A while back I did an interview with actor Richard Tyson. In it, he talked about a Genghis Khan film he worked on in the early 90s that never came together, stating that it is one of his favorite things he ever worked on. The Wikipedia and IMDb pages for this project are a little confusing, listing both the original production as well as a newer incarnation of it called Genghis Khan: The Story of a Lifetime. I was recently contacted by Nicholas Rispoli, son of the film's original producer Enzo Rispoli and current producer at Madison Motion Pictures Group, who may finally get this film to see the light of day. He was kind enough to answer some questions about the production and tell me its long and varied history. I had to do a little bit of translating with his answers, but it is mostly in his own words. Here is the story of this film through the eyes of someone closely involved.
CC: So what is your involvement in the project?
NR: I am a manager and I work with and for Madison Motion Picture Group on Genghis Khan: The Story of a Lifetime.
CC: To start off, what information was incorrect in my original interview with Richard?
NR: I'm sorry, well nothing really was wrong (apart from it being a 55 million dollar production and not 40) with the info in your interview but I wanted to clarify in depth the situation through this interview to all of the people who are wondering what's going on with this production. Here's the story of Genghis Khan...
The production started in the 90's by producer Enzo Rispoli, it is/"was" part of three big productions, "colossals", that include Genghis Khan and And Quiet Flows the Don that he was shooting at the same time as GK and another one that I don't want to name that isn't yet made, but is still in our advanced projects to be made. At the time, Mr. Sean Connery was chosen to be in it.
Thanks to a huge raising of funds (through high finance investments and banks) by the producer, all of this started. Over a year shooting GK in Mongolia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, with great directors, well known international actors, and the best professionals and technicians in the movie industry. When the "movie industry" was Cinema, not like now that is more content of a very low level, unwatchable, with productions that don't have story or souls. I’m talking also of current “Hits”.
So everything started moving in Mongolia, they set up little factories for the production of the beautiful costumes designed by Ugo Pericoli (The Last Emperor), armors, swords, war machines of that time and everything else needed for the movie. A lot of big names of Cinema were involved with this production. The first director was good, Tolomush Okeev (The Descendant of the Snow Leopard, The Ferocious One), but after more than a month of shooting they decided that it wasn't in line with the international audience and market.
In the meanwhile, all the newspapers of the world where talking about these two productions and how big they were. Journalists started to come on both sets to know more and how the shoots where going. Director Peter Duffell (The House That Dripped Blood, The Far Pavilions) started with a new script and a new development of the film. He started with child Temujin (GK), but his shooting also wasn't what we had in mind.
Genghis Khan was thought from its origin to be a feature film for screen and a TV series, both were shot in super 35mm that gives you a bigger image and more definition. So in a few words, we have been the first to shoot a movie and TV series together and this means that the TV series has been shot like a movie, like they do it now, but 25 years earlier. Everything was restarted, a lot of money and time was spent. Ken Annakin (Swiss Family Robinson, Battle of the Bulge) came in as director. He shot for more than a year, his shooting is magic and modern. The beautiful colorful scenes, battles (not all CGI, or super unbelievable like now) with hundreds of horses and extras and wonderful landscapes of those places that gives you that Epic touch to the scenes played by Richard Tyson, Charlton Heston, James Hong, Pat Morita, Julia Nickson, Rodney Grant, Bekim Fehmiu, Nigel Terry, etc.
Alongside Ken Annakin as second director was Anthony Dawson (real name Antonio Margheriti, Castle of Blood, Cannibal Apocalypse, etc.), a big name in the film industry, also a specialist in special effects of the time. They shot through much of Asia, up to China in the Forbidden City. The story starts with Temujin (Richard Tyson) when he was young, like 20/23 years, passing through to when he becomes the leader of the Mongols, to Khan who had the greatest empire of all time. The story or the script (by James Carrington) is very nice because there aren't only battles, it would be too obvious, it is all a big story that involves a lot of characters while the story goes on and time passes. You can feel this especially in the TV series, which is obviously extensive and more complete. The script touches on love, religion, philosophy, history, always having the authentic Annakin's humor and touch of a great director. The characters are perfect and Richard Tyson will be the only unique Genghis Khan. It's Charlton Heston's last role and Ken Annakin's last film.
CC: So what happened with the production over the years and why was it never finished until now?
NR: Both of the productions stopped for some weeks, caused by the putsch of Moscow in Russia and it's coup in 1991. That was a big problem. For GK some wrong or not clear information is on the net, that the stop for the coup was when Duffell was director, not Annakin. And the children were ordered by embassies to return home. It's not true that the film was abandoned because we couldn't raise funds, no we were stuck. I will clarify and speak about the various problems that occurred and how we arrived to the new title Genghis Khan: The Story of a Lifetime, that we are still developing.
We suffered a common problem related to large scale movies, being over budget, for the above odd happenings and others things happened during shooting that would have been difficult to manage and also a major company probably would have wished to leave. The one which really gave the production most of the problems, and that caused delay to screens is that suddenly our financing parties didn't want to pay to complete the post-production phase (and other things correlated), not only of GK but also of the other production QFTD. Something that was unbelievable, we started the postproduction in L.A. and London when this happened (we never understood this decision, parties were aware that this was a big business, otherwise they’d never want to finance the projects and at the end they had to finance a drop in a bucket), however big legal problems started between all the parties that were involved with these productions. Time passed, fighting legally so we couldn't advance with the post-production. Post-production at the time, and especially with a lot of shooting and a lot of film used, was expensive until computers came in and helped to simplify the work and also in saving costs. GK's footage is 160,000 meters of film and most of it is Annakin/Margheriti. We are always talking of notable amounts because they were two titles.
