The filming of The Muppet Show Cambodia

Does anybody know WTF is going on here ?

A while back my mate Derek asked me if I was interested in auditioning for the role of an Australian Federal Cop in National Geographic’s show Banged up Abroad ( please re-read that ,it’s not what you think ). I thought it sounded like a bit of a lark and fresh off my success with Bizarre Foods I accepted. A few weeks later I showed up for my “audition” which was very relaxed. A lovely British lass by the name of Barbie was directing and I had the part of the interrogating AFP cop at Don Muang airport. I breezed through it first go and they were happy with my effort and let me go.

A couple of weeks later an email arrived saying ” Congratulations, you got the part ! “. Hurrah to me, this should be fun I thought and as per their instructions, I awaited instructions. What was to follow over the next few weeks can only be described as a shit shoot of the highest order. Firstly, they needed to organise for a tailor to come to my house as I needed to be fitted for a uniform. I was contacted by their Khmer “fixer” who will now be know as CLUELESS . She would prove to be about as useless as tits on a bull. I gave her our address, gave her my wife’s number in case they had troubles finding our house and asked they not be late as I only had an hour for lunch , had a large business to run and was not going to dilly dally. I arrived home bang on 12pm on the allotted day and waited. And waited. And waited. At 12.30pm I rang CLUELESS and asked her where the tailor was.

CLUELESS ; ” They are on the way, maybe 20 minutes more”.

ME; “Sorry, this does not suit me as I will have to head back to work in 20 minutes. I did ask you to make sure they were on time”

CLUELESS; ” Can’t you wait ?”

ME; ” No. I can’t. You can send them to my office at XXXXX address. I am available at 3pm”

CLUELESS; ” Where is that ? I don’t know where that is”

ME; ” So use a map……”

The tailors arrive 15 minutes early and I am measured up and off they go.

Some days later I receive another email with the FINAL SCHEDULE and FINAL SCRIPT attached. I am due to film at 1.30pm on the coming Saturday

( which happens to be Chinese New Year – a big day in my family so I have to reschedule a few things ) but there is no address or any indication of where I have to be. Friday afternoon rolls around and still no word on where I need to be. I am not the only one in this boat as other cast members are now rapidly emailing each other asking for location. I ring CLUELESS and ask her for the address of the location.” Ok I will SMS it now”. Hours later she still hasn’t so I call Barbie and tell her no-one is contacting any of us and I am getting a bit fed up with this turkey shoot. Barbie tells me Tim the Producer will call me which he does a while later…..to tell me that the location fell through and they now need me the following Tuesday at 5pm !. Thanks very much….I mean…..it’s not like I have planned my weekend around this or anything. I also ask Tim if they want me to bring shoes and a belt to go with my uniform because to the best  of my knowledge Australian Federal Policemen do not go barefoot.

Don't shoot until you see the whites of CLUELESS' eyes

So Tuesday rolls around and I wait again for instructions from CLUELESS on the new location. Around 3pm I get an SMS ” Dear Brendan, I want to inform you we are filming at the Cultural Centre opposite the National Assembly and please make it 6pm not 5.00pm”. Brendan ? I feel so special now. Memorable even. I SMS back that I will be there but can she please give better instructions as there are two National Assemblies ( The Old and The New ). I wait her her to contact me etc etc. I decide to head to Garage for a beer or 3 to loosen up and Jeff and I even google Phnom Penh Cultural Centre with no luck. Around 5.40pm I speak to CLUELESS and she gives me more vague directions ” It is opposite Naga” so I head off in the peak hour riverfront traffic. I get to Naga and after several loops trying to find the venue and ringing CLUELESS for help (only to find her phone is off ) I think ” fuck this, I am over it”. I ring CLUELESS again and again and finally she answer her phone.

Me; “Exactly how much are you paying me for this ?”

CLUELESS; ” We have budgeted $50 for your part”

Me ; ” Well I don’t get out of bed for many more time that amount and you have wasted enough of my time. My price is $300. Take it or leave  it. The next person I speak to had better be Barbie” or words to that effect……….

