US Film Being Shot in Cambodia Could Be Sign of Things To Come

In uniform starch white shirts and navy blue shorts, an eager crowd of children makes a run for the ice cream truck that’s just pulled up to their primary school—among them the son of the US ambassador. A tall, sinister man steps out of the van and walks away. Moments later, an explosion rips through the yard.

The scene—replete with a giant, carefully controlled fireball—played out yesterday behind the faded yellow walls of Preah Sihanouk Pri­mary School in Phnom Penh, is destined for the opening sequences of a Hollywood action movie tentatively titled “I am That Man.”

In the film, set for a fall 2010 US release, the set will stand in for a school in Manila. But the Cam­bodian Film Commission isn’t complaining. Since the Ministry of Cul­ture launched the CFC in July with funding from the French Agency for Development to attract international film crews to the country, the $10 million production is the most high-profile project the nascent venture has snagged.

CFC Executive Director Cedric Eloy hopes it is a sign of bigger things to come.

“Cambodia doesn’t have a reputation right now for international filmmakers,” Mr Eloy said yesterday morning be­tween takes. “If we open the doors, we can get a lot of projects here.”

And with those projects, the government hopes, will come a steady source of income and jobs.

Written by Kurt Johnsad, co-author of the 2006 ancient Greek war epic “300,” and with cinematography by Shane Hurlbut, who worked on the last installment of the “Terminator” franchise, “I am That Man” follows a team of elite Navy SEALS on the trail of an international crime syndicate plotting a string of terrorist attacks on the US.

Yesterday was the film crew’s second of four days in Cambodia.

“The pictures [of Cambodia] looked so vibrant, so exotic, that we just had to come here. It was a hands-down winner,” said Greg Haggart, line producer for the shoot and a three-year veteran with the Bandito Brothers, the California outfit behind the production.

Mr Haggart called the shoot “a phenomenal experience,” but not without its challenges.

“The most difficult thing has been the communication,” he said.  “The Thai guys don’t speak Khmer and the Khmer guys don’t speak Thai, and the Thai guys don’t speak French.”

That’s largely a function of Cam­bodia’s dearth of film production experience. About 30 of 90 members of the film crew are Cam­bo­dian. The rest were brought in from Thailand.

“One of the goals of the Cam­bodian Film Commission is to train more [Khmer] crew to have international standards,” said Mr Eloy.

On the other hand, he added, Cambodia enjoys a higher degree of political stability than its neighbors, “so stories that are set [in Burma and Thailand], they may have to be shot somewhere else.”

Somewhere else, the CFC hopes, like Cambodia. Productions like this one, Mr Eloy said, spend about $20,000 to $30,000 a day. A film like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” the 2000 blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie that also shot partially in Cambodia, can spend 10 times that.

“If we get two feature films a year,” he said, “which would be very good for Cambodia, it could be $2 million to $3 million a year.”

      (Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)


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