With today’s online media platforms, independent artists and filmmakers have the opportunity to showcase their work to audiences around the world. Newly released on iTunes, Wrestling Mongolia, a film about two friends who find themselves wrestling 100 Mongolians for their TV show, proves to be a fun, heartwarming, albeit unusual, family film. I was initially intrigued by the title of this film, as I had never seen a film about or set in Mongolia. Wrestling is considered one of the three most important “manly skills.” It is the most popular sport, and people all of the country participate.
The story follows the eccentric Will Green, who dreams of having his own TV show. He attempts to entertain audiences by filming himself doing crazy things, (such as pogo sticking across the Golden Gate bridge 10 times,) for his YouTube channel. After meeting a TV producer who encourages him to do a show about wrestling, he decides to head to Mongolia with his friend and cameraman, Simon, to wrestle 100 Mongolians and get it all on tape. The film features three main characters, Will (Tyler MacNiven, Season 9 Amazing Race winner) Simon (Omi Vaidya,) and Chuluun (Boum-Yalagch Olzod) their Mongolian guide. Will and Simon discover that their plan would not be as easy to accomplish as expected, and find their friendship gets the ultimate test.
Although having a small cast, the actors did a wonderful job bringing each scene to life. The relationship between Will and Simon proves not only comedic but also has a redeeming quality that keeps the audience rooting for both of them until the end. Newcomer and native Mongolian, Boum-Yalagch Olzod, portrays the perfect sensei- type figure to the lost boys. Olzod’s performance brings the movie and story together. Director Kenny Meehan did an extraordinary job of bringing the audience into the exotic land of Mongolia with the breathtaking visuals. I had a chance to speak with Kenny Meehan about the film, cast, and obstacles they faced while shooting in a foreign country.
KM: Thanks for the interview – I’m honored to be featured in AsAmNews! I’m an independent filmmaker who was born and raised in the Bay Area. I’ve been making movies since my grandma bought a video camera when I was about 8. Currently, I pay my bills and pay for my filmmaking by working at Apple developing their video editing software.
P: Where did the idea for Wrestling Mongolia come from? (It’s not every day you see a movie about wrestling in Mongolia)
KM: Tyler had this idea about a guy wrestling 100 Mongolians, which we thought was cool because from our POV in our 20’s, we thought it was cool that wrestling was Mongolia’s national sport and Mongolia had a magic unexplored and wild feeling… after about 20 cups of coffee and a bunch of brainstorming we shaped a narrative around those concepts.
P: What inspired you to make this idea into a film?
KM: Mostly, Tyler convinced me. Tyler had just won Season 9 of The Amazing Race and he wanted use some of his resources to make a film that would give back to the world and promote cross cultural interaction. I couldn’t say no.
P: What was it like to shoot a film in a foreign country?
KM: Shooting a film in a foreign country is very challenging. We arrived without all our necessary production gear and we’re pretty surprised to find we couldn’t purchase any additional items there. Simple production tools like C-stands, production lights, hiring production assistants, all proved to me more difficult than expected. It took us a few weeks just to get our bearings and learn the basics of the language, learn how to get around…let alone find English speaking actors, and finish writing the script. It was also very hard to have any real control while filming – cows would wander through our set, our car got stuck in rivers multiple times, multiple flat tires, or Tyler would get diarrhea from eating un-familiar foods… but somehow that didn’t stop him from acting. One time our van got stuck in the middle of a wide river and the water started to rise up into the cabin. We had to quickly move all our production gear up onto the seats and jump out into the river and try to push the car. I can clearly remember Tyler, Omi, myself, and a handful of local dudes, with feet practically frozen numb, pushing the car over rocks and sticks for over an hour. At the time we thought our toes might freeze off, but we eventually got the car on land again and made some friends with the guys who helped us out.
P: What were some of the obstacles of shooting in Mongolia?
KM: It was difficult to get to many of our locations as they were hundreds of miles away from the capital and some of them required going to places where there literally weren’t roads. We hired a guy with a knarly old Russian van and went off road for about 12 hours for 3 days in order to get to the Gobi Desert. At times the road we were following would dissolve under us and we would continue in that direction, driving over the uneven tundra until we saw a person, then ask them where the next road was, and head off that direction. Mongolian’s have extremely good sense of direction and we were able effectively travel like this. It was awesome.
P: How did you cast the Mongolian actors?
KM: We knew going in that it was critical to find the right actor for the role of Chuluun. We scouted local theaters and auditioned over two dozen actors, but none of them were the perfect fit. Ultimately, Tyler saw a good looking well put together man on the street and approached him, saying “excuse me, do you speak English?” The man ended up being a politician for the green party and also the owner of a travel agency, possibly the nicest man in all of Mongolia… and his English was great. He got the part.
P: Have people of Mongolia seen the film? How did they react to it?
KM: The film has been viewed in Mongolia, though not viewed widely yet. We recently acquired iTunes distribution in Mongolia and we will be looking for some Mongolian Film Festivals that we can participate in to help promote it. If anyone knows any distributors for Mongolian content – email me. From the few that did see it we have gotten very good reviews.
P: While filming on location, did you find that the native people were supportive of your portrayal of their culture in the film?
KM: Yes, we tried hard to represent the culture accurately. We would get input from the people we were filming with and always looked to our guide, Chuluun to make sure we were portraying the culture appropriately. Often, we would film inside a locals Ger (tent like home) and we wouldn’t change anything, just use their natural set up as our set. This kept the film more authentic and gave the characters a feeling of being really immersed in Mongolia.
P: What was the most memorable experience during the production of this film?
KM: Film in the Gobi Desert was very inspiring. It took us days of driving to get there and we camped on it’s edges for 3 nights. The dunes were huge and powerful and seemed to go on forever… and made for a great backdrop for the climax of the film. I can still remember trekking up a sand dune holding the camera with a steady-cam rig strapped to my chest and thinking “Not many people get this experience – this is a once in a lifetime moment.”
P: How can people watch Wrestling Mongolia?
KM: The film is available on iTunes for about half the world and will be on Google Play very soon. Here’s a link to the iTunes page
P: Anything else you’d like to add?
KM: This film took about 5 years to make. Over the last year, I re-edited it to be more of a family film. I had an amazing time working with Tyler and Omi on this movie and I hope that in viewing it the audience is inspired by Mongolia and feels motivated to travel themselves.