In 2017, Jailbreak gave Cambodian cinema a breath of fresh air with a genre that didn’t fit the usual contents of the silver screens. Jailbreak was essentially the first Cambodia-produced action film – complete with stunts and sets. And in just a little over a year, Jailbreak has written yet another history when it became the first Cambodian film to be acquired by streaming giant Netflix. It definitely was hard work for the people behind the film. But it was worth it, says Loy Te, the French-Cambodian producer of the film. He takes us to the hardships and triumph of filming Jailbreak through his talk with Say Tola and Agnes Alpuerto.
GoodTimes2: How were you able to negotiate with Netflix for the online streaming of the Jailbreak film?
Loy Te: It took us months to negotiate and prepare the necessary documents after discussing with the people involved. We had never sold our film to big partners before. Dealing with Netflix means fulfilling lots of requirements such as ensuring that every actor in the film signed a contract, making sure that all the music have license. There were lots of legal documents we presented to prove that we have the copyright of the film. Everything was declared. And all of these transactions were kept confidential until Netflix announced on May 1 that they bought Jailbreak. It was released on May 2.
GoodTimes2: Is Jailbreak the first Cambodia-produced film to get to Netflix?
Loy Te: People might think “First They Killed My Father” is the first Cambodian film to be streamed on Netflix. But that’s actually a different category from Jailbreak. Netflix produced Angelina Jolie’s film, and she got lots of financial support from the US. So, I think Jailbreak is the first locally produced film that Netflix bought for exclusive online streaming.
GoodTimes2: How do you see the film performing on the streaming media?
Loy Te: Since May 2, when the film was launched on Netflix, people have been sending us screenshots of the scenes. They said they were excited to see the film and shared it with their friends. Obviously, Cambodians overseas were the most excited because they were not able to see it on the big screen. There were many people involved in the film. They also informed their friends in the US. It was really a proud moment for everyone.
GoodTimes2: The film’s set looked so real and natural. Did you shoot it in a real prison?
Loy Te: It wasn’t a real prison. It was, in fact, an abandoned school. We made some makeovers of the place to make it look like a real prison. The school was really old and abandoned. There were only few walls. So, we had to use PVC pipes and some metal frames that would stand as prison bars. We just painted it black so people won’t see that it’s fake. We tried to shoot the film in a real prison, but it was hard – negotiations, security and all. So we opted to just have a set of our own.
GoodTimes2: How hard was it to make an action film in Cambodia?
Loy Te: It was challenging, definitely. It has not been done before, so we had to figure things out by ourselves. People were tired working and we did not get much support at the beginning. The market wants comedy. That’s easier to sell. People doubted that we’d push through with the scripts and stunts. They were only very few people who believed in the project. The planning of the film started in 2015. Then the production started in 2016 because one of the actors had another big commitment. Basically, we released a promotional poster of Jailbreak even without the script and the actors yet. It meant that there was no backing down anymore.
We trained our actors at the Olympic Stadium. Everyone saw the production, and they were all interested. So we got people volunteering to act as prisoners, along with the main characters. Our actors were also very professional. They didn’t mind getting hurt with the stunts as we had to keep retaking scenes until we get the best shot.
You see, we spent two to three years doing it, and now, it has become the first local Cambodian film on Netflix. It just proves that it was right that we took the big risk. Everyone was so passionate in being part of this first step of introducing action genre to Cambodian moviegoers. We all worked so hard for the film.
GoodTimes2: The genre of the film was really new to Cambodia. How did you market it?
Loy Te: There were lots of stuff going on in marketing and public relations. We actually started advertising before we even started shooting. We also released photos and videos online of the behind-the-scenes. We produced contents every month to keep people updated and keep them interested. Also, it helped that we have famous stars on our film.
Also, a video game developer made a game out of our story. We agreed for them to get the full story, and they released a video game. It really was beneficial that we started marketing the film very early. It reached wider and bigger audience.
GoodTimes2: Are you releasing new films soon?
Loy Te: There will be two films coming up soon. “The Prey”, is a big action film with Thai and Chinese actors and well-known Khmer actors. We just finished shooting it in April in Koh Kong province. The story is about a manhunt, like a game for prisoners in the jungle.
Another film we’re doing now is a romantic comedy. It’s a high school love story, like having your first crush. The film is directed by Rithy Lomorpich, founder of Bonn Phum. She will be working with book author Manith. It’s exciting and fun.
GoodTimes2: The film industry around the world has boomed tremendously. But a serious problem continues to persist – piracy. How does this affect Cambodian cinema and film artistry?
Loy Te: It’s is a very big problem in the industry. In the case of Jailbreak, we had a high investment on the film. When we released it to cinemas in the country, it wasn’t enough to cover all that we spent for the production. So we sold it to film distributors in other countries like Germany, Australia, South Korea and China to be able to get the money back. However, we saw videos of the full film on streaming sites that were not legal. The videos were even of the highest quality. They were in full HD in torrent sites. Within one week, the film was translated to Chinese and Filipino. And then a week after, DVD copies of the film were sold in the Philippines. Here in Cambodia, people started to watch and share it on Facebook. We were very sad about it. I mean, it was good that many people could watch it. But they were watching the film in illegal ways. There was no way filmmakers could benefit from piracy. We were just thankful that Facebook shut down the accounts bearing the pirated videos.
It also became a challenge to get the Netflix deal because of piracy. Our deal with the company is that it gets an exclusive right for online streaming. But the Jailbreak is already everywhere. We were really scared that it would affect the negotiations. Thankfully, Netflix pushed through with the deal. It’s really hard for filmmakers, actors, producers and those involved in the industry to have their works being pirated.
In Cambodia, the market is just very small compared to other countries. While others have hundreds and thousands of cinemas, Cambodia only has 40 big screens. If people pirate our works, how else can we survive?