In Wish You Were Here, the new psychological thriller from director Kieran Darcy-Smith, two couples from Australia go on vacation in Cambodia and return home with one less person. Secrets emerge as they try to figure out what happened. We spoke to Darcy-Smith about his grueling two-week film shoot in Cambodia.
The movie starts off almost as an ad for Cambodian tourism, showing off the beaches and the nightlife. But then it spirals into a traveler’s worst nightmare. Did the Cambodian government ever express concern about how the country would be portrayed?
That’s a really good question. I don’t think they ever read the script. I think they were more interested in how much we were gonna pay and whether or not we were gonna sign the documents and how official we were gonna make things. I don’t know. I’m a little concerned, I guess, how it might be perceived by some people, because it’s not a negative slight on the country or people at all. Again, trying not to give anything away, but there’s underground or underworld elements to every society. There’s a small underbelly of that particular country, but you find the same in Sydney. There’s movies shot in Sydney that show the same thing. I just hope there’s no sensitivity around it. I think people will get that it exists in every society.
What were some of the challenges unique to shooting in Cambodia?
I had a five-and-a-half-month-old girl and a two-and-a-half-year-old boy and my wife was in the lead role, so that was pretty challenging. Plus Felicity [Price, his wife] and I were really ill. I fell into a sewer up to my neck on day one, and then I got really, really ill. I had really bad dysentery, and a really bad flu. We were shooting 15-hour days.
So you have dysentery and the flu, but you’re on a tight shooting schedule. Did you take days off?
Oh no, no, but it’s funny, the adrenaline kicks in and you just do it. I was having the time of my life. It’s such a challenge. They don’t really have a big industry there, so the gear, with all due respect, was second-rate. We had a lot of issues with lights and technology. The crew we were working with, they didn’t speak English at all, so we had interpreters working for us and you get these lost in translation moments, so it slows things right down. Everything about it was difficult, but we certainly got what we wanted.
You shot part of the movie in Sihanoukville. Can you describe what it was like to film there?
It’s beautiful, and it’s crazy, too. I can’t give anything away, but all that stuff towards the end of the movie is shot in the real deal. At the back of the port is a brothel area and it’s all run by gangsters. It’s arguably one of the most dangerous parts of the country, but it’s a magnificent country. The first time I went there was 1996, when the war was still on. You couldn’t get anywhere because the Khmer Rouge was everywhere.
When you shot in Sihanoukville’s seedier streets, how did you go about clearing the area for a movie shoot?
The fixers did. It’s all really about money. As long as you sort of connect with the right people and pay the right amount of money, you’ll be safe and looked after. And we were really well-looked after. Everyone was on our side. We were working in an area that was sort of gangster-run, but they weren’t gonna let anything happen to us. I hope I’m not saying anything out of school. I just love everything about the people.
How did you go about picking locations?
We did an initial location scout, where we went to Vietnam and cast our actors, or some of them. Then we went to Cambodia and cast the Cambodian crew. Then we just went out for two weeks to all these different regions with a really great company that facilitated Lara Croft and all these other big movies [that were shot in Cambodia]. So they knew the lay of the land. Actually, one of the guys who writes for Lonely Planet, he’s the Lonely Planet Cambodia dude, he was really helpful in connecting us. So we spent a couple weeks cruising the country. I had very specific locations in mind because I’d been there.
Did you run into any issues with shooting in locations that still have land mines?
No, not where we were. You’ve really gotta head to the border regions now. They’re doing a lot of great work with clearing the mines. In ’96 it was a different story. They’re still doing it. There are teams out there every day.