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Location Spotlight

Location Spotlight: Mongolia

Fixers Mongolia founder Ben Moyle on why the country is ripe for commercials production and working with the country’s now-President to revolutionise local media

Location Spotlight: Mongolia

In 1999, Ben Moyle moved to Mongolia on the hunch that the country might be an exciting place, full of opportunity – and the past 18 years have proven to be a real adventure. He set up a marketing and PR company, ran a broadcast channel, was instrumental in professionalising the local media and even established Bloomberg TV Mongolia. Along the way, he began collaborating with the man who would become Mongolia’s current President. With the likes of the BBC and Discovery Channel picking his brains and asking for help shooting documentaries and news items in the country, Ben spotted an opportunity for production services. Thus Fixers Mongolia was created.

While the country has attracted TV productions, like Ross Kemp’s Extreme World and several documentaries on the Trans-Siberian railway, and films, like the BAFTA-nominated documentary Eagle Huntress, Mongolia has been relatively unexplored by the commercial and content production world. And there is just so much to work with. From the sand dunes of the Gobi desert to the ice sheets in the west, and of course, the famed grasslands on Mongolia’s ‘steppe’, there’s diverse natural beauty. But it’s not all wild landscapes and ancient history – the cities like Ulaanbaatar are vibrant, young and rapidly developing.

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Ben to learn about his fascinating journey and to find out what the land of Genghis Khan has to offer.

LBB> What did you do before you set up Fixers?

BM> I am originally from the UK, but have lived and worked in Mongolia for the past 18 years. In 2000, I decided to establish a marketing and PR company in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. In 2006 this morphed into a national broadcast channel that I ran for 10 years. I also established Bloomberg TV Mongolia in 2012. 

LBB> As a Brit who moved to Mongolia, what is it about the country that you fell in love with?

BM> It was the challenge. When I moved to Mongolia in 1999, there seemed to be opportunities around every corner. Of course, I never expected to stay for this long… but new challenges just popped up each time I was going to move on. 
When I look back and think of what Mongolia had to offer, I can completely understand why no productions would come; the country had very little infrastructure, no roads, nowhere to sleep, no restaurants and power cuts all the time!! It’s so different today! It has kept its charm and its amazing versatile landscapes, but it's just like a layer of infrastructure has been added. Mongolia is ready and keen to show the world what we have to offer. 
LBB> So you worked extensively in broadcast before setting up Fixers... what were the most exciting projects that you worked on in that time?

BM> When I started in broadcasting in 2006, piracy on TV was a major problem. I could see that it was hard for anyone to invest in the sector when it was so easy to just put on some DVD or VHS cassette. At the time it was estimated that 80% of the content shown on TV was illegally broadcast. 
My goal was to change this to make the industry more profitable and professional. We commissioned a great deal of original content from local studios, we signed deals with Associated Press for news streams, and we secured the rights to some big events like the World Cup and Premier League.
I also had a lot of political support from a friend and young politician named Khaltmaagiin Battulga (this year he was elected as the President of Mongolia). We achieved it; today the domestic broadcast industry is booming and the quality is so much better, and piracy is almost non-existent. This gives me great satisfaction, Of course it was not just me and Battulga, but I like to think we got the ball rolling. [You can read more about Ben and Battulga, the President of Mongolia in this Politico article]
LBB> What motivated you to set up Fixers?

BM> From the very beginning I guess I was ‘the foreign guy’ working in Mongolian broadcasting, so I would always get that call from the BBC or Discovery Channel when they had a production that they needed help with. In the end I was spending more time working on the productions than on the broadcasting channel so Fixers Mongolia was born. 

Why Shoot Here?

LBB> How would you pitch Mongolia to any production companies or agencies looking to shoot in your region?

BM> In this day and age, we are all looking for something that would make our pitch or our production stand out…  well Mongolia is that different angle. It’s the undiscovered location in Asia that has so much to offer. 

LBB> What are the main qualities of your region?
BM> Amazing light, after all it is the land of blue skies.

