Borat: Making of a Mockumentary

Following a grand send-off from his Kazakh village, Borat made the long journey to the US and A to begin work on the documentary.

He was accompanied by his obese and ineffectual producer, Azamat Bagatov. Comments Azamat: I got involved in this project because I am very experienced in industry of film and television in fact during last 20 years I have personally watched 27 programs. I also got job because I am only producer in Kazakhstan.

Borat traveled to the U.S. in styleAzamat, not so much. We fly Kazakh Airways, Borat recalls. Azamat go in hold, with luggage, animals and Jews I travel first classes which meant that when toilet box was passed around, I was the sixth person to make my dirty in it.

No expense was spared to bring the film to the big-screen. This documentary was most expensive film ever made for Kazakhstan, says the intrepid reporter. It cost 48 million tenge this equivalent to 5000 US dollar. Ministry of Information supplement budget by selling uranium to some brown men.

Larry Charles, a creative force on the landmark series Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, joined the project as director. Like Jay Roach, Charles was a fan of Baron Cohens work. There is an intensity and incredible intelligence to Sachas performances, as well as a certain bravery, says Charles.

Charles marveled at Baron Cohens ability to stay in character throughout production, even during on-location filmmaker conferences. Sacha as Borat was always real, believable, complex and spontaneous. Ive never seen a performance like that.

Our collaboration was multi-leveled, Charles continues. During our creative meetings, I was talking to both Sacha and to Borat, which was disconcerting sometimes, but fun. I understood why Sacha did this: He has to be in the moment, and yet still be somewhat detached and self-aware. He managed to strike a delicate balance.

Executive producer Monica Levinson says the production was true guerilla-style filmmaking. All we had was an eight-person crew, including Sacha, a sound person, camera people, Larry Charles, and a production assistant. We all traveled around in a van, followed by a pickup truck that carried the equipment.

Borat began his cross country odyssey in New Yorks, where he experiences for the first time a subway car, an elevator, and a feminist group. Then, a revelation turned his plans upside-down. Although we had initial planned to stay in New Yorks, because of a reason I cannot say, we needed to get to California.

Unable (or forbidden) to fly, Borat had to learn how to drive. We too have cars in Kazakhstan, he notes. They now very modern some of them reach top speeds of up to 120 miles per week! Also, they better than western cars, because when engine get old you can eat it. I was interest to see if America cars were as fancypants.

I was very nervous about sitting alone in a car with my drive instructor, Borat continues. In my country only time two men ride together in car, is when they journey to the edge of town to make bang bang in anoos.

To capture on film the characters cross-country adventure much of it done via an ice-cream truck the BORAT filmmakers also traveled to Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, Alabama, South Carolina and Romania.

At many locations, the productions guerilla-style, hit-and-run filmmaking attracted the interest of various law enforcement officials.

In New York, for example, a warrant was issued for Baron Cohens arrest. He also narrowly escaped incarceration while filming a segment at a local hotel. (Earlier, Baron Cohen had been advised to leave the state.)

Monica Levinson and unit production manager-first assistant director Dale Stern didnt fare as well they were arrested by New Yorks Finest. The production had borrowed from a local hotel, a phone, alarm clock, and comforter all of which were going to be used as props. Even though the filmmakers had a location agreement and a five million dollar insurance policy for lost or stolen goods, New York City police went ahead with the arrests.

Later, as Levinson and the crew member were being questioned, she saw Stern eating a copy of a sheet listing the names and phone numbers of the films crew to protect them from legal action. (The two arrests were later expunged.)
Monicas night in jail raised the bar for a filmmaker sacrificing for his or her art, says Jay Roach.

Another time, twelve police cars surrounded the ice cream truck in which Borat makes much of his cross-country trek. The authorities hoped to find and interrogate Baron Cohen, only to discover that he had again made a narrow escape, this time in another crew vehicle.

The FBI often followed the filmmakers, whom the residents of several locales suspected of being terrorists. In the nations capital, the Secret Service questioned the filmmakers outside the White House, and at a Louisiana location, state troopers investigated the strange group ostensibly making a documentary. Again, Baron Cohens determination to stay in character even while facing Secret Service and state police questioning was impressive. He never let on that this wasnt real, says Larry Charles.

Borat learned many lessons during his journey some of them the hard way. Along my travelings, I learn many new things about America. For example that it no longer legal to shoot at Red Indians. Once again I apologize with all my heart to the staff of the Potawotomi Casino in Kansas.

Wherever Borat touched down, he left a shaken populace in his wake. In Washington, D.C., he rocked a Gay Pride parade Many peoples friendly to me in America. In Washingtons, a guy in bikinis grab my busherka, Borat exclaims. But his travels through the South left an especially strong imprint on Borat and his subjects.

Baron Cohen, as Borat, infuriated audience members at a Salem, Virgina rodeo by singing the Kazakh national anthem to the tune of the American anthem. After the rendition, a group of irate rodeo hands on horseback surrounded the filmmakers van, demanding that they be lynched.

Also in the South, Borat tried to figure out the American art of shopping strangest of all, the practice of paying lots of money for old things called antiques. At a small antique store, Borat is incredibly clumsy and manages to destroy hundreds of dollars of items.

In Birmingham, Alabama, Borat paid a visit to a dinner party, where he hoped to learn the fine art of dining etiquette. The Southern hospitality didnt stop there. While were in the South, we passed by a group of soldiers making re-enacting of the Americans Civil Wars. It very similar to the Kazakh re-enactment of the Tishniek Massacre, which we do every year by traveling to the town Tishniek and massacring them. Why not

Producer Azamat had more practical concerns during their stay in the South. Most challenging aspect of filming there was to find film in Mississippi that would fit our 1912 Krasnogorsk Super 13mm camera, he notes.

These are just a few of the many highlights of Borats adventures in the U.S. But the story ends where it began in Borats hometown of Kuczek, Kazakhstan. A gypsy village two hours north of Bucharest, Romania doubled for Kuczek. Against the stunning backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains, the filmmakers found themselves working amid livestock wandering through the streets. And the BORAT team often went without benefit of indoor plumbing.

Working in this village was as far from our lives in Los Angeles as you can get, notes Larry Charles. Yet it was exhilarating and exciting. Grateful for the cooperation and graciousness of the townspeople, the production and Baron Cohen donated computers, backpacks, supplies and books to the local school.

At one point, the filmmakers had considered capturing these scenes at a Hollywood studio backlot. But we realized we couldnt art direct that village, says Charles. You cant art direct the horses, pigs, and jerry-built huts. So we didnt have to pretend we were in Borats village; we were there!

Borat himself couldnt be happier that his documentary is finally ready for the US and A, but he reminds us that an earlier version had already opened in his native country. This movie have already been release in Kazakhstan and was blockbusterings, exclaims Borat. It take top spot from Hollywood movie King Kongs which had been number one film in Kazakhstan ever since it was release in 1932.

But Borat warns American audiences theyre in store for more than a few jolts. I hope you Americans see my movie, but please be warn that since it contain foul cursings, needless violence and a close-up of a mans bishkek, it have been given most strict certificate in Kazakhstan, meaning no one under age of 3 will be able to see it.

Also this film have been very controversial in my country because of amount of anti-Semitisms in it however, eventually our Censor decide there was enough and allow its release.
But whatever obstacles Borat has faced in making and releasing his movie, hes thrilled to see it finally reach the U.S. My movie finally coming in America! he concludes. High five!

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