CLUELESS; Stunned silence.

I then head over to 3 Rivers for a beer and eventually Barbie calls. She pleads with me to lower my appearance fee and whilst she is very nice and I tell her I have no issue with her, I also stick to my guns and tell her I have been jerked around non-stop and my price is my price. She tells me to wait and 5 minutes later I get a phone call from Tim the Producer saying ” ok  come on over  and we will pay you what you are asking”. I make my way over to where the place is supposed to be and eventually I locate the crew. They are  in the Khmer Kite Museum . I ask CLUELESS why she didn’t just say the Kite Museum as of course I know where that is as the sign has been there for ages . I tell her to take a look at the huge sign and tell me what it says and she ums and ahs and says ” This is the Cultural Centre” and I tell her again to ‘ TAKE A LOOK AT THE SIGN FFS  ”  I drive in leaving her standing there CLUELESS. Which she clearly is.

Kiss me quick

I change into my uniform which seems to be made of 300% rayon it is so stiff. No badges, no baton and where the bloody hell is MY GUN ? Still…at least it fits perfectly. I meet my fellow AFP copper – a Brit working for the UNDP no less. His accent is about as un-Australian as it comes but he is easy to work with and strikes me as a guy who would be fun to have a beer with. We are shown into a dingy looking office and before we know it we are given new scripts and I am very glad I studied the old one and committed it to memory. *shred*.  Anyways, we are filmed from all different angles and are able to ad-lib a bit which is fun. Turns out my partner is one of the local Phnom Penh Players ( a drama group ) and i am naturally talented so we have good fun. The crew look like they are about to dissolve in their own puddles of sweat and the main actor ( apparently flown in from the UK ) should go back to stacking shelves in Cosco. After about 2 hours we are done. Barbie thanks me, I collect my now increased wad of money and head over to Talking To A Stranger where I have a few cold beers and some dinner before retiring home.

And there you have it. The Muppet Show Cambodia. Coming soon to a Nat Geo Channel near you.


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12 Responses to The filming of The Muppet Show Cambodia

  1. Goyzer says:

    this i have GOT to see……

  2. humphrey says:

    I should have got the others guys part-i have spent a few hours with federal coppers in my time….
    wouldnt have worked over new year though,went to kampot and snooky-bloody great.

  3. Will says:

    I was the DOP on this film (cameraman). Justin’s blog is a funny read and well written and, to be fair to him, he was WITHOUT DOUBT messed around. No one denies this. This production was full of mess. We had MAJOR locations falling through on a daily basis and Barbie & Tim were juggling a crazy, constantly changing schedule whilst putting in 16 hour days trying to get the film made. This was frustrating for me, for the team, for the actors, for everyone. ‘Clueless’ as he calls her is in fact a very smart woman who had a big team of inexperienced people around her and thus tried to do everything herself and invariably failed, as this is impossible. She was dropping balls all over the place, including bit-part extras like Justin who I’m sorry to say, just wasn’t as important as, for example, being denied access to film in the airport the next day. I’m sorry you had a bad experience – no one was trying to say it was OK, only to explain why – but this is just the reality of filmmaking sometimes – no matter the production, or the budget.
    My point is that everyone, even people with major roles in the production, were continually frustrated. However Justin was the only person to act like a jumped-up prick/diva about it. Reality check: you had a bit part! You look like David Brent from the office, except without the talent! Where do you get off yelling down the phone insulting and bullying the production team into paying you $300 ten minutes before you are due on set?! I have never seen such arrogance in my life. The Phnom Penh Player acting with you was equally f**kd around by the schedule and had the good grace to understand what we were going through and even offered to put his $50 into a beer kitty! Then you blackmail us ten minutes before your scene and then have the balls to turn up in front of a crew to whom you have just been an unbelievable cock! You are a class act! I don’t mean to insult you in return but I know you Ozzie’s like it told straight.
    Actually the scene went well, you weren’t bad at all and you look at the finished film my friend and tell me we are unprofessional.
    I wouldn’t blunder into your world, a world I know nothing about, and wave my dick around like a megalomanic.
    I hope you can take this post on the chin and not react like the big diva of last week.
    Perspective my friend, perspective!
    Hope you enjoy the film!
    With respect,
    Will

