Award-winning director Tom Som talks about Star Wars, his love of cinema and how he hopes to direct the next Bond film
Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Director Tom Som (left) is pictured with actors on the set of his first full-length feature film, Staying Single When.
You've just won a Freddie award for the TV series Facing the Truth about HIV/Aids. Why did you want to become a director?
I just felt in love with action films when I was young. Me and my brother watched Rambo and we pretended to be him. I also watched Robocop and Star Wars. And later on, when I compared them with Cambodian films of the late 1980s and early 1990s, they looked very different, the way the films were made, the quality. So I thought I could do better in the future. I just felt that it would be easy.
How did this dream become reality?
When I graduated from school there was no film school here so I just studied photography and business, which was my second option. I started working by doing surveys for other people. Later on I saw a newspaper advertisement: Matthew Robinson was looking for a director, I applied for the job and I got it. I was so ready for it, I wanted it.
What did your family say when you told them about wanting to be a director?
They said: "You are not going to survive." Now I've proved I can survive. They watch my films and they like it. Some of their comments are good, some not so. They are a little bit older, so the way they think is different from me.
Do you still think it's easy to be a director?
Now I know it is very difficult to make a film but I love it. You have to work long hours, you have to work late. You don't just do your work in the office, you have to work at home, you have to learn, you have to research. When I got a script, I don't just read it. I have to make it into pictures, to think about how I am going to shoot it. I also have to adapt it because sometimes the way it is written does not work. At the same time, I look at other Hollywood or foreign films, which have a similar story. I'm not copying them. I look for their ideas and combine them and look for something suitable for Cambodia.
How did you learn to visualise the script?
It's instinct. When I read the script I can already imagine the picture. I know I want the actor coming from here and going there and what is going to happen next and how he is going to perform. I just have it in my mind. Sometimes it doesn't work because the first imagination is just rough.
What are the qualities of a good director?
You have to be prepared and you have to be flexible. No matter how much we plan, on a shooting day it never works the way you wanted. Sometimes when you go to some location, it's the sound, the actors, the location itself, the light, which has to change.
What do you still have to learn as a director?
A lot. I watch DVDs every day so I keep on learning from other directors because I want to become like them. Here we do not have enough talented people and we do not have new equipment, that's why I still have to learn by myself.
Do you love cinema only through action movies?
When I was young I always wanted to make action films. But later I found out that an action film is not as difficult as an emotional film. Action is just like "Bang! Bang! Bang!" For emotional films you have to be smart to talk to the actors in order to make people cry with him or laugh with him, you have to get the right script. I have never shot an action film before, although I have done a lot of dramas. I would like to do action, but in Cambodia we do not have the budgets and we lack the people who are good at doing stunts like explosions and car crashes. But my dream is to direct the next James Bond film: I want to shoot part of it in Cambodia.
Why don't you like Bollywood films?
People turning to singing and dancing, that's not reality. Magic is not real at all. But a car crash, an explosion, it could happen. When I do something, I want it as real as possible, I don't want to lie to people.
How is it possible for the Cambodian film industry to develop?
We are trying to get our company, Khmer Mekong Films, more recognition. If one company grows, the other will die if they don't try to raise their quality. So if we try to grow, I hope that the other companies will improve. Then everyone will care more about quality.
What kind of film do you think young Cambodians like to watch?
Something new and fast. For me, I don't want films about old stories or classic Cambodian culture. I think youth want to watch something about new lifestyles, something exciting, adventure with a romantic story, set in Cambodia. Because if they see the story of a Cambodian guy in America, it will be an American film for them.