It’s unique. Mongolia has culture and traditions that go way back to the 13th century that you can still find today.

It also has a new feel about it. Mongolia has those deep historical roots to it but at the same time it’s a young and vibrant place. Remember it is only 25 years since it broke away from Communism 

You can find almost any type of location in Mongolia except a coastline… we are landlocked and that’s one thing we cannot fix!!

LBB> What would you say are the most interesting locations in Mongolia? 

Mongolia has its classic ‘open steppe’. This is vast but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, from the dormant volcanos of the East, the 300-meter-high sand dunes of the Gobi in the South, the 4000-meter-high mountains and Glaciers of the West and the incredible alpine forest and lakes of the North, the environment can change in each direction. 

Plants and Wildlife
In the grasslands and deserts of the South East, you can find herds of up to 700 gazelles. This is a spectacular sight. The Gobi is populated with camels and in some herds there are as many as 1000 camels. In the West of Mongolia, you will find the eagles that are still used to this day for hunting wolf and fox. On the Siberian border in the North you will find herds of reindeer. But of course, what Mongolia is most famous for is its horses, sheep, goats and yaks. This livestock outnumbers the human population of just under three million by more than five to one. 

Urban Environment
From small villages in the steppe comprised of ‘gers’ (wooden lodges) to Soviet-built cities, Mongolia and cities like Ulaanbaatar have a real unique feel to them. 

LBB> Tell us about the climate and the best or worst times to shoot in Mongolia? 

BM> In Mongolia, you really know what season of the year it is!  Temperatures reach over 30°C in the summer (between June and September) and -20°C (December to March). 

For obvious reasons summer seems to be the most popular time of year to shoot, but if it’s that cold and snowy look you need then winter is ideal. 

As the country is landlocked, the air is really dry, so there are no hot humid nights in the summer and in winter it’s surprising how manageable the dry cold. By far the worst times to come are autumn and spring; this is when the wind can pick up and the colour of the landscape turns to a golden brown.

LBB> What specific work permits/Visas are required to shoot in Mongolia?

BM> It’s very simple, first we would apply for filming accreditation, this is required for each member of your crew, once this is approved your nearest Mongolian embassy will issue you and your crew with working Visa’s. This whole process can be completed within 15 days.   

LBB> How is the infrastructure in Mongolia for supporting large productions? 

BM> In the past, available rental equipment has been challenging, but now a number of rental facilities have popped up, with fully supported Arri Alexas widely available. There’s also a number of lighting and grip companies that would satisfy most productions. Also, Fixers Mongolia has a specialist aerial film company, Fixers Fly. All our operators are highly skilled in working in this environment and the company has invested heavily in the fleet.

LBB> What have been your biggest or most interesting production in Mongolia to date?

BM> We work on around ten productions per year. Probably the most satisfying would be ‘The Eagle Huntress’ that went on to win a BAFTA nomination. We then worked with DJI (the drone company) to do a follow up with the young eagle huntress. But the project I really want to make a reality in Mongolia is an automobile commercial - the country is so perfect for a 4X4 ad!

DOs and DON’Ts in the Region

LBB> As an outsider, what would you say are the biggest Dos and Don’ts in the country? 

BM> You know, Mongolia is such an easy place to work, it’s quite hard to upset the locals!  

LBB> What would be your number one tip to any coming to Mongolia to shoot a campaign/film?

BM> Bring plenty of ND filters! This really is the land of blue skies. Work with a good fixer! 

Insider Recommendations

LBB> Where would you suggest a foreign production stay while they are in Mongolia? 

The Shangri La Hotel, Ulaanbaatar would top the list, but we also would recommend the Bayangol Hotel for its central location.

LBB> Where are the best bars/restaurants? Any hidden gems you could suggest?

For breakfast and lunch, Rosewood Kitchen is without doubt the best breakfast and lunch to be had in Ulaanbaatar but you should also visit Millie’s.

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