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The Independent Critic

 Daron Ker Interview (Page Two) 
THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I love the story that I read about you. I believe it was in the info that your publicist sent to me initially about watching Spartacus in the refugee camp. The image of you watching movies, I'm assuming in the camp, is just really powerful to me.

DARON KER

Yeah, it was in the refugee camp. I think it was the French. They would project every night just using this old white sheet a movie. That's really where I first got interested in cinema. We were just kids running wild most of the time. One day, we were running around looking for something to do. We ran into this thing, and they were showing movies. We stopped. Me and my little crew were like "Whoa, what is this? We've never seen this before." I think it was at the other end of the refugee camp. It was a big camp. They projected kung fu movies in there. They projected old movies mainly. Every night, I would just go there by myself because my friends got bored with it. They were like "We don't want to see the same movie over and over." One night, I went by myself and I saw that film Spartacus. It was just amazing - the visuals and the imagery. I was amazed by it. I didn't understand English at the time, but what Spartacus represented was hope. I went there like 5 or 6 days just to watch that same film. I was just so blown away by the story, especially at the end when Spartacus was hung on the cross and he's about to die. The whole scene was just so magical and so powerful. I told myself "When I get out of here, that's what I want to do is make movies." My prayer was answered, because my sponsor was in Southern Cal ... a film mecca.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

See, that's what I love about that story and that imagery. As negative as that experience was, no doubt horrendous, here you have this young child whose seeds of hope were planted in the midst of it all and those seeds grew and you became this filmmaker that you envisioned back then. It sort of goes against everything I think most Americans think of when they think of refugee camps. I think it also brings to mind to me that whole question of why we as a people or we as a nation get involved in global events and tragedies and such. You never realize how something so seemingly minor as showing a film in a refugee camp can lead to something so extraordinary as planting hope in a child. How did you actually end up over here? It wasn't from Cambodia if I'm following you correctly.

DARON KER

There's a church group. They sponsored us to get over here. You have an opportunity to go a couple places...U.S., France or Australia. We had some cousins in Southern California and they requested with the church that sponsored our family for us to get to Southern California. That's how it all worked.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Okay, so how did the regime at that time respond? Or am I confused? Did they oppose your leaving? You escaped from Cambodia?

DARON KER

We escaped from Cambodia and went to Thailand. From Thailand, the American and the French embassies were working together getting people out of the refugee camps. That's how all that worked.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Thanks for explaining that. Okay, so you came over here. The family was transplanted. What was that experience like? You already had some family here.

DARON KER

I had a cousin who sponsored with a church group, Church of the Brethren.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Really?

DARON KER

Yeah, it was Church of the Brethren.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I'm a Church of the Brethren minister.

DARON KER

Oh wow (Boy, you could tell he was surprised!)

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I'm not even kidding.

DARON KER

Wow. Really? It was in a town in Southern California...a little town called La Verne. They were my sponsor.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You just totally freaked me out. Heck, most Americans have never even heard of Church of the Brethren. Yeah, I'm actually in seminary right now.

DARON KER

There goes our connection. That's amazing. Well, thanks to Church of the Brethren. That's why I'm here.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Okay, so I better get back on track here. That sure threw me off for a minute. You came over here at about the age of 5-6? You didn't speak English at that point?

DARON KER

No, I didn't. I was sure happy to be here, though.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

If nothing else, it had to be safer I'd think? I know L.A. can get bad, but...

DARON KER

I tell people "When I got shipped into Southern Cal, I didn't get dropped off in Beverly Hills." They dropped me off in the ghetto. I had to fight my way out of the ghetto.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

But you were still happy to be here?

DARON KER

Really happy to be here. Now, I can give a voice and introduce people to my culture. I started out with nothing. I talk to kids and I tell them "You got everything. You've got cars and nice stuff. You should appreciate it."

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Do you talk to a lot of kids or groups?

DARON KER

I do now, especially the Cambodian-American kids. They forget their roots really fast. I don't blame them. I forgot until I went and did Rice Field of Dreams. Then, I started rethinking about my life. I was young and I didn't know all this stuff about living in a concentration camp and that we were about to die from Malaria and all this crazy stuff. I really started appreciating things more.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You had that moment as a child where you realized that you wanted to make films when you grew up, but when did this really start to become a serious thing for you?

