Like a phoenix rising up from the ashes, the Cambodian film industry now is making a comeback after being almost decimated by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. While there is in-country demand for locally produced movies, film makers, however, have to make do with a dearth of technical crew. Bunsim San talks to Touch Yinmony, co-founder of Studio4 and assistant director of ‘First They Killed My Father’, and finds out how the industry is tackling this problem.
Good Times2: Why are film crews so difficult to find in Cambodia?
Touch Yinmony: It is always hard to find production designers and managers, make-up artists, prop makers and soundpersons in Cambodia. These are essential technical people for a movie but they are very hard to come by in the country. The problem is this: most young people love films but they want to be film directors and nothing else. If you talk to them about becoming a technical person first, before moving up the ranks, they would thump their noses at you. We need technical skills, but unfortunately we don’t have them.
Good Times2: What then would be the consequences if everyone just wanted to be a film director?
Touch Yinmony: Obviously, we will have many directors in the country. But a director himself or herself can’t make a movie. You need a supporting technical crew in various departments to produce the film faster and also to add professional quality to it. Our youngsters want their name to be shown in the film credits as a ‘director’. That, I reckon, could be a reason to inspire others to become one.
But the path to become a film director is not that easy. Those coming into this creative industry should first acquire the skills that the market needs, so that their film career can be more secure. They will find it hard to get a film job, if they don’t do this.
Based on my experience, Cambodian film crews cannot be compared with those overseas, since there is very little specialisation in the various departments – in terms of roles and responsibilities. But please don’t get me wrong. Cambodian crews work very hard but we do not yet have professionals in any one specific technical area.
Good Times2: How do you see the film industry in next 5 years?
Touch Yinmony: Cambodian films have come a long way and they have improved a lot. Some local TV dramas now are of acceptable quality. On top of that, Cambodians are flocking back to the cinema houses to watch local movies. So these are all good signs for local film makers.
Coming back to young people, I should say that there is considerable amount of talent in the country. More young film makers are showing off their talent by submitting short film entries to local, regional and international festivals.
In terms of equipment, our cameras are now high resolution HD ones – to comply with industry standards. I believe in the next 5 to 10 years, Cambodia will become one of the movie-making nations in the Asean region.
Good Times2: Is the time right for a film school in Cambodia?
Touch Yinmony: Currently, there is no film school and no formalised training. Despite that, we are producing short films and that is a proud achievement. Yes, we badly need a film school with a formalised curriculum catering to the needs of the industry. The curriculum must not be too academically focused – like just offering bachelor and masters degrees. Instead, the film school should offer short courses and enable the students to get hands-on experience from cinematic storytelling and scriptwriting to operating film production equipment for a variety of screen contexts, including cameras, lighting and sound.
Good Times2: What is your recommendation to young film lovers?
Touch Yinmony: Becoming a film director should be their last expectation. I encourage them to learn everything in film first – starting with the fundamentals and rolling through to the finer, more complex aspects of cinematography. Then they can venture off into small projects such as making short films to test out their skills and also develop skills in planning and project management. They should not just dream to be film directors and not know what’s happening in other departments. Don’t set too big goals, because if they fail it can be catastrophic.