Interview with Jean-Stephane Sauvaire the director of the movie « A Prayer Before Dawn »
by Serge Trefeu (2017)
Hello Jean-Stephane and thank you for grant me this interview, how you had the idea to make this movie?
At first, it produced in France, Rita Daguerre (Senorita Film), which had the project by an English production which is called Hurricane. As I know Rita, she had presented me this project by telling me ” It’s of the boxing, it’s in Thailand, it’s in prison, it’s about addiction, it’s a true story… “. It looked great as project, it interested me at once
You met the real character of the movie Billy Moore, this English boxer imprisoned in a prison in Thailand for detention of drug?
I read the narrative which Billy Moore had made on his story, he wrote a book which is called ” A Prayer Before Dawn ” .
I met Billy in Liverpool in England where he lives. I found him really interesting, it’s a guy of Liverpool, he has something rather violent in him and at the same time he’s sensitive, he has a double personality, a facet which was interesting for a character of movie.
This is the way the adventure started, to tell Billy’s story which spent three years in prison in Thailand and which reconstructed thanks to the Thai boxing.
What was especially interesting it’s that it was based on a real character, there were lots of details and there were lots of things to be told, it allowed to go away from the genre movie on the boxing and the prison. It was more human, more in the experience, and at the same time I found that the Thai boxing had not been screened a lot. It made a movie of boxing but a little bit different…
THE BOOK « A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN : A NIGHTMARE IN THAILAND »
JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE WITH BILLY MOORE
The movie is completely carried by the actor Joe Cole (From the famous series Peaky Blinders), you chose him because he had a little a face of boxer, guy of the street?
I really wanted to be an English comedian, Joe is from Liverpool as Billy. Besides, we have the same agent, it’s him who presented me Joe. Physically, Joe in something similar to Billy Moore. He’s raw, a guy of Liverpool, and at the same time sensitive, he corresponds to the character to play Billy. Moreover, Joe made a little of boxing, so he has a real passive in the boxing.
I had seen a short film with Joe Cole, he played a boxer transgender who makes up, who is a little lost in his personality, we saw the side a boxer and the side more feminine than it has. It was interesting for the character of Billy
ACTOR JOE COLE
JOE COLE WITH THE DIRECTOR JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE
BILLY MOORE, JOE COLE, JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE
How it passed the casting as the characters who played the roles of prisoner and boxer?
It was complicated enough because I really wanted to make the movie with not professional actors. It’s thus real ex-prisoners and real boxers of Muay Thai that play in the movie.
I also wanted boxers who had been in jail. Because all the movie takes place inside a prison on a gym of boxing which was built for prisoners.
I wanted to find boxers who had an experience in the boxing of course but who had also made of the boxing in prison.
Boxers of Muay Thai in Thailand we can find it a lot. But generally, they are young, they have between 16 and 25 years. In prison, the boxers are a little older, they have around thirty.
In the gym of Klong Prem in the prison of Klong Prem in Bangkok, one gym where I saw many photos and which really helped me for the movie, the boxers are not 17 years old, they are much older. I thus needed this category of boxer.
The first one whom I met it’s Aim (Chaloemporn Sawatsuk, professional boxer in Boxing with 22 fights, 17 victories and 5 defeats, ABF champion (Asian Boxing Federation)) who made 15 years of prison, he committed three murders in prison.
He was first sentenced to six years, at the end of his six years of prison, the day of his exit, he killed somebody in prison. It was an enemy to him who attacked him and to defend itself Aim had to kill him. He was imprisoned in another prison, in this prison he killed a guy for 5000 dollars, it was the contract which he made as a hitman. Then, in another prison during a fight he killed again a guy.
Through the boxing, Aim was able to take out of this violence and to reconstruct. They had put him in the gym of boxing. Aim put a lot into this sport and he became a champion. Thanks to his sports results, he finished his punishment normally and he went out of prison. Aim became an example among the boxers prisoners which had managed to take out there.
Aim was my first contact which allowed me to find other boxers. He took me in a gym of boxing in a prison for juvenile delinquent, he had many contacts in the world of the boxing in Bangkok.
Thanks to him, I met former prisoners and prisoners boxers.
AIM (CHALOEMPORN SAWATSUK) HAS A TRUE FACE OF GANGSTER
AIM IS AN AUTHENTIC CHAMPION
CHALOEMPORN WITH HIS ABF TITLE OF BOXING
THE ACTOR JOE COLE CHALLENGE THE BOXER CHALOEMPORN
But it took time to me to find all the casting of the movie, I put one year looking almost everywhere, in Thailand, on Facebook, and with the contacts of some and others.
The great champion Somrak Kamsing (Golden medal in the Olympics of Atlanta in 1996) made the role of the trainer of the gym in the prison, he has an important role.
SOMRAK KAMSING WITH HIS BOXERS
SOMRAK KAMSING IS THE COACH OF JOE COLE IN THE FILM
In Muay Thai, there is also the champion Chanajon (Chanajon PK Seanchai Gym, Radja champion, world champion, winner of the tournament Isuzu) who makes the last fight.
THE CHAMPION CHANAJON PK SEANCHAI GYM
In boxer’s team, I also had Patomsuk Pathompothong (Komsan Polsan, professional boxer in Boxing with 41 fights, 33 victories and 7 defeats, 1 draw, IