Following is a short information that aims to provide useful data related to filming and photo projects in Mongolia before your visit the location so that you are better prepared and know what to expect in Mongolia.
1. Urban Shoots
Ulaanbaatar (UB) is the capitol and the largest city in Mongolia with over 1 million people and almost half of the total population lives in the Tuul river valley surrounded by 4 mountain peaks. Established in 1778, it is the cultural, industrial and financial center of the country. The city lies at an elevation of 1310 meters and its temperature is influenced by the Siberian winds thus the city is known as the Coldest Capitol in the World. Warm clothes are must everywhere in the country, even in summer, night time temperatures drop rapidly. As with any bustling urban city, Ulaanbaatar offers various attractions for filmmakers and photographers. Although, growing and modernizing at a rapid scale, UB still offers a view of its Buddhist nomadic background through various monasteries and its communist-socialist past through identical apartment block buildings, Soviet style architecture and monuments to former leaders.
2. Country Side Shoots
Landscapes will mostly include vast steppes, deserts, mountains, gers (yurts), livestock which could range from sheep, goat, cows, horses, camels and yaks. Crews will either stay with the host family or tourist camps nearby. Expect to have very basic living conditions, depending on the location some remote areas may not have electricity and hot water.
3. Equipment Rentals and Availability
Most professional equipment must be brought from abroad. Basic equipment such as cranes, tripods, audio recorder, lights and generators for country side filming can be sourced locally. All equipment related shopping must be done in Ulaanbaatar. City has number of official retailers for camera brands such as Sony, Canon and Nikon and some specialty filming shops.
There are number of international hotel chains in Ulaanbaatar which include Ramada, Best Western and Kempinski. Other options include local 3-5 star hotels such as Ulaanbaatar Hotel, Bayangol Hotel, Corporate Hotel, Terelj Resort and Spa. Arrangements for guest house, hostel and short term apartment rentals can also be made for the crew. Country side accommodation will consist of very basic amenities and range from tent to Ger camps, host family Ger or a motel if available in the region.
Car rental is a must for any film and photography crew in Mongolia. Depending on the location of the shoot, 4 wheel vans or SUVs may need to be rented to go to the location. Domestic flights can connect to all province centers but extra car rentals may be needed to go to the location which is away from the province capitol. Helicopters can be rented for aerial shoots and to travel to remote areas of the country.
6. Local talents and extras:
There are number of photo, film and model agencies in Ulaanbaatar and upon advance notice these can be arranged for projects. Mongolia mainly offers Asian, Mongolian and Turkic looks. European looks can be arranged with advance notice.
7. Regions of Mongolia (Central-Ulaanbaatar & Kharakhorum, North-Taiga, West-Altai Mountains, East-Steppes, and Southern-Gobi Area)
Central Mongolia is known for its capitol Ulaanbaatar city which is the main hub of any destination within the country. All connections, equipment rentals, car rentals, flights and last minute preparations are made here. Other notable locations and areas of interest include: ancient capitol KharaKhorum, Terelj National Park, two other main cities of Erdenet and Darkhan, Takhi-Prezsewalskii Horse Reserves, Polo Tournaments and ancient Turkic monuments.
Southern Region of Mongolia is most famous for the Gobi desert, the fourth largest desert in the world and is considered to be one of the most extreme and coldest. Temperature in winter can reach -30C and in summer +40C. Gobi is also home to one of the rarest bears Mazaalai, dinosaur fossils and bactrian camels. Other notable locations and areas of interest include: Flaming Cliffs, Mining operations of Tavan Tolgoi and Oyu Tolgoi, Camel Festival and Energy Center Monasteries for Buddhist pilgrims.
Northern Mongolia is best known for its reindeer people-Tsaatans who live in one of the most remote locations in the taiga bordering Russia and requires horse trips to get them. Other notable locations and areas of interest include: Lake Huvsgul-largest fresh water lake, Shamans, Taimen fishing and Ice Festival.
Western Mongolia is most famous for its high Altai Mountain Peaks and Kazakh eagle hunters. Other notable locations and areas of interest include: KHUMMI singers, Eagle Festival, snow leopard country, ibex, most number of minority ethnic groups and wrestlers.
