Cambodian-American filmmaker Nathaniel Nuon spent his childhood growing up in Alabama but he has brought Cambodia home with him through his latest film.
Nuon's new feature film "Broken Balance" is a fantasy-mystery set in Cambodia but filmed in Alabama.
He recently answered a few questions about growing up in Alabama, becoming a filmmaker and the making of "Broken Balance."
Tell us what inspired you to become a filmmaker?
As far as I can remember, when my family first came to the U.S. we didn't have much since we were refugees from the war in Cambodia. My mom told me that my dad found an old TV that someone was throwing away - he brought it home and fixed it. My dad got the TV working but only thing was that the TV had no working sound, so all I saw were moving pictures as a child. While watching the shows I just added words in my heads to what the actors was saying on screen. It just became my own storyline. It wasn’t until years later that I re-watched the shows and found out that what I imagined was totally different from the actual stories I was watching at that time.
What was it like growing up as a Cambodian-American in Alabama?
Growing up here definitely had its ups and down. As a kid, I always worked on the boat with my father, so we were always at sea. I feel that the advantage that I had was being so far and out of touch. It gave me a lot of time to find myself at a young age. There wasn’t much to do on the water at the time. No cellphones, tablets, or laptops. So I just daydreamed and made up stories in my head like I did when I was younger. As time went on I just started writing them down. I never would have imagined that they would one day become films. I’m now getting to put actual words I made up for these characters onto the screen.
How did growing up in Alabama help to define you as a filmmaker?
My father taught me a lot about family and loyalty when we were working out at sea. Growing up here really played a big role in my life. The friends that I grew up with and made movies with are still with me and we still make films together. My close friend and Director of Photography (DP), Sodric Dira has been working on projects with me since middle school. He’s also the DP for “Broken Balance” He and I have a unique way of working together on set, because we grew up together in Alabama. Many other members of my team share the same bond as well. We all have a close relationship on set and I feel that really contributes to the outcome of our projects. I'm very fortunate to have a wonderful family that I can experience this with.
Tell us about your new film Broken Balance.
I won’t go too much into the story of Broken Balance. Definitely don’t want to spoil it for the fans. The story itself traces back to ideas I had when I was working on the boat with my father. I had been working on it off and on my spare time. I just never really sat down and made it into a solid script for a film. It wasn’t until after my last trip to Cambodia, that I was inspired to bring “Broken Balance” to life. I spent a lot of time with the local kids and, even with the life that they face every day, there was still this beautiful hope in their eyes. A friend suggested I write a book instead, after reading the concept, But I knew the next generation of Cambodia was ready and needed something like Broken Balance. Meeting the kids inspired me to move forward with Broken Balance. Everything in it is designed to give hope to them. It’s an interesting cycle how that works.
What were some challenges you faced in making Alabama stand-in for Cambodia in the film?
The lack of Khmer speaking actors (laughs). There aren’t many Cambodian actors here in Alabama. A lot of the people I work with usually have to be flown in. As far as Alabama being a stand in for Cambodia, I feel with a little creativity and workaround, it can be done. In my short film, “Residue”, the setting was 1970’s Cambodia and it was all shot here in Alabama. That’s the beauty of shooting here, there are so many unexpected things that can stand in for other locations.
Tell us about your choice to cast and work with your brother, Peter, on the film?
My brother, Peter, has always been a part of my filmmaking life growing up. It’s kind of like big brother holds the camera, while little brother stands in front of it. I don’t want to say it, but he was kind of forced into it (laughs). But when you don’t have actors growing up you have to use family members to experiment. Peter was really young when I shot my first feature starring him. It was until we shot “Residue” that I saw his potential. He definitely has something growing inside of him that could amount to great things. I’m not speaking from a brother standpoint but as a director. He and the main character of Broken Balance have that in common. It was for that reason that he was cast.
When and where can audiences expect to see the film released?
I really can’t go into detail on the official release date for Broken Balance. But I can tell you we are working on some really big things. The project is design to be a series of six films. Broken Balance is the first of its kind to be done this way for Cambodia. I can say that the film will first be released in Cambodia and in other countries.
What are you working on next?
The team and I are already discussing shooting the second installment to Broken Balance in 3-D (laughs).