Arriving on Blu-ray August 2 is 'Exporting Raymond,' the hilarious festival-winning documentary from 'Everybody Loves Raymond' creator Phil Rosenthal. Written and directed by Rosenthal, 'Exporting Raymond' chronicles his experiences traveling to Russia to help adapt 'Everybody Loves Raymond' for Russian television. Along the way, 'Raymond's humor, heart and genuine “slice of home life” are completely lost in translation. 'Exporting Raymond' perfectly exemplifies situational humor.
The true experiences documented in 'Exporting Raymond' are better than anything that could have been scripted. Just as 'Everybody Loves Raymond' based itself in the real-life happenstances in the home, 'Exporting Raymond' basks in the comedy that arises from the real-life social and cultural differences of America and Russia.
Being a fan of High-Def Digest, Rosenthal took a few minutes of his life to talk to HDD's Luke Hickman about his new film, comedy, his patriotic labor of love, his disdain for 3D, and the brand new state-of-the-art theater that he just installed in his home.
Phil Rosenthal: Luke! How are you?
Luke Hickman - HDD: I'm good, Phil.
Phil Rosenthal: I'm a big fan of High Def Digest – I read it all the time.
HDD: I'm glad you've been checking us out. I hear you're quite the high-tech person when it comes to your own home theater.
Phil Rosenthal: I love Blu-ray, I love the HD extra stuff. I love all that.
HDD: If you don't mind, we'll just jump right into this with 'Exporting Raymond.'
Phil Rosenthal: Of course.
HDD: I've got to ask – what did you expect before going over to Russia?
Phil Rosenthal: I was kinda flattered that they would ask me to come. I didn't know what to expect. I was just honored that they would welcome me there to turn the show into a Russian thing because I felt really lucky that I had any success at all – that we even got on the air here and that we had any success beyond getting on the air. When they called I was flattered and honored and I was all excited – until I heard that I needed to get Kidnapped and Ransom Insurance.
HDD: Was this the studio's decision to take the show to Russia, or was it Russia who wanted the show?
Phil Rosenthal: Here's how it happened: The head of Sony called me into his office a few years ago and told me that the Russians have never had a sitcom on television. It didn't exist until Sony brought 'The Nanny' over there and translated it into Russian. It became a big hit. But working with them became so strange, so (he asked) how would I like to go over there and observe how they work with the Russians – what it's like over there – and the come back to America and write a fictional feature film about the creator of a film who goes to Russia to have his show translated. So I said, “If the situation really exists, why not bring a camera crew over there and film what would really happen?” He said, “I love that idea. How about you make that movie about you going over there trying to do your show? And that's how it came to be.
HDD: And it's brilliant! I had wondered when the inspiration to bring a camera crew came along.
Phil Rosenthal: Yes! That's because you're watching wondering, 'When did they turn the cameras on and how did they know?' Every single moment in the movie is genuine. Nothing was staged, everything is real.
HDD: And because of that, it's absolutely intriguing. As I was watching the film, my wife was working in the other room and kept poking in, asking, 'What are you watching and why are you laughing so much?' And she was drawn into it. She had to finish it out with me.
Phil Rosenthal: Now that's great.
HDD: So did you end up having any dangerous encounters over there?
Phil Rosenthal: All I'm hearing is that “you'd better have security” and “you'd better have this and that,” and then there's a couple of time where (my bodyguard) just leaves me. And the camera crew wasn't going to help me. They don't know what's going on either.
HDD: Like it's said in the movie, you have a very expressive face – so many times I can tell exactly what you're thinking – and you looked terrified.
Phil Rosenthal: Well, I guess that's good. I guess it's good for movies, but it's not good for life. (laughs).You know, I can't lie to wife. I can't tell the kids a fable. I can't play poker.
HDD: Knowing how frustrated you were – because it's purely visible on your face – 'Everybody Loves Raymond' is your child, right -
Phil Rosenthal: Yes! You wouldn't go to Russia and drop your kids off and leave, right? So you gotta make sure there's a nurse there or somebody to take care of them. I just wanted to make sure the show was in good hands. And I didn't need them to do it the exact same way we did it here, I had one simple rule which we tried to follow here: Could this happen? Could this possibly happen in real life? And that – I guess – was asking too much over there.
HDD: One of my favorite things about the film is that the whole time it seems like they are not getting your sense of humor. But when you show an average Russian family meeting your parents on Skype, with that exact same humor right in front of their faces, they are all laughing at it.
Phil Rosenthal: But those people, of course, weren't in the business. That was a real, regular family that I had been asking for from the beginning. “I want to see a real family! You can talk to me all you want about how Russian men are macho and how they run the house – but let me see a real family.” And, of course, I get there and the Russian family is almost exactly the same as ours – with the one exception that the grandparents really can use the computer.
HDD: This was a labor of love for you, right?
Phil Rosenthal: Of course.
HDD: How hard was it? Honestly, you look frustrated, but how hard was it being there and watching them make it this poppy -
Phil Rosenthal: It was hard because you know it's not right for the show. And it's not that they have to do it the American way, I just wanted it to be relatable to their audience. I know that the way to make it relateable is to make it believable. Where they are coming from – Russia – they're saying, “Real life is terrible. Why would we put that on television?” So they try to heighten everything, to exaggerate it – and that's why they like shows like 'The Nanny' and 'Married with Children.' Those are heightened and exaggerated. Here I come with my little show about Here's What Happens In My Kitchen and they're not so excited. But guess what – they weren't so excited to hear about it here in America! Nobody said, “Oh, my God – a show about a guy who lives across the street from his parents! We have to put that on television!”
HDD: Do you still have any connection back in Russia?
Phil Rosenthal: I do! A very good friend of mine named Jeremy Stevens is living over there overseeing the production of the show for Sony. He was one of the writers on 'Raymond' for many years – all of the years, actually. He lives over there and he loves it, they love him. I'm very happy.
HDD: I wanted to ask you a quick question to indulge myself, if you'll bear with me.
Phil Rosenthal: Sure.
HDD: I noticed that you are an accredited writer for 'America: A Tribute to the Heroes.'
Phil Rosenthal: That's true.
HDD: Could you briefly tell me how that came about? That show aired 10 days after the September 11 tragedy and it was so well produced. I know that there was restricted flight for a lot of that time. I want to know how that came about. I was such a big fan of it. That was such a shocking time for everyone it helped bring the unity back into the nation that felt right afterward.
Phil Rosenthal: I'm going to give credit to one man, and that is George Clooney. He put the whole thing together. He was able to get all of the stars to come together. The day of production you would have been in awe of him. He was running around like a production assistant. You could hardly tell that this was one of the biggest movie stars of the world. All he did was try to do it on a technical level – to get it all cooking, to get it all working. He is truly a hero because he deeply cares. People think, 'Oh, these phony Hollywood liberals.' There is nothing phony about this guy. He really puts his money where his mouth is. He really cares and he really tries to use his celebrity in the best possible way, to get thing accomplished.
HDD: And then he did it again – what, about a year ago?
Phil Rosenthal: Yes. There's a few of us now that only see each other for one of these telethons and we call ourselves the “Tragedians.” But we are happy to help. It's an honor to help. I'm certainly not a soldier – this is the one little way that I can contribute what I can.
HDD: And it's great. I love that these are put together and it's interesting because I knew that Clooney had a lot to do with the Haiti one, but didn't know that he also did 'A Tribute to the Heroes.'
Phil Rosenthal: Yep. That was all him.
HDD: Can you tell me a little bit about your home theater? I hear it took months to build.
Phil Rosenthal: We actually dug down below the foundation so that we could have stadium seating in the living room. There are three rows of armchairs and sofas. We have Bob Hodas' speakers up front – the same speakers he designed for Abbey Road. We have a 13-and-a-half-foot by ten-foot screen that descends from the ceiling after the blackout shades come down. We have a Christie projector. We have state-of-the-art equipment. It's really nice.
HDD: You really have a true movie theater down there, don't you?
