Rony Yakov smiled as he recalled early discussions with Hollywood executives about filming a movie in Cambodia.
“They said, ‘What? Why are you going to Cambodia? They have nothing to offer,’” said Yakov, a line producer for “Beneath the Banyan Trees,” the upcoming movie written and directed by actor Matt Dillon.
Yakov admits he was also skeptical about Cambodia.
“I had nightmares,” Yakov said.
Even seemingly small details, like having a bathroom and kitchen for a crew of 130 people, can represent an enormous obstacle, Yakov said.
“Where are they going to go to the toilet? In the [US], it’s easy. Here, you have to make it happen,” Yakov said.
Despite his concerns, the production has been smooth-sailing —right down to the toilets, Yakov said. Filming for the movie began last week.
“I’m building my own deluxe versions,” Yakov said of the toilets. “I’m pleased to tell you that things are 10 times better than I expected. I like the challenge of the place and the challenge of the people. It’s just like a puzzle.”
The film stars Dillon, British actress Natascha McElhone, James Caan, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “The Godfather,” and French film megastar Gerard Depardieu, who starred in the “Man in the Iron Mask” with Leonardo DiCaprio in 1998.
“Beneath the Banyan Trees” marks Dillon’s directorial debut, after a three-decade career from child star to heralded thespian, starring in such films as “Drugstore Cowboy,” “To Die For,” “Rumblefish,” and “There’s Something About Mary.”
The goal of “Beneath the Banyan Trees,” which is on a $10 million budget, is to “leave some infrastructure behind” to make filming in Cambodia easier in the future, Yakov said.
He added that they are still casting Cambodians for featured roles and training a crew of about 30 technicians to stay behind.
“Beneath the Banyan Trees” is the second major Hollywood production to be filmed here in recent months. “Tomb Raider,” starring Angelina Jolie as video-game archaeologist Lara Croft, was shot in late November in Siem Reap province.
Though shootout scenes in “Tomb Raider” were kept out of the Siem Reap temples, the filming of the movie based on a violent video game angered officials at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Members of Dillon’s crew have said they are taking care to obey every regulation so they don’t incur the criticisms that “Tomb Raider” garnered.
“Tomb Raider” and “Beneath the Banyan Trees” represent the first Hollywood productions to be filmed here since “Lord Jim,” which was shot in 1964.
The principal set for Dillon’s movie is in Phnom Penh, near the main post office, but the crew will be shooting in other locations, including Kampot province and Bokor mountain, where the crew will have to take a helicopter every day for filming.
The script, which Dillon worked on for six years, tells the story of Jimmy (Dillon) a New York lowlife who flees to Cambodia with the Russian mob on his tail.
In Cambodia he hooks up with Marvin (Caan), a mentor/father figure who may actually be Jimmy’s father. He also meets Sophie (McElhone), an archeologist with whom he falls in love. After undergoing personal redemption, Jimmy decides to stay in Cambodia, with the woman he loves, Yakov said.
The production will film in Cambodia until March 30, then head to Bangkok for three days before wrapping in New York with a two-day shoot, Yakov said. Distributed by United Artists/ MGM, the film is scheduled for release toward the end of this year.
The experience has been well worth the worry, Yakov said. And he has found an answer to those terrified movie executives in Hollywood:
“[Cambodia has] something to offer: Locations that have never been seen before,” Yakov said. “And this city looks beautiful on film.”