When an international film or television crew comes to shoot in Cambodia, it means more money for Cambodia’s economy. Apart from the local technicians and actors working on the production, the crew needs hotels and restaurants, drivers and haulers, and supplies ranging from building materials to bottled water.
From 2010 to 2013, foreign productions brought $20 million into the economy, all told, according to the Cambodia Film Commission (CFC). This has prompted France to renew its support to the CFC for the next three years, according to French Embassy spokesman Nicolas Baudouin.
“There is great potential for the development of a competitive audiovisual sector in Cambodia,” he said on Friday. “This, in return, has created jobs in both rural and urban areas and has increased Cambodia’s international exposure as a tourist destination.”
The agreement signed last Thursday by the Ministry of Finance stipulates that the commission, which is part of the Ministry of Culture, will receive about $2 million from the French Development Agency. The initial three-year grant to set up the commission was for the same amount.
“From 2010 to 2013…we have welcomed around 160 projects,” from documentaries to feature films, said Cedric Eloy, project manager for the commission, whose role is to attract foreign productions.
Prior to 2010, about two feature films were shot in the country every three years, he said. Today, there is an average of five per year. These range from whole films to sequences, such as “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” in which the segment shot in Cambodia in 2011 lasted 30 seconds in the movie, Mr. Eloy said.
The commission also provides information to producers interested in shooting in the country and free training for Cambodians in film and television trades to work on those international productions.
“When we started the CFC project, there were around 40 experienced technicians. Now there are more than 200,” Mr. Eloy said. “We’re training the second generation of technicians.”
The commission focuses on technical trades to support international teams and lobbies foreign directors to use as many Cambodian staff as possible instead of bringing their own, he said.
However, people in the film industry said they wish CFC would expand its training program.
“In Cambodia, there is no film school,” said Sok Visal, film director and producer with 391 Films. This makes the CFC courses vital for the country’s film industry, he said.
“So far, the CFC has performed its work very well…to attract foreign productions to Cambodia and train Cambodian young people in film skills,” said Sim Sithen, an advisor to Kon Khmer Koun Khmer, an organization of young filmmakers.
“But most of the time, they focus on film workers, not film directors,” he said. “People don’t want to remain technicians for the rest of their lives. I would say that 70 percent of them also want to direct films at one point in time.”
Phichith Rithea, who was in CFC’s first courses in 2010 and has worked in the field and directed his own short film since, agreed. The existing courses give Cambodians the qualifications matching those of international crews, but there is a dire need for training for Cambodian directors and producers, he said. Moreover, there remains one missing link in film and television staff in Cambodia.
“There is a woeful shortage of Cambodian writers, old and young, who understand how to create powerful well-crafted stories, embellished with realistic dialogue, ap- pealing to an audience’s ear,” said Matthew Robinson, executive producer of Khmer Mekong Films. The CFC should consider setting up a permanent program, if not a school, for scriptwriters to fill this gap, he said.
“However advanced the cameras and equipment, however talented the producers, director, actors, editors and the rest of the team, a movie is only as good as its story and script,” he said.