    • Lovely to have a reply Will . You must have been the bloke who shot me looks all night like you has just sucked off a lemon ? . The facts as I stated them were 100% correct. At the end of the process EVERYBODY involved ( i.e ; all us lowly bit part actors , the KORSANG crew , etc ) were so pissed off completely with the way you treated everyone you ( well – not YOU ,Will, but your mob ) were the talk of the town. I guess I was the only one who had the balls to actually stand up and say ENOUGH !. I did not hold anyone to ransom . I did not bully or yell at anyone and there was no blackmail although at the last minute I can agree it must have looked like that . As I sat in my car going around and around in Peak hour with your fixer giving very little help ( vague directions / phone off etc etc but nothing new there ) I simply finally asked for a price that I thought was fair to cover all the bullshit your mob put me through. For god sake I was the one who was calling YOUR staff for a week asking them for directions and locations and times. We were even emailing each other for some idea and I can tell you the emails that flew around amongst other bit part actors who copped the same treatment are legendary mate. 20 minutes before kick-off I was told your original budget for my part was $50 -even though the person who asked me if I wanted to be in the show originally said $100 ? That’s a joke mate. BTW ; Have you even paid everyone yet ? Last I heard everyone was still waiting and they are not very happy so maybe you can actually sort that out hey ?. Hell, I even provided my ownvehicular transport to drive out to the auditions, attempt to meet your tailor and then get to the venue etc etc even though your mob did offer. I just figured it would be easier and I was happy to do so . No -I am not an actor but then I am no blundering idiot who lets people bend me over . What I am is a father (with a family who wanted to have a Chinese New Year Holiday that got fucked by you guys when you changed the Saturday shooting schedule ), a businessman ( whose time was wasted when your tailor never showed up despite me asking your fixer to please make sure they were on time as I only had an hour ) and someone who does not have the inclination to get jerked around continually by people. Does that make me a Prima Donna ? Shit no. How do you like being jerked around ? Maybe your threshold is higher than mine or maybe you arty farty types enjoy it. When I got to the gig I did what I was told-apparently to your satisfaction- and I would have worked 10 hours that night if that’s what it had taken. I would even have waived my dick around like a megalomaniac if the scene required it ( though that would have cost you a lot of extra $$ on a per inch basis ). Anyone that knows me personally would say you are way off with your comments but hey I am happy to say OK – I was the Diva/ arsehole/Ricky Gervais ( maybe you meant from “Extras” not “the office” ?? )/ransom negotiator for the entire group you jerked around . So shoot me. If it makes you feel any better I blew a wad of (your mob’s ) money that night buying some of the other actors beers.

      Perhaps you saw the link back to the shoot I did with Bizarre foods ? There was no payment for me or my wife for that entire day of shooting and you know what ? We did not care one iota.

      Perspective indeed.

      With love,

      Me

  4. Will says:

    Fair enough Justin! 🙂

    I spent the whole shoot working 14-16 hour days with literally 20 mins at lunch to wolf some food down so I’m the worst person to see what was going on behind the scenes. Barbie & Tim were going crazy about it, because everyday big stuff was going wrong and everything was constantly changing with the schedule, which obviously in turn messed people around – no one more than Barbie herself (although she admits the script *shred* was pretty shoddy!). Other Locked Up Abroads I have shot never had this problem – in all honestly probably because the countries I shot in had well established and professional film industries and fixers. Although I liked our Cambodian team, they were business people trying hard with no existing infrastructure, not film people.

