I incorporated the footage that Nacho shot and completed the vision. The film was then mixed by Adam Rhodes at Sing Sing Studios with great support from Kaj and Judy Dahlstrom, the owners of the studio and assistance from Griff.
With the TV Hour version in the bag, we drank some Chinggis and I got back to editing the feature with help from Davide and Nubar.
Towards the end of the edit, I was invited to present at TedX Ulaanbaatar. I headed back to UB in August and it was great to be back there and not have to stress about running around and filming.
Back in Oz the edit was completed and Field created some great animations from drawings that Amgalan had done, Ned wrote and performed an evocative soundtrack, Davide graded the film and Griff worked his magic with the sound, once again returning to Sing Sing Studios.
And now, we’re done!
By capturing images and sounds of traditional and urban Mongolia, I feel the film presents an insightful look at an ancient culture seeking their 21st Century identity.
There are two versions of the film. The TV HOUR will be screening on ABC TV later this year and the FEATURE will be screening at festivals and will eventually be available on DVD.
Now it’s a case of getting the film out there. Tom is working on posters and branding and we’re about to get start working on a new website with Luke and Will from Squareweave. Mikey, who has been creating all these newsletters, is going to ramp up the online marketing, and ABC Commercial love the project so much they’ve become our distributor and they’re about to take it to a massive documentary conference in Europe – it’s very exciting times here at Bling HQ.
We launched a fundraising campaign last year, and while we fell well short of our $50,000 goal on Kickstarter, we invited people to donate to us directly for the same rewards. Many people answered the call and they donated a magical $10,000, then we got an advance of $10,000 from our distributor and sold shares in the film worth $30,000 to two private investors. Before we knew it, we had reached our $50,000 goal.
This has enabled us to complete the film and pay some of the people who have put so much effort into the project. It also gives us some money to promote the film in the coming months and really ensure that we get it spread as far and wide as possible.
There are many others who have made Mongolian Bling possible – Oyeunbileg, Seggie and Yesukhei have been incredible fixers in Mongolia and have not only translated endless interviews and led us around Mongolia, but have constantly gone out of their way to help create the film. Seggie is now in Melbourne studying and it’s great to have her here as we complete the film.
After the interviews were done, Delgermaa, Ankhbayar, Purevdorj, Chimeg, Zulaa, Sender, Bolor and Heesco did incredible translation work, helping us understand not only the interviews, but also the Mongolian culture. Melbourne based Ace, Doko and Heesco have also spent hours checking the final subtitles after they were approved by Poppy Shmith and the amazingly talented and passionate Ash Anand.
Dan Joceyln, Carl Whetham, Quentin Moreau and Tracie Williams have taken photos along the way, capturing us and the artists we worked with and giving us a great record or the journey – book coming out soon!
Christy Harris designed the Mongolian Bling logo which has become a massive part of our branding and pretty much everyone in the world thinks it’s the best logo ever, and we never would have never gotten here without the incredible Associate Producers who all invested in the film and the people who answered our shout out on Kickstarter and gave money even after we missed our goal. Also, everyone else who contributed thru Kickstarter – we couldn’t have got there without you. Thanks.
A special thanks also must go out to Jana Favero who, while I was still dreaming up the project back in Oz some six years ago, was rocking up to hip hop concerts in UB to do research for me. She was the first snowflake in what became an avalanche of support by an incredible cast of people who have fallen in love with Mongolian Bling.
However, the biggest thanks must go to all the stars of the film for sharing their story and letting us into their world. These people have been incredible and have helped me to understand modern Mongolia.
This film is for them and the people of Mongolia, as well as for anyone who believed in us and loves stories that break stereotypes. If you turn your TV up loud enough, you may just break your sound system as well.
This is Mongolian Bling.
Turn it up.
Writer and Director of Mongolian Bling.