Perhaps surprisingly, the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia (population 15 million) has emerged as a dynamic and fast-growing film and TV production hub in recent years. Thanks to a concerted drive by Cambodia’s Film Commission, production has increased significantly since 2010 – with blockbusters like Transformers 3 and Act Of Valour both coming to the country.
Outside the region, Cambodia is well-known as the home of the magnificent Angkor temple complex, but it has a lot more to offer in terms of locations. It is also building up a hard-working crew base, available to hire at much lower costs than Europe or some of the more established international production hubs.
Cambodia suffered terribly in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, but it is recovering fast these days. Roads, hotels and communications networks are all much-improved, particularly around the capital city Phnom Penh. It is also easily accessible from international hubs such as Bangkok and Singapore.
While the country still faces a number of social and economic challenges, economic growth is currently running at around 7% a year, which bodes well for the coming few years.
Cambodia played host to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the Matt Dillon-directed City Of Ghosts in 2002. But US interest in the country really ignited in 2010, when Transformers 3: Dark Side Of The Moon came and filmed around Angkor. Subsequently, Cambodia also played host to Act Of Valour. In addition to US productions, a number of European and Asian films have also visited the country including Almayer’s Folly (Belgium-France 2011), The Sea Wall (France 2008), Holy Lola (France 2008), Two Brothers (France 2004) and R Point (Korea 2004). Indeed, it’s fair to say that the French have played a hugely important role in Cambodia’s emergence as a film market. Overall, there has been a sharp rise in production since around 2010, following the country’s decision to entice more producers. Aside from film, it has also proved popular with commercials producers. Brands to have shot TVCs here include HSBC and Pepsi while Louis Vuitton brought Angelina Jolie to Cambodia for a photo shoot with Annie Leibowitz. In terms of TV, the French version of Survivor came to Cambodia’s Koh-Lanta island to shoot.
Cambodia wants producers to come to the country and is trying to be as flexible as possible in the area of permitting. Going back a few years, it used to take months to obtain a permit, but these days it is reported to be ten working days for films and five for commercials. According to the CFC, the first document required is a shooting permit from the Ministry Of Culture’s Cinema Department. However it may also be necessary to get additional permits depending on the kind of shoot and its location. Specific scenarios are outlined on the CFC’s website. Permitting can be sorted out before arrival in Cambodia, but it is also possible to work things out after arrival (subject to the time frames referred to above). As with other territories, authorities will want as much detail as possible on script (or synopsis for documentary), schedule and proposed locations.
More generally, details on visas and work permits can be provided by the Cambodian embassy in your country.
The Cambodia Film Commission has a Location Resource Centre that provides producers with access to information on a wide variety of locations. Things on offer include a Modern Asian City (Phnom Penh), spectacular ruins (Angkor), colonial architecture (streets and villas), unspoiled countryside (rice fields and plantations), hills, mountains, the Mekong river, Tonlé Sap lake, floating and lakeside villages, jungle, beaches, islands, waterfalls, pagodas and temples. Cambodia can double for Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia – all of which have similar features.
In terms of climate, Cambodia’s monsoon season runs from May to November while the dry season runs from November/December to April. Flooding can occur in Phnom Penh and others parts of Cambodia in July and August. Getting around is relatively straightforward, with traffic less of a problem than in alternative locations Thailand and Vietnam.
Cambodia was given help by the French government to set up a crew training programme, an initiative that has helped the local film industry establish a solid foundation for the future. It also benefits from a partnership with Transpamedia, a French equipment supplier, which set up a local business to supply lighting and grip equipment. Kit that isn’t available in Cambodia can be brought in from Bangkok in nearby Thailand (less than an hour by air). spread across the country including 3G, fiber optic, wifi in public places.
Crews generally speak good English. The CFC also adds that Caucasian extras casting is not a problem because of the number of NGOs, foreign businesses and tourists in Cambodia.