Phil Rosenthal: It's the perfect little screening room. We have wonderful movie nights most Sundays where we invite people connected with the movies we show – most of the time on Blu-ray because it just looks so fantastic. We have these incredible – I guess you'd call them “seminars” - about the film. It's very casual. It seats about 20 people, but it's something I've been doing since high school when HBO first came out and I just had a small television. Every Saturday night a new movie would premiere and we would order pizza from the local pizza place. We'd sit and watch an uncut and uncensored movie – which was novel at the time in the mid '70s. After I went to college and graduated, here come these VCRs and now you can pick the movie you want and play it when you want. And it went on from there. Now we've reached the level where I'd rather see a movie here than anywhere else.
HDD: Did you go 3D with your home theater or are you not a fan of 3D?
Phil Rosenthal: No. Not a fan. I don't think any movie has ever been made better by 3D – with the possible exception of nature films. I believe it's a distraction to the story and that it does not serve the story.
HDD: I'm with you on that one, but I know we're a rare breed in the High-Def world.
Phil Rosenthal: I don't think so. With very few exceptions, I don't think it's working with the public either.
HDD: And now we're starting to see that with the decreasing 3D numbers.
Phil Rosenthal: Yep. If they concentrated more on storytelling and less on all the other extra bullshit – somebody said, “It's very hard to get a movie made nowadays if you're not selling a toy.” Think about it. That's what seems to open every week – it's something that has to do more with merchandise than a good movie.
HDD: Is there anything in specific that you love to show your theater off with?
Phil Rosenthal: We always start the evening with some music clip.
HDD: Can I ask you for a few examples?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah. 'The Last Waltz' is always great to use. Bruce Springsteen is a personal favorite of mine. If my daughter is here – she's 14 – we'll play some Beyonce. If there's been an especially great guest on 'SNL,' then I'll throw it up in High Def there and show the clip. You know, it's a wonderful thing to have in your house and every time a Stevie Wonder Blu-ray comes out, my God, it's just like having him in the house.
HDD: Do you have a favorite Blu-ray?
Phil Rosenthal: I'll tell you what we've been using for a demo for quite a while. It's the first chase scene in 'Casino Royale.'
HDD: That's a very good one.
Phil Rosenthal: It's tremendous! It looks tremendous and the sound is absolutely phenomenal.
HDD: I'm with you on that one. It goes back to my love for real stunts and less special effects.
Phil Rosenthal: You got it! You got it! These are real stuntmen doing parkour and that's why ('Casino Royale') was so great. They could tell that this was not some CGI bologna. What do you like? What else is a good demo?
HDD: In The Bonus View, we recently did our Editor's Choice of demo discs and mine was 'Star Trek.'
Phil Rosenthal: Great! That's one of those discs that I got and – I thought the movie was okay - it never inspired me to watch it again. But if you're telling me that I should demo that first scene, I will.
HDD: There's so much detail in that first scene, every little speck of wreckage flying through space. It's a great one to show to someone who has never seen true High Def before.
Phil Rosenthal: There's no comparison. That's why I was so happy that we actually made a Blu-ray of my little movie – just because it's going to look great. Hardly any people go to see a little documentary in a movie theater. It lives its life forever on these discs, so why not make them look as good as you possibly can?
HDD: I'm still surprised to see some new titles not make it out on Blu-ray.
Phil Rosenthal: That's because a lot of people don't care – or they don't know – how much better it is. Sony told me that it's because I cared that they upped the bitrate (of 'Exporting Raymond') a bit.
HDD: Phil, thank you for taking time out of your Monday evening to talk with me. I really appreciate it.
Phil Rosenthal: I appreciate you guys, so thank you.
HDD: I really enjoyed (watching you hand your baby off to Russia).
Phil Rosenthal: It is now being done in Poland – I'm not going, by the way – but India is going to do it. Israel, Egypt, The Netherlands is going to do it. They want it in England. Sony is telling me that ('Everybody Loves Raymond') may end up being the most produced show in the world.
HDD: That's quite the compliment to you.
Phil Rosenthal: I don't know if that's the compliment to me or they've just run out of ideas.
HDD: I'll give you the credit for that one.