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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Filmmaker remembers movie business heyday

Filmmaker remembers movie business heyday

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Pioneering screenwriter and producer tackled tough stories with do-it-yourself aesthetic to become a player in the early days of the Cambodian movie industry

May Titthara

Screenwriter and producer Ly Bun Yim picked up a camera in Hong Kong when he was fresh out of high school and never turned back.

VETERAN screenwriter and producer Ly Bun Yim is one of Cambodia's most celebrated filmmakers and has been honing his craft since the age of nineteen when he was first introduced to a movie camera.

"I became a movie writer and producer when I was 19 years old. I was never taught how to write, produce or be a photographer because I taught myself," said Ly Bun Yim.

After graduating from high school he intended to study in France, but a two-week visit to Hong Kong changed the course of his life dramatically.

"It was in Hong Kong that I saw a camera and loved it so much that I spent all my holiday money on it and came back home," he said.

"I learned to use the camera by myself and one day I went to see a movie at the cinema and when it was finished I thought this is a very simple movie and I thought I could do much better."

He soon wrote the screenplay that culminated in his first movie, The Flash Family, which he also acted in himself "because I couldn't find good actors", he said. This movie proved a success and strengthened his resolve to pursue a career in filmmaking.

"I have never promoted my films to the audiences or other movie producers, but when they showed in the theatres there were many people who came to see them. Everyone who comes to see my movies promotes them for me through word-of-mouth," he said.

Before writing, he said he thinks carefully about making stories that are meaningful to the audience.

"When I finish my writing I have to check it over and over again and add or withdraw some points before I decide to produce it. I wrote more than 20 screenplays from 1961 to 1975, because from 1975 our country was at war and in 1977 I went to France."

When Ly Bun Yim came back to Cambodia in 1994, he lacked the funds to return to movie making, but he volunteered on some local productions.

"In 2003 I was urged by production companies and audiences to write a new screenplay, so I started to write a story called Divinity Court. I haven't completed the film yet because I don't have enough money. I have spent about US$500,000 and now I need $100,000 more to complete it," he said.

Difficult stories

Ly Bun Yim said he was able to write all kinds of movies, modern or historical, but historical movies - which most of his have been - tended to cost more to produce.

"I think that screenwriters today won't write a story that's difficult to produce because sometimes the actors or actresses can't do what the story requires. I like to do difficult stories," he said.

"I have never copied international movie styles or ideas as my own; I try to do my own style. I see some writers take western movie ideas and just put their name on them. That is not a good movie.... I want to produce a quality story."

He said he has been happy to teach up-and-coming filmmakers how to improve and has ideas to strengthen the Cambodian film industry.

"In order to improve our Khmer movie industry and make it as famous as the industry in other countries, we have to control the copyright law and the government has to pay more attention to Khmer movies by lending some money for the producers to make movies," he said.

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