ASTANA – An international television series that, in part, features Kazakhstan as the backdrop for the adventures of the great explorer Marco Polo is set to premiere in December.
The $90 million series is being produced by the U.S.-based Weinstein Company and is set to be shown on Netflix. Producer Harvey Weinstein says the series will be filled with political intrigue, large-scale battles and a love story. In other words, it will be the “Game of Thrones of the East.”
The series is set in the 13th century China, but was filmed in Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Italy after suitable locations could not be found in China.
In total, more than 1,500 people from 28 countries participated in the creation of the series. The lead role in the series is played by Italian actor Lorenzo Richelmy. Actors Benedict Wong from the UK (Prometheus, Sunshine and Kick-Ass 2), actress Zhu Zhu from China (Cloud Atlas) and actor Rick Yune from the USA (Fast and Furious and The Fall of Olympus) play notable roles as well. Series directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki and Bandidas) have been nominated for Oscars.
The Kazakhstan filming for the series took place in spring 2014. Kazakhstan was chosen for its unique natural landscapes, talent pool and generally low shooting costs.
Akhat Ibrayev played a key role in bringing the shooting to the country and later, through his production company Adigul Family Pictures, helped organise the shooting on the ground, going to great lengths to meet the demands of foreign and local actors.
The series features famous Kazakh actors Sanzhar Madiev, Murat Mukhashev, Zhandos Aibassov, Daulet Abdygaparov, Erden Telemisov, Tolepbergen Baisakalov and Dinmukhamed Akimov. Kazakh stuntmen, who have also worked on such major motion pictures as “47 Ronin,” “The Expendables 2” and “Conan the Barbarian,” also worked on the series. In total, about 20 Kazakh actors, 10 stuntmen and others, such as make-up artist Irina Strukova, participated in the project.
As a token of respect, the shooting of “Marco Polo” in Kazakhstan received much assistance from local authorities, in particular, those in the Almaty regional administration. They helped work on location, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan helped with visas for foreign visitors.
Weinstein’s decision to shoot in Kazakhstan may have been influenced by his 2010 visit to the country. That year, he took part in the International Astana Action Film Festival at the invitation of the famous Kazakh-Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, who recently signed a contract to shoot the film Ben Hur in the United States.
During that visit, he noted that you don’t need to be from the United States to have an impact on cinema. “Ten years ago, nobody would have imagined that the list of best directors of our time would include five from Mexico. Today, we all know Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Diego Luna, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote the screenplay for Iñárritu. In 1960, it was difficult to imagine that 10 young French directors would change cinema. But it happened. Great directors can be born anywhere, maybe one of them is now sitting in this hall.”
Weinstein has produced many successful films, but is known for preferring independent cinema and is believed to have heavily influenced the films of director Quentin Tarantino. The Weinstein Company is an American film studio founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 2005 after the brothers left then Disney-owned Miramax Films, which they had co-founded in 1979. They retained ownership of the Dimension Films label of Miramax. It is one of the largest small major film studios in North America.
Shooting on the “Marco Polo” series first began in late 2012 after Weinstein entered into an agreement with the TV channel Starz. Netflix then backed the project after it was abandoned by Starz.