Filmmaker's Journal: Far East

Jason Rosette made two films in the U.S.—Bookwars and Susan Hero—before moving to Southeast Asia. His original plan was to travel a bit and learn how to teach English as a second language. But on a stopover in Cambodia, Rosette found himself infatuated with the country and its people. And since the once-troubled nation lost a generation of artists and journalists, he also saw an opportunity and even a responsibility to put his media-making skills to good use. So he organized a film festival and started a production company that works for a number of NGOs. He is now at work on his latest film Freedom Deal. He chronicles his work in this filmmaker journal series for The Independent.

I just came back from Bangkok, where I’d been invited to do a meeting with a staffer from Weinstein Co. regarding my next (3rd) feature, Freedom Deal, as well as to secure a collaboration with a local Thai-based company, which I’ll probably need if we shoot on any scale bigger than a basic DV/indie level.

Bangkok is about an hour away from Phnom Penh by plane, about 12 hours overland. Most filmmakers and media people in the region end up traveling to Bangkok pretty frequently since the infrastructure there is so highly developed, as is the film industry. Whereas Phnom Penh has no rental houses, and even still has occasional power outages, Bangkok is fully equipped with a number of huge motion picture service companies, post houses, labs, even some casting agencies.

Unfortunately, the meeting was postponed, as the current Weinstein Co. picture, Shanghai, had just gotten underway and was a bit more demanding of everyone’s time than expected.

I did make good contact with a well established production services company, though, who maintains a light grip truck and some equipment and who is interested in Freedom Deal. They would come on board if it ends up being an indie-level project. I also scored a bunch of rolls of the new Fuji and Kodak Super 16mm stocks (courtesy of Fuji and Kodak Thailand), and will use this not only to test the stock but to make a short demo/scene selection which I can then (hopefully) use to further generate interest in the movie.

Now I just have to figure out what to do about the camera; besides a standard 16mm rig, we’re interested in using a vintage Luftwaffe 16mm combat wing camera–if we can run the Super 16mm through it. We’ll try shooting some of our tests on it MOS. Ideally, the wing camera would lend a combat-photography look (and roughness) to some the material…but we’ll see how that goes.

Freedom Deal, by the way, is the story of two internally displaced persons (refugees basically) during the US incursion into Cambodia in the ’70s. I see it as a sort of cross between Blood Diamond, Chaplin’s The Kid, Easy Rider, and the Canturbury Tales.

It’ll feature local Cambodian talent, which we’ve already begun outreach for. There’s also one principal Western role, the part of the US soldier, private first class ‘Shaky’ Griffith, aged 19-25, thereabouts. Shaky is one of the US ground troops who participated in Nixon’s incursion to liquidate NVA and Viet Cong sanctuaries along the border of Cambodia and Vietnam.

My Khmer associate producer, Vuth (who also assists with Cambofest) and I went to the border areas last year to scout out the original MENU strike locations, MENU being Nixon/Kissinger’s classified B52 strikes against communist sanctuaries along the border.

Anyway, in Freedom Deal, Shaky gets separated from his unit; he’s basically a hippy pacifist who was drafted anyway, and he only makes halfhearted attempts to find his way back.

I reckon a lot of the budget will depend on who we can attach to play the role of Shaky; if we can score any name talent, then that could boost things.

One current attachment of interest is Bob Lewis, original founding member of DEVO, a nice and funny guy who’s graciously assisting with period music supervision (the Western rock-and-roll) and anecdotes from the era; Bob and other members of DEVO attended KSU and were present the day of the shootings which were sparked by revelation of Nixon’s Cambodian incursion.

The Cambodian rock-and-roll, a particularly psychedelic sounding style of music from the late ’60s through early ’70s (til the Khmer Rouge wiped it out) is being handled and advised by Matt Caron, a New York based producer and media maker. Matt attended CamboFest last year to support a short film he’d produced and edited, and he’s been involved as an advisor on a couple of Cambo-rock oriented projects already.

More soon, probably when we start shooting the tests.

Related Links:

Freedom Deal treatment:

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