FREEDOM DEAL: A Case Study Regarding Filmmaking in the Developing World

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Notes from Cambodia regarding The Making of a Feature Film in the Developing World:

FREEDOM DEAL the Story of Samnang (‘Lucky’) Website: FUNDRAISING:

I’ve been working in SE Asia since 2005, primarily in Cambodia, but also with time spent in Thailand and Vietnam. I’ve been working much of this time as an independent film media maker for the past 6+ years. I’m a freelancer. I don’t work on staff for any NGO or organization, but I’m hired at times to make media projects (advocacy videos and documentaries, for example) by such groups. I also sometimes make videos for emerging private sector businesses, while moving forward with my own independent projects when I have the time and resources. Amongst my current independent feature projects is my 3rd feature, in development and preparation to shoot in Cambodia and Thailand: FREEDOM DEAL ( LOGLINE: SPRING, 1970. As part of the escalating Vietnam War, a combined US & Army of South Vietnam military operation enters Cambodia to locate and destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong sanctuaries. A Cambodian youth named Samnang (‘Lucky’) rescues downed US soldiers, while evading horrific Cambodian ghosts and foiling Khmer Rouge guerillas, as he journeys to the safety of the provincial capital.


Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

‘Freedom Deal’ is fiction, with some genre (horror) elements, and some significant social issue aspects as well. It’s based on actual historical events, with production planning to take place in some of the actual border locations where the US-ARVN incursion took place 42 years ago. As mentioned, I’ve been living in SE Asia since 2005, much of that time in Cambodia. During that time, we’ve done significant first-person research in some pretty remote areas of Cambodia along the Vietnam border where the incursion took place. We’ve been to ‘Snack’, ‘Dinner’ and ‘Lunch’ – three B52 strike areas which were part of the infamous, secret US Operation MENU that preceded the incursion. I’ve spoken first hand with communities there regarding their experiences (*I speak Khmer now decently, still not fluently, but well enough to interview participants on my own and gather the primary facts) Ultimately, though, ‘FREEDOM DEAL’ is an anti-war movie: no side of the 1970 Indochina conflict is portrayed as an instigator of the war at hand – the story takes place ‘in media res’, with all sides engaged, and many on all sides (US, Vietnamese, and Cambodian) are doubtful of the virtues of the situation into which they find themselves participating. The story is told primarily through the point of view of a young Cambodian IDP (Internally Displaced Person = refugee) named Samnang (‘Lucky’), who, along with fellow refugees he meets along the way, seeks the safety of the provincial capital with the hopes of finding his only remaining relative, his uncle Ramy.


Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

There are some juicy roles for Western actors, though, most notable being several of the US Army GIs taking place in the incursion – including the principal character, ‘redneck philosopher’, Private ‘Shaky’ Griffith. So, while simultaneously fundraising and preparing to shoot sections of the feature, we’re also in discussions to attach name talent for these key GI roles (ages 19-26+).

Most folks associate Nixon’s 1970 ‘Cambodian Incursion’ with the protests and shootings of students that took place at Kent State University and Jackson State University as a direct result. Even so, not everyone, and certainly few here in Cambodia, realize that the Kent State shootings were a direct result of protests against the ‘Cambodian Incursion’ – the key, inciting incident of our picture, ‘Freedom Deal’. We’ve got the approval of the Cambodian government regarding the script content, by the way: in Cambodia, the Ministry in Cambodia requires that every screenplay be reviewed for any elements that may be deemed ‘problematic’, or which may cause instability within the country or problems with neighboring countries. But ‘Freedom Deal’ is not designed to agitate – it just presents a story that’s based on events and circumstances, the way they occurred 42 years ago. Since no one to date has covered this US-Asian chapter of history yet from the Asian (Cambodian) perspective, the Cambodian government is actually very eager to see this movie get made. But, as there are no funds out here in Cambodia, no rebates, no incentives (the entire film industry was shredded during the Khmer Rouge regime and is only now making an incipient comeback) – we have to be clever about ways get this story told, basically using every trick in the normal, Western ‘indie film’ book, and more.