    We all read your blog and thought it was hilarious – and obviously all true enough, no denials there. I have clearly judged you harshly, for which I apologize. From our point of view, we had one scene left on a day of back-breaking work and some asshole was holding us to ransom unless we paid him $300! It would be unprofessional to go into it here but we were being effectively blackmailed all over the place and our budget was truely f**ked – this ultimately meant the film had less resources and thus we had to work harder to get round them and thus everything on screen was compromised. Being the DOP I care about what the film looks like and when the airport filming fee has gone up from $X a day (before arriving in PNH) to $FIFTEEN TIMES THAT (AFTER arriving in PNH!) and you find yourself in an empty office block with 30 extras, trying to make it look like BKK airport, it gets a little frustrating.

    I am freelance, I work for many, many companies. RAW TV are one of the best I have worked for; they are great people, they make great content and there is a lot of competition to work for them – thus they tend to get the best freelancers in their employment. However on Locked Up Abroad, where only the Director, Producer, DOP and Sound Recordist come from the UK/US, we are completely beholden to our local production company.

    From my perspective as a kid who grew up in former colonies in Africa, I get sensitive to bullish, borderline-racist comments from ex-pats (the usual comments about the ‘useless locals’) and we were essentially stood there in pools of sweat, after a long hard day, while some bit-part swanning around in a 4×4 refused to turn up unless we paid him $300!

    However now I can see, given what you were put through, you were ENTIRELY justified, and so retract my comments with a qualified apology.

    And, for the record, when the great big Diva DID turn up, having blackmailed our asses off, he did work hard and professionally and put in a pretty decent turn in front of the camera, even if he did look like Ricky Gervais,

    No hard feelings!
    W

    • Apology accepted Will you asshole 😉 Dude I know you guys all worked hard – I could see it on your faces. For the final record – I am no colonialist who berates locals. I think the Khmer are more capable than most bloody expats. I am married to the Khmer mob mate – you will never catch me talking them down. Working in Cambodia certainly provides it challenges but that is why you hired a company that “has unrivaled experience of working in partnership with productions large and small…..”. ;-P. Anyways…look……I wish you all well and I guess I will never work in this town again *sniff*. And BIG DIVA ? Jesus you make me sound like Ru Paul !! Work it girl………

  5. LaudJohn says:

    Isn’t it amazing how a fleeting glimpse of fame goes to some peoples heads?

    A bogan one day and a diva/star the next with atitude!

    Mind you .. I know how Justin feels and the crapola he put up with. I would have just said f.. you.

    You are either professional or not, quite simple. Not knowing where you are supposed to be is unacceptable in any professional if they seek to represent a westen outfitt.

    Will, I understand that Justin may have been taken to be difficult, but the production team should think themselves lucky they didn’t encounter anyone like me … I would have kept you bastards waiting for hours.. just like you kept the talent (ok a major overstatement in Justin’s case) waiting. Trust me he wasn’t doing it for the money.

    Professionalism is so lacking in Cambodia and this is just a typical example.

    Justin, well done in letting Will have his say; it is nice to get another perspective.

    cheers

    LaudJohn

  6. Will says:

    Cheers guys, you are right – either someone is professional or they are not. As for me, I just love it when everyone gets along in the end!

    And Justin, never say never again 😉

    W

    • Wait….are you saying there is a part in an upcoming Bond movie for me ? I could be the secret agent transsexual Thai Diva that Daniel Craig picks up in Bangkok only to take to bed and find out……….

  7. Will says:

    … that she charges $300!

    The part’s yours! 🙂

  8. humphrey says:

    Done my share of film and TV work,never easy.
    Many hours expended for a few minutes on the screen.
    They must have employed useless locals-how do these crews get on to local fixers anyway?
    My missus had the bit part in the German production that screened here recently and they had an excellent fixer.
    Back to banged up abroad-why did they work on Chinese new year weekend.
    Was it accidental or deliberate?

  9. Will says:

    We figured if they had been fixers for Tomb Raider, then they probably would be fine. As for CNYW, the shoot is spread over a two week period and set in stone weeks in advance; if the production company had to take into account every religious, cultural holiday event, in shooting these things all over the world, it would be chaos I guess.

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