Keith Ochwat is a legislative aid to Assemblyman Guy Houston. He is also the host of a documentary he made with friend Chris Rufo called "Roughing It: Mongolia." It will air on KVIE Channel 6 at 7 pm on Wednesday July 23, with a repeat showing at 6 pm on Sunday, July 27.
How did the show come about?
Chris and I are good friends. We've known each other for ten years, since we were freshmen in high school. In college, we did some traveling during the summers. We backpacked through China. We kept running into really interesting people and having these incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We were hooked.
The summer after our junior year we did a backpacking trip though central and eastern Europe. After we graduated, I was accepted to the Assembly Fellowship program. I was at home studying to take the LSAT in August before I began the fellowship. Chris graduated from Georgetown and was abroad working for Current TV, an independent news network run by Al Gore.
Al Gore? Does that mean you guys have different politics?
What's funny is that he studied politics in college and got into filmmaking, and I ended up in politics working here in the building. After four years, he was like "Not what I want to get into." But we'd spoken over the phone while he was abroad. He had a host with him on these news segments. He was like "Keith, I think you'd be better than this guy." I'd never done anything in front of a camera. We decided that I would quit studying for the LSAT, that he would quit his job and move back. Three days later we booked tickets to Mongolia for about a week later.
So you were self-financed?
Yes. He had a camera from his previous job, and we had some savings. We spent about $5,000 for the two of us to travel 1600 miles throughout Mongolia. There were times when we stayed in hostels, times we slept in teepees, times when we just literally roughed it.
When we got back we had about 20 hours of footage. Chris had never done any post-production stuff before, and neither had I. He learned how to use Final Cut Pro, which is the industry-standard software, and edited an hour-long version, which we shopped around to cable TV networks like Travel Channel, KVIE, the PBS distributors. Everyone said "This is kinda cool, but no thank you." But the PBS distributors-they're called MITA-were nice enough to give us a laundry list of changes that we should make. We didn't adopt every change, but we held focus groups and after more months of editing got it down to a 26 minute version. We were able to get a product that MITA aired and KVIE has gotten behind-what you can watch on the website and what will be aired on TV now.
What's the next step?
We are fundraising for an eight-part series called "Roughing It: The Great Pacific." It's going to be a series of countries in the South Pacific: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, East Timor. The mantra of the show is to go to places you won't see a ritzy television show. We want to have a small impact and be able to go into places that a larger production team would not be able to go. It's just Chris and I, and we will bring along one other person. We'll be highly mobile, and we won't be arrested, knock on wood, because it's a smaller team that won't stand out much. We use smaller, compact equipment. That's why we are able to get candid reactions with the people.
When Assemblymen Houston terms out at the end of the year, are you going to pursue this full time?
That's the plan. Then again, I didn't plan for any of this to happen. I've been in the building for… it'll be 2 years. I'll be staying with him until he terms out. I had an amazing experience here, met a lot of great people. A lot of the skills I learned here are great skills that have carried over-communication, interpersonal skills, research. We did a lot of research before we went to Mongolia. We ended up interviewing the President and going to a lot of places you can't do in the Lonely Planet guide.
You interviewed the President?
Before we went to Mongolia, we emailed the Embassy to let them know that we were coming. We made friends with someone in the Embassy. When we got to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, we were able to sit down with President Nambaryn Enkhbayar. But that didn't even make the final cut.
The reason our show is different is we have very genuine and interesting intercultural interactions. There's no translator. The climax of the program, where Chris and I track down a herd of nomadic reindeer herders in the mountains of Siberia, it was so remote, you had to get there by horseback, a two day journey. We probably spoke only three words in Mongolian and they didn't even speak one word of English, but we had a great time. We stayed in their teepee with them for couple days, and it's the best part of our film. And another interaction is Mongolian throat singers trying to teach me how to throat sing.
Can I have a demonstration?
When you see in the film, I didn't pick it out too well. A great throat singer can create multiple tones at the same time. I was just basically grunting. There's actually throat singing universities and colleges in Mongolia.
Will you be doing any other media to promote the program?
I'll be appearing on the local morning shows: "Sacramento & Company" and "Good Day Sacramento" on the mornings of the 22nd and 23rd of July, respectively. I will also be interviewed on Capitol Public Radio's Insight on Tuesday the 22nd.