Participate in ‘Freedom Deal’ on IndieGogo @ χ

Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

‘Fascinating’ Christopher Kopp, Focus Features, regarding ‘Freedom Deal’ The writing of the script for ‘Freedom Deal’ has taken a number of years, half a decade of fulltime ‘cultural immersion’ living in Cambodia, and a lot of first-person and academic research, to get it to this point. In 2010, after concluding significant in-person and scholarly & historical research (i.e., reading the classics on Cambodia - including Chandler, Shawcross – along with B52 airmen diaries and military books on the incursion from all sides, for example) and, having just finished a video production gig and with a bit of cash to buffer me, I finally had a window of opportunity to write the script. I blasted out the first draft of ‘Freedom Deal’ in a guesthouse in Kampot, Cambodia in a 12 day period of writing and revising, watching pro wrestling and dubbed Chinese movies on TV at night to wind down afterwards. (‘Freedom Deal’ is WGA # 1467328) A key problem with the script soon became apparent, however. I, as a Westerner, and road movie-loving filmmaker, had envisioned (in some degree of Western road movie chauvinism. maybe) that the key characters of ‘Freedom Deal’ - the refugee protagonists - would travel frequently on the open road, towards their final destination of the provincial capital, almost like a Wizard of Oz type scenario. But later I interviewed a Cambodian IDP in Phnom Penh, who had experienced the civil war in 1970 firsthand. He had informed me that, during the Cambodian civil war, and certainly during the time of the US-ARVN incursion (1970) , the control of the roads were constantly changing hands between the Lon Nol, Khmer Rouge, North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, ARVN, and US, armies. My interviewee told me that he had therefore, as a kid of only 11 or 12 years old, specifically avoided roads where possible, travelling off road through the forest and paddy fields. And he did so mainly at night, due to any uncertainty about which forces controlled the roads at any given time. So: I rewrote the script again from the ground up, keeping the characters off road as much as possible, and travelling at night, or dusk, when they could. Several other rewrites have occurred since then to make the story more historically and culturally accurate, as well as more appealing internationally in terms of genre (horror/supernatural) aspects - specifically to incorporate into the story the peculiar and ψ

Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

disgusting female vampire-like apparitions, found in many Southeast Asian countries, known as ‘Arbs’ in Cambodia. In ‘Freedom Deal’, during Nixon’s Cambodian incursion, these female specters hover over the battlefields and devour the fallen soldiers, regardless of nationality. One of them relentlessly pursues our protagonists as they journey to the safety of the capital. In terms of our team: we are primarily local, based in Cambodia. Cambodian Princess Soma Norodom is working with us, conducting local PR and outreach, and adding bits of advice and referrals here and there. We’ve also met with two distinguished Cambodian actors, Tep Rindaro, and ‘Golden Age’ 1960’s Cambodian actress, the legendary Dy Saveth, and they have both expressed an interest in being involved in the film.

Tep Rindaro, (L), Dy Saveth, and ‘Freedom Deal’ writer & producer J Rosette International members our team also include Robert ‘Bob’ Lewis, co-founder of legendary alt-rock band DEVO. I’ve been communicating with Bob over the past 4 years, as he’s provided a lot of useful US-state-side story information from the period... ...he and other DEVO members were Kent State students at the time of the protests and Cambodian Incursion. ω

Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

Of course, Bob’s also providing insights into rock music from the time, filling us in on the great late 60’s-1970’s tunes which were playing during the incursion...if we get a budget for music rights, the soundtrack for ‘Freedom Deal’ will be mind-blowing. New York City based video artist, media maker, Cambodian music scholar Matthew Caron, has been advising us regarding the very distinct 1960-70’s Psychedelic Cambodian rock music from the period. Other international participants include our Chicago-based legal advisor, Arnold Toole, who spent significant time working in SE Asia, and retains an interest in the region to this day. Arnold is the legal ‘point man’ when it comes to international inquiries and industry script/materials requests...he’s always cc’d with requests and deliveries, and quietly hovers in the background to make sure that nothing ‘problematic’ occurs. Most recently, UK based producer and shooter Alec Ceschi has come onboard as a co-producer of our current stage of production. We worked with Alec several years ago on a doc project he was shooting in Cambodia, and we’ve stayed in touch with this talented lighting DP ever since.

