Phil Rosenthal created and Exec. Produced one of the most successful sit-coms of all time, “Everybody Loves Raymond” starring Ray Romano, which ran on CBS from Sept. 13, 1996 until May 16, 2005.
It was a comedic masterpiece often based on true stories from both Ray and Phil’s own lives. Then Phil got the call from Sony that Russia would be interested in doing it’s own version of “Raymond”, and wanted him to go over to Russia to make that happen. Most people plan to bring a camera with them when they travel. Phil had the presence of mind to bring a camera crew with him, and if nothing else it lead to this hysterically funny documentary called “Exporting Raymond” which opens in theatres nationally on April 29th, 2011.
It’s the story of Phil’s trials and tribulations in adapting “Raymond” for a Russian audience, and how he barely escaped with his sanity intact. Not knowing what to expect in preparing for his trip, he was a little disturbed when someone suggested he take out K&R insurance, especially when he found out that “K & R” stands for Kidnapping and Ransom. He was assigned a bodyguard named Eldar, who became a friend, and it was only at the end of his stay that Eldar admitted to him that Sony didn’t go for “the gun package.” In other words, Eldar was depending upon his hand-to-hand skills to keep Phil out of harm’s way.
At the screening, I asked Phil, how much could the gun package have cost that Sony decided to pass on it? He himself was stymied by that question, and I am stymied as to why I used the word “stymied.” It’s such a weird, almost frightening word!
Phil and I discussed whether they may have looked into the knife package or maybe the brass knuckle package, or did they just decide that Phil wasn’t worth any package at all??? Phil said after meeting his Russian counterparts, the fear of being kidnapped was replaced by the fear of what they might do to his show! One woman, the costume designer was intent on turning it into a fashion show with the actors wearing evening clothes you’d wear for a night out on the town, as if anyone, especially a blue-collar family, would lounge around the house dressed like that.
They also tried to convince Phil that men were more manly over in Russia, and wouldn’t be so concerned about pleasing their wives, like Ray Barone was in the USA version of the show. The Russians also felt that Russian men would not relate to the way Ray was treated by both his wife and his mother and that it made him look like a weakling. Phil didn’t go for it because he said that he doesn’t believe that men are the boss in their homes anywhere in the world.
Despite the Russian’s best efforts, Phil’s adaptation was successful, and he was able to help cast it and make it funny. So not only did he escape from Russia with his sanity, he wound up with a funny, entertaining and fascinating film, which just happens to be his film directing debut. I’m sure it will be the first of many.
However he did have the sense to turn down the “opportunity” to bring “Raymond” to Poland and Egypt! (LOL)
Here in New York it will be opening at the Angelika and at the Loew’s Lincoln Square theatre on Broadway and 68th Street. This is a movie you have to see.
Charlie Prince is the force behind the Friars Club Film Festival, and once a month, he brings great films to be viewed at special Friars Club screenings. Recently he brought the very funny “Peep World” starring Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson and Ben Schwartz, that I wrote about in a previous blog. Both Sarah and Ben showed up at The Friars to do a Q&A.
This time, for “Exporting Raymond” there was such a big crowd that the club had to show it across the street in the beautiful screening room of The Core Club, another very exclusive club with which The Friars has an arrangement. I wound up walking in with the General Manager of The Friars Club Michael Caputo, who is always on hand to make sure everything goes smoothly.
As I mentioned, Phil Rosenthal was there of course, along with his Executive Producer John F. Woldenberg, a really nice guy, who was very accommodating in the writing of this story.
When Phil was introduced after the film ended, I was sitting in the front row with an old friend, legendary film animator Bill Plympton, who has an animated film coming out called “Idiots and Angels”, a black comedy that he did with Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.
Phil who happens to be very funny, (which helps if you’re creating and producing comedies), didn’t notice me sitting there, until someone asked him if he ever did stand-up. He said he tried it years ago, and then asked if there were any stand-ups in the audience. When I raised my hand and he saw me he was surprised he hadn’t noticed me, and gave me a gracious hello.
The last time I had seen him was last summer in Montreal when he was showing “Exporting Raymond” at the Just For Laughs Festival, and I was showing the trailer for “Eat, Drink. Laugh” the documentary Richie Tienken and I were working on about the 35 year history of his comedy club “The Comic Strip,” Exec. Produced by Chris Rock.
It was a chance meeting in the street when Phil was on his way to his showing, with John Woldenberg, and I was on my way to mine. I had also happened to have the photo with me of Ray Romano, myself and Michael Bolton from when I brought Michael to the set of “Everybody Loves Raymond” several years back, maybe 1998, courtesy of the other Exec. Producer of Raymond and Ray Romano’s manager, Rory Rosegarten.
When I interviewed Ray for the book and the film we’re doing, I brought that old photo to remind him and we took another photo of us holding it.
Phil was kind enough to sit with me for a while to do this great little interview for my readers of Comedy Matters. Check it out right here! And go see the film on April 29th! I would tell you to go even before April 29th, but you wouldn’t get to see anything, so wait till April 29th and run out and see it immediately!