When an opportunity arises, you need to take your time and analyze your response: Go For It or Not Worth It. In the middle of March, 2018 I was given this amazing opportunity to work on a project with professional filmmakers and producers from a company called Human Agency. The project was to make a music video and a creative documentary in partnership with Phare Ponleu Selpak, The Cambodian Circus school that is located in Battambong province. Ryan Barton, the founder of Human Agency, came to The Liger Leadership Academy to pitch his project idea and vision and for us to determine if we could join the team for this two-week project. What caught my attention the most is how he emphasized “creativity” in this project and I was really fascinated to explore the idea. He also spoke about what his company does and his personal passion in video making, and it was certainly interesting and inspiring to listen to his informal speech. Yet, I’ve come to learned that Ryan is definitely an inspirational hero and is very passionate in what he is doing. After hearing him speak, my response was an enthusiastic “Go For It” and I’ve never been this certain in my life because my instinct immediately told me that this was meant for me.
The project was scheduled for two weeks and there were eight of us students selected; surely we couldn’t miss two weeks of school, so we divided into two groups, a group of four students went for the first week and the others went for the second week. The two separated week had different objectives and plans, so as individuals, we had to decide which is best for our learning experience. The first week focused on creative ideas or I would like to call it “the imagination process”, and that team had to develop the core concept or the big picture of the video itself. The second week focused on the production side, which is the fun part for me, but also the most hard-working part too. At first, I was interested in going for the first week since I like to come up with ideas, expressing my originality and creativity but at the same time I knew I had to go to the production side since I want to learn the process and participate in a big production, while, observing how to be a great director and a videographer. I have to admit that going to the second week was way more than I expected. I will never seem to regret that decision.
Before I went down to Battambang I had a question in mind, “Why Phare Ponleu Selpak? Why make a music video about a circus organization?” I have seen their performances before in Siem Reap province and they are clearly a group of talented people but I was uncertain to how we could show Cambodian people about it and make it captivating. After spending the first day there working with the people from Phare and the professionals, I had the answer to all my questions. Phare Ponleu Selpak means, “The Brightness of the Arts”. Throughout this experience, I think Phare is more than just a circus; this organization helps people to find their own talents through different means, like arts, education, social working and most importantly community living.. The longer I spent there, the more I learned about those people and how emotional it was to be working with them. For instance, when they performed on stage or when they acted in front of the camera, I was mesmerized how the lights that shine in each individual brought them to life. It was so surreal, so incredible and such an honor to witness that. This concept changed the way I see the world in ways that every action we take are meaningful and different things we do everyday is what makes us unique. And that was the purpose of the film; to show how Phare’s innovative, artistically driven and educational approach.
The production week went really great in my opinion. The first night we arrived, we were told that the rest of the week will be a 14 hours of work and shooting and I was more than ready to get started. The shooting schedule was very tight, so one of the main focused we had to pay attention to is time management. It’s already difficult to control a group Cambodian circus people, and to manipulate their mindset about times is added struggle. As I’ve learned from Ryan, “being a director you have to have an open mind and an open heart, but it is the essential to be the boss and to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. If they can’t meet your expectations, it is not their fault but it is your fault as a director for not explaining to them well enough.” Sometimes, when a single person didn’t show up to the shoot on time, the whole scheduled had to be delayed and or even canceled. Time management is a very serious factor to consider in film production but it’s also one area that can easily be forgotten.
Throughout the process, I have been working very closely with Ryan as an interpreter and as a director’s assistant. It was very difficult on my part to translate for people and tell them what to do because at first I was mostly afraid since I was younger and it felt like I was lacking respect for those people. I’ve come to understand that this is my role and this is what I have to do so I just need to have confidence and trust myself.
Our production crew was a total of 11 people. It seemed a lot at first but not enough in the end because we had become such a great team. We had a communication solution that was very consistent so everyone was always updated. I personally learned a lot from the professionals, sometimes I felt like I was a part of their “serious” world and other times it was really just fun and happy moments. Working with the people from Phare has taken the fun in work to the next level. The designing students from Phare are very talented. They turned the actors and actresses into new characters by painting and drawing them with a different style every time. The circus performers are full of joy and entertainment that can keep you laughing all days, but there are times when we needed them to work really hard, however, we always make sure that we keep motivating and cheering them. I was mostly participating on the production side, but I had an afternoon where I spent my time helping the music composition team. It definitely was very professional with the whole studio being set up and working with the music students was incredibly exciting too. Everything was very original and the first time I heard the beat, I was really proud of the team that had been working effortlessly on it. That is why there is a saying that, “without a teamwork, nothing can succeed”.
At the end of the project when we came to see our final product, no one realized the amount of effort and determination that had been put in to this project. It was a huge amount of work even though I was there only a week. Personally, I think everyone felt really proud and was actually sad that the project was over because we so learned so much from each other. That was the production experience that I’ve always wanted to engaged.
At the end of the production scheduled, we still had another process to go through which was editing and to premiere our final product at the end of the week. My role was to edit a short behind the scenes video, and work with my Liger team to write a director’s statement for our premiere show. The premiere day went really well. I was super honored to be selected on the team. I hope the video will be seen all over Cambodia and hopefully worldwide.
The way I feel about this whole experience is completely positive. It’s yet one of my best films experience and I’m really grateful for this amazing opportunity that I’ve been given. Throughout the whole week I have learned something new every second I was there. Even though it was very tiring and exhausted, I had so much fun being with the crew and help with the project in every ways possible. We all were inspired everyday from our director Ryan, who kept motivating and pushing the team to the end. My expectations for this project before I went down there were less than what I actually got out of it. In fact, I have received way more than I expected. Even though it wasn’t Hollywood, it was still a step forward for me. I think the final product was unbelievably awesome, especially considering it was done in only two weeks.
As a young filmmaker, this experience has changed the way I look at films because there is not just one way or one beginning to create a brilliant video; there are certainly different paths that we can take. This has shaped my mind into a whole new creative way of looking at the world of movie making and I can’t wait for the next project.
“I will continue to make films until my lips are tired of telling stories and my hands can’t hold up the camera anymore.” – Soliday
*The music video will be uploaded here once released*