CC: And what happened with the other production (And Quiet Flows The Don), I see that it actually did get a release several years ago.
NR: Quiet Flows The Don is an international classic large scale movie as GK with a similar budget, shot in Russia and Ukraine for more than a year from great award winning director Sergey Bondarchuk (War and Peace, Waterloo) shot in English for worldwide audiences. This production included big names in the industry, well known actors (Rupert Everett as the lead) and also States were involved. QFTD was also thought from it’s origin to be a feature film and a 7 hour TV series, based on the famous classic novel by Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov. QFTD was shot at the same time as GK, so when the big (plus all the others while shooting) difficulties came in for both titles, it wasn’t easy to handle them at all. This Production is, as GK was and is, under the attention of world’s media. So there is a QFTD film and its TV series “And Quiet Flows The Don”. The title of the Film is Quiet Flows The Don, but this “And” that distinguishes the movie from the TV series is taken from the original Novel that gives you a bigger and more detailed view of the Cossack’s stories, traditions, way of living, etc. 2017 is the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
In 2006 the Russian federation, lead by President Vladimir Putin, wanted to bring to Russian screens the TV series. QFTD from 2007 is part of the Russian State Patrimony, so we had the chance at that time to advance and work on QFTD TV series and movie . The TV series was broadcasted in 2007 by Channel One scoring a boffo, it has been dubbed in Russian language and adapted for Russian audiences with a few differences from our international original one. Our original international TV series is completed, it lacks a little work in postproduction to be broadcasted, and is a real pearl. An important US company wanted to submit the movie for Oscar consideration, but we couldn’t make it on time.
Everything above is a simple summary about these two productions, that’s really full of interesting stories involving people from all over the world (also States Presidents), this is why I said most of today’s productions “don't have story or souls”. This is all about the fantastic, but not easy world of films and making them. Since I was born, I’ve always been involved with this world/industry, but I started really working in it when I grew up, in these past years till now I’m working on development of some new productions and on GK post, and in a lesser way on QFTD TV series international version. Producer Enzo Rispoli, as a experienced businessman, created the circumstances to get all this done, his vision and dreams surely boosted it up.
CC: How much of the film is the original footage and how much is new?
In 2006 to 2008, we had the opportunity to restart working on the footage of GK. We worked night and day and put all of the footage in order with the help of various editors, including specialist Mr. Roberto Silvi (editor of Tombstone, Leviathan, etc), and this was the first start, it took a year. Annakin saw over development until his death in 2009 and was happy in seeing his shooting after years and happy with our work. In 2010, we won all legal fights and thanks to a strong investment from Madison Motion Pictures Group, who became and is the "owner", we continued working on GK post-production advanced phase. We did a 2 hour feature film and a 6 hour TV series, both of them are now in a final cut editing stage. We also worked on sound effects and a lot of other work that you have to do, technical and creative, even now we have 6/8 months of work.
We used only the best of Annakin’s original footage and for the new we added some parts and scenes, some of them made with the latest technology thanks to Madison Motion Pictures Group that did a great job, so we can get the best for the movie and TV Series. We are happy of this rebirth and called it a new title Genghis Khan: The Story of a Lifetime, because it's really a new film now. After all we are “happy”, if we can use this word, that it didn't come out at the time, because thanks to new post production technology the whole thing is wonderful. If you see some scenes in now digital definition (2k-4k), it's like it has been shot yesterday and today special effects surely increase its value. All this, it's fantastic and wasn't possible at the time. It's just surely much better than a lot of poor quality things people watch on TV or in theaters today.
Paramount wanted it in the past, but we couldn't arrange that for the above problems and for TV ABC, I knew something, but I don't think it went quite how Richard Tyson tells it. But now no problems, if they want to step in (laughs). Now 80% of the work in post-production has been done, we're missing the last 20% that we are waiting to complete, and after we are ready to screen it all over the world. Composer Richard Horowitz (Any Given Sunday, The Sheltering Sky) was chosen and started the tribal music, we need to get the soundtrack made.
This international production has been a real challenge. This Genghis Khan is unique, made as the best American cinema tradition. The TV series is also unique, incomparable to the others made in the last decades. Genghis Khan: The Story of a Lifetime will be a big hit. I, together with the MMP Group and Producer Enzo Rispoli, are also working on other great projects, especially on the production of a big film on another Russian literature classic, as part of the new productions program. This is the true story of this production, we thank God we still have it and with a real possibility to get it released soon.
A celebratory review is being worked on of the works of the great film director Ken Annakin under the sponsorship of the Academy of Cinematography of America (Los Angeles) which will be bringing GK: The Story of a Lifetime, Annakin's last film, to the attention of the world media.
CC: Well thank you for taking the time to talk to me about all of this Nicholas. I wish you the best of luck on finishing the film. This really has been the story of a lifetime!
NR: Thanks for your time Marcus. I’ll surely keep you and your readers updated on our work.
It’s crazy to think an offhand answer in an interview I did two years ago would lead me down this path of learning the behind the scenes info of a film that still hasn’t seen a proper release. This is a timeless tale in Hollywood, a film goes into production and spends millions of dollars, only to be stopped dead in its tracks due to financing, weather, or creative differences. Hopefully, this is one of those stories that will have a happy ending and I can’t wait to see this film. Special thanks to Nicholas Rispoli for sharing all of this with us.