With the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in full swing, there’s almost too much going on. Between the dozens of screenings, panels and award presentations, it seems that many great films could easily be lost in the shuffle. One film that definitely doesn’t deserve this fate is “Exporting Raymond,” a laugh-out-loud documentary following Philip Rosenthal’s attempts to help adapt his successful American sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond” (of which he was the creator and executive producer), to Russian television.
Reflecting on the origins of the project (he serves as director, writer and star), Rosenthal says the idea came from Sony.
“The head of Sony called me into his office and said that Sony had created the sitcom business in Russia. … They never had sitcoms before [the Russian adaptation of] ‘The Nanny.’ He said it was so crazy over there, how would you like to go over there, observe how we do it and come back and write a feature film about a showrunner that goes over there to have his show translated? So I said, ‘Look, if the situation really existed, why not bring a camera crew over and film what happens?’ Then he said, ‘I love the idea, would you be the guy?’ And, like an idiot, I said yes.”
Going over, Rosenthal claimed he had no idea what was in store for him. “I didn’t know what I was going to get. … I had no idea if it would be that funny.”
Upon landing in Russia, Rosenthal encountered many obstacles transferring the essence of “Everybody Loves Raymond” into Russian culture (everything from an opinionated costume designer with little understanding of the term “casual dress,” to an entire writing staff that did not understand the natural humor of the original show).
Despite his frustration with the process, Rosenthal is quick to acknowledge a lot of these irritating obstacles are universal.
“Even though I had frustration there, I tried to make the point that it’s just as frustrating here. I mean the same network executives treat me just as badly here. People are pretty much the same,” Rosenthal said.
When asked about his process in making the documentary, Rosenthal explained he acted as a director at the beginning and the end of the project but focused less on directing during filming.
“I thought it would be more real and natural if we had two cameras. That was my directing and then I left it alone. … I wasn’t directing again until I was in the editing room.”
Rosenthal documented his reactions to what was going on around him through e-mails to his family.
“What I would do, and this took a little discipline, was after every day of hell over there, I would write an e-mail to my friends and family back home, saying what happened. … Right away, I was getting a reaction — ‘Ha ha, keep writing to us, it’s so hilarious how you are suffering.’ And wouldn’t you know, these e-mails… became the framework for the film.”
At the end of the documentary, Rosenthal mentioned that Poland began developing an adaptation of “Everybody Loves Raymond” following the success of its Russian counterpart.
“They’re doing it in Poland,” Rosenthal said. “And I’m not going,” he quickly added. It seems that one painful experience was enough for Phil Rosenthal.
In the months passed since the completion of the film, he revealed that he received more offers from around the globe.
“Now I’m not kidding,” he began, “here’s where they asked me to go last week: Cairo.” He then added Chile and the Netherlands to the list of countries trying to adapt the sitcom.
“They just kind of start falling like dominos. Once they hear of the success in another country, they want it.”
“Exporting Raymond” screened Friday, Saturday and Monday to enthusiastic audiences at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film is awaiting a limited theatrical release.