Eastern Mongolia is most known for its endless steppes that stretch beyond infinity. Other notable locations and areas of interest include: birthplace of Chingis Khaan, Morin Khuur-Horse Fiddle, antelopes, falcons, fast horses, blacksmiths and Buriad ethnic group of Mongols.
Ulaanbaatar (RedHero) is your first and most important stop in the country. Roughly half of the entire population of Mongolia lives in the valley between the river Tuul and its the economic center of the country. All travel connections start here whether you are traveling by air, train or car to your shoot destination. Most of your travel preparations will take place here from rental to shopping.
8. Specially Protected Areas
Mongolia is the first country that established a national park in the world. Bogd Khaan Mountain was made into a National Park in 1783.
Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area was established in 1976 and was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 1990 as one of the largest biosphere reserves in the world (5.3 million hectares) and largest in Asia. It provides habitat to many endangered species such as the Snow leopard (Uncia uncia), ibex (Capra sibirica), Argali sheep (Ovis ammon), Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica mongolica), Gobi bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis) and wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus bactrianus).
The protected area is divided into two ecologically distinct parts, the Southern Altai Gobi ("Gobi A") and the Dzungarian Gobi ("Gobi B"), separated by 300 kilometers. Scientists have identified 410 species of plants, 49 species of mammals, 15 reptiles and amphibians and over 150 bird species in the protected area.
Bogd Khaan Mountain is the world's first National Park and it is the southern border of Ulaanbaatar city. The mountain is 5 km away from city center and ideal for fast filming excursions in the nature.
Terelj National Park is the most popular location for filming and photography crews. The park is located an hour drive away from the city and offers wide range of landscapes ranging from high granite peaks, forests, rivers and local herders who call it home.
Khustai National Park is home to the true wild horse Takhi a.k.a Przewalski Horse. Takhi was successfully reintroduced to Mongolia after becoming almost extinct. Park is located about 100 km away from the city and it is one of the best run habitats in the country. Small scale sand dunes run through park and it is a good location for mixing nature shots of steppes, deserts and wild animals without traveling too far from the city.
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park and Greater Gobi Desert Area
Gobi offers the true unique Mongolian landscape for filming crews. Home to wild Bactrian camels and the famous flaming cliffs it's a desert filled with majestic sand dunes, steppes, Yol Valley, dinosaur bones and tough nomads who endure extreme temperatures of winter and summer. Gobi desert is a cold desert, and it is not uncommon to see frost and occasionally snow on its dunes. Besides being quite far north, it is also roughly 900 meters (2,953 ft) above sea level, which further contributes to its low temperatures. Siberian winds cause the Gobi to reach extremes of temperature like no other, ranging from –40°C in Winter to +50°C in Summer.
9. Weather (Zud, most talked topic) Zud is a Mongolian term for an extremely snowy winter in which livestock are unable to find foodstuff through the snow cover, and large numbers of animals die due to starvation and the cold. The term is also used for other meteorological conditions, especially in winter, that make livestock grazing impossible.
Zud is differentiated between black, white, cold, and iron/ice zuds. The black zud (har zud) consists of a lack of snowfall combined with freezing temperatures, which causes drought. The white zud (tsagaan zud) is caused by very heavy snow fall, which makes it impossible for the livestock to feed on the otherwise accessible frozen grass, causing famine. The cold zud (khuiten zud) occurs when the temperature gets extremely low for consecutive days, so that animals must conserve body temperature instead of grazing freely. The iron zud (temur zud) is brought about by rain which freezes and covers the land in ice hindering the animals from feeding on grass or herbs.
From 1999-2002, Mongolia was hit by three zuds in a row, in which a combined number of 11 million animals were lost. It is the main cause of hardship for the people in the country side.
10. Mining in Mongolia
Mining plays a key role in Mongolia's economy and has been a major driver of the recent interest in the country. Copper, Gold and Coal are main natural resource exports. Mega gold and coal projects of Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi are located in the south gobi province and others are scattered around the country.
Artisan mining a.k.a Ninja Miners is another hot topic. These individual or family miners mine coal and gold in various locations through out the country digging extensive tunnels or working on left over processed ore from bigger mining operations.
11. Visas and Film Permits
Number of countries have bilateral visa waiver agreements with Mongolia and it is subject to country of origin. Crews are advised to contact their local Mongolian Embassy for details. Film permits are mandatory and take up to 10 business days to process.