We’re now preparing to shoot, as a standalone short, a key section from the ‘Freedom Deal’ completed screenplay (RT about 10 minutes) This short will circulate internationally at fests and other platforms to generate further exposure and to leverage additional funding to produce the full-length feature. We recently conducted an open casting call in Phnom Penh for local talent, and received a decent turnout, thanks in part to pro-bono ads offered by the Khmer version of the Cambodia Daily:


Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above announcing open call for talent for ‘Freedom Deal’. We also distributed leaflets at Khmer cafes, coffee houses, and Cambodian newsstands to advertise the open call. But in terms of the film culture here in Cambodia, unlike say New York or LA, the ‘open call’ is still an alien concept – most things here happen through word of mouth. Nearby Bangkok has a fairly well developed casting process, with agents and open call announcements and the like, and we will likely source at least some Western talent from Bangkok. Cambodian society operates more like a ‘Living Facebook’, with word of mouth always the strongest and most compelling way to communicate these things. Nevertheless, there was a decent turnout. More importantly, through the talent who did attend, we then ‘grapevined’ our way into meeting further talent – i.e., cousins or nephews or relatives of the folks who did attend – and this non-open call casting initiative is now ongoing and evolving as I write.

Potential Viet Cong guerilla, ‘Trinh’, from FREEDOM DEAL ϋ

Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

As of this writing, we’ve conducted 3 casting sessions with local actors, and we’ve finally locked in the key Cambodian principal talent for the current stage of production. In terms of financing: we’ve submitted to international film funds where we are eligible, but this is challenging...I’m a Yankee and a lot of global film funds are earmarked only for citizennationals of developing states. In reality, I’m sometimes doing well with freelance gigs, and sometimes living by the skin of my teeth here in Cambodia as a freelancer, with no rich relatives back home to fall back on. Compared to my European expatriate colleagues out here, there aren’t that many national grants or funds for US filmmakers. So we continue to fundraise through a variety of methods, including our ‘segmented’ crowd funding approach, currently at IndieGogo: (*if you come across this article at a later date, we may have a different campaign going by that time; search for ‘Freedom Deal’ on IndieGogo or Kickstarter, or contact us with inquiries) We also have a US-based fiscal sponsor, the Oakland, CA based Media Alliance, who offers US taxpayers a 100% tax deduction on all contributions.

See or send a check directly to the Media Allaince:

MEDIA ALLIANCE 1904 Franklin Street, Suite 818 Oakland, CA 94612 Phone 1 (510) 832-9000 email information [at] (pls. note ‘Freedom Deal’ on the memo section of your check) Until we find the funding for our more expensive sequences, or to all-out shoot the entire feature with an enhanced budget, we’ll continue to produce the more financially feasible, Cambodia-only segments (minimal vehicles, pyrotechnics, FX etc.) and continue to construct the ongoing picture that way. At times, a long standing patron will swoop in unannounced with a contribution through our PayPal portal , just out of the blue. One such contributor, Rolando Dubioso (based in Germany), has contributed to projects since seeing my first feature, ‘BookWars’ on European TV in 2001, and has also done the same for ‘Freedom Deal’ and many other projects since then; see our team’s ‘video thank you card from Cambodia’ to Rolando! Some development and production funding is also coming out of my own pocket, as much as I can afford, to fill the gaps – what committed filmmaker hasn’t done this? There are also some interesting challenges to crowd funding inherent to developing environments/countries, which could probably be described as an article in itself. ό

Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

But these challenges can be identified primarily, in our case at least: 1) Non-robust internet - Crowd funding relies upon solid, constant internet access. We’re currently relying on a 3G SIM based system which allows us 12 Gigs of traffic per month for $20. Broadband here in Cambodia is comparatively expensive, $100+ per month depending on the service and speed, and it’s currently not practical for us to pay for broadband. But sometimes the internet – the entire backbone here - just craps out, and then there’s no way to conduct international outreach, twittering, blogging, or other updates until it’s back up. Or, if you are running off a 2 or 3G USB-SIM based service, the SIM card may run out of credit in the you have to wait til the morning when the store opens to recharge your SIM and keep going. (“Surprise, surprise, surprise!”) 2) Scarcity of available volunteers - Volunteerism is not big at all in Cambodia, mainly because most folks must work to make a living, and/or as a corollary, they are working such long hours that, mostly, they have no time to volunteer. I also believe, from having worked in neighboring Thailand, that there may be a cultural component to the unpopularity of volunteerism in the region. It was tough to find volunteers in Thailand for the indie film fest we ran there, the Bangkok IndieFest for instance, so everyone had to be hired – though they eagerly came on board when hired. We hire local staffers all the time to work on our projects, and always pay them well above the standard. We also often train them from scratch for many functions if they are unfamiliar with any task. But, according to my estimation at least, without a significantly volunteer staff, a roster of paid staffers to run the ‘Freedom Deal’ crowd funding campaign would cannibalize the modest revenue we are receiving to such a degree that the crowd funding effort would not be worthwhile, besides its ‘experimental value’. (*for this segment at least) IN SUMMARY: there are many significant and unique challenges in producing an independent feature film like ‘Freedom Deal’ in the developing world But: if all goes well, and fairly as planned...because it never goes exactly as planned, especially in the developing world...‘Freedom Deal’, even in its initial short form version, will be the first ever dramatization about the expansion of the US-Vietnam war into Cambodia, told from a local (Asian - Cambodian) point of view.

Notes from Cambodia Regarding The Making of an Independent Feature Film in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL by J Rosette of Camerado SE Asia (*freely reprint this article with link to the Freedom Deal website and link to PDF of original article – thanks) ύ

Making an Indie Feature in the Developing World: FREEDOM DEAL / / Freely reprint non-commercially, with link to website, above

Jason Rosette (aka ‘Jack RO’) is a film and media maker from the US who has been living in SE Asia, primarily Cambodia, since 2005. He works in a wide range of genres and media, alternating between features, documentaries, and commissioned entertainment and edutainment. His first documentary feature, ‘BookWars‘ (“Terrific” – LA Times), was released in the year 2000 to wide critical acclaim. The film won the Best Documentary award at its first festival (the New York Underground Film Festival) and was nominated for an IFP Gotham award. His debut dramatic feature as writer director, the road movie ‘Lost in New Mexico: the strange tale of Susan Hero‘, was heralded by the Moving Arts Journal as “a unique and interesting take on the fluidity of technology versus the recurring commonality of the human condition”, while Angelika Entertainment (NYC) called it a 'great road pic'. While in SE Asia, he directed numerous shorts and documentaries including: ‘Vuth Learns to Rock‘, Cambodia’s first homegrown rock and roll documentary which premiered at the 2009 Florida Film Festival; ‘Crisis’, a documentary about land grabbing in indigenous areas of Cambodia; and ‘Have Forest Have Life’, which highlights critical biodiversity issues in the remote and Cardamom mountains region. He also founded two regional film festivals, including Cambodia’s first recurring, international film festival to take place since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, the CAMBOFEST, Cambodia International Film Festival ( and the Bangkok IndieFest in neighboring Thailand ( Along with a mixed local Cambodian and International team, he is now in SE Asia producing the independent feature drama, Freedom Deal, a story taking place in Cambodia during the 1970 US-ARVN ‘Cambodian Incursion’; visit the website at for more information. Mr. Rosette attended the undergraduate Film and TV Program at New York University, graduating as a Trustee scholar. He also holds has a Masters of Arts in Development Studies from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He continues to live and work in Asia as of this writing, with visits to the USA as desired and required. See his website and filmography @


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