DARON KER

When we came to the States, we had our first T.V. I just found myself glued to that T.V. My mom was like "What is this kid doing?" One day, Spartacus came on. We were right in the middle of dinner, and I wouldn't eat dinner. My family was upset. My sister went and turned off the movie and I was just crying and crying until she turned that movie back on. I was just so fascinated by it. I didn't know what I was going to do with it. We actually went to a movie almost every other day. Except for the rated "R" stuff, I watched it all. So, my fascination from when I was in the refugee camp carried on when I came to the U.S. That was what I wanted to do, so I tried to figure out how I was going to do it.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Did you show your creative side in school? School had to be difficult for you. You came over from Cambodia. You didn't speak English. Was that a good place for you?

DARON KER

I remember when the first VHS camera came out and I started just shooting stuff. I went to City College and took a class. Our first assignment was to shoot a commercial. Everyone did this commercial about community stuff or whatever, and I did this commercial about toilet paper. I shot this Rastafari guy sitting in a toilet to say "I like this toilet paper." Anyhow, I went on and kept thinking "This is what I really want to do." That's when I consciously started to think about how I could do this thing.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So you went ahead and studied it at City College?

DARON KER

At City College, it wasn't really a focus. Back in the day, there really weren't a lot of places teaching that as a focus. They really didn't have the right equipment and all that, but that really re-introduced me to what I really wanted to do. I figured I'd better do this now or I'll never.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

What'd your family say?

DARON KER

They thought I was crazy. They wanted me to be an engineer or something. I tried it all. Engineer? Mechanic? I was like "No way! I'm not going to be an engineer." One thing, I wasn't any good at it. Another thing, you just sit there and you draft and draft. Auto mechanic? You get dirty all the time. I couldn't do it. My dad was like "If you don't like architecture or engineering or something stable, you're going to have to figure out something...nursing or something." I was like "There's no way I'm going to be a nurse." He said "You can't make movies. You don't make money off that." I told him "Why don't you go be an engineer or a nurse, I'm going to go to film school." He was shocked, but sure enough I got accepted to the Academy of Art. I did it all myself. He asked me "What are you doing moving to San Francisco?" I said "I"m going to film school." My cousin, he's an artist in San Francisco, said it was cool for me to stay on his couch. I didn't know how hard it would be to go to film school, but I knew it was what I wanted to do.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, you did the film school thing. You earned a BFA in Motion Picture and Television in 2002 from Academy of Art in San Francisco. Did you start working in the film industry right away?

DARON KER

I went to the career center at school. They started off by asking me how much I wanted to make after school. I was like "I just want to have a job after school." They were like, "but how much do you want to make?" I was like "I don't. Maybe $30,000 or something." They lady was like "$30,000? Put down at least $100,000 or something like that." So, I put it down. I didn't read the fine print, though (Laughing). You might get a job making $100,000 a year, but you'll owe us $70,000 when you get out of here. When I graduated, I decided to go back to L.A. because that's the center of the film industry. It's the hardest thing ever. It's hard to make it in the film industry. I remember my first job. I was on the set with a small budget film and just kind of laughing and saying how I should have just come out there. There was this one guy who was a dolly grip who asked me if I'd just graduated. I was like "Yeah, I did." I was really proud that I'd just graduated. He was like "Man, you just wasted a lot of money. I could have taught you in two days what it takes to make it in the film industry. Look at me. I'm in the union. I make $60 an hour pulling a dolly back and forth, back and forth." I was like "Well, let me tell you something. Maybe I don't want to push a dolly my whole life." Oh my god, why did I say that?

That happened a couple times. It's kind of life an initiation thing... kind of like the biker culture. They want to see how thick your skin is. In the film business, if you don't have thick skin get out of it. There's no time for prima donnas. I've learned that it's not personal. It's a job. There's a lot of money involved. I decided to get back to San Francisco, where I knew everybody. I was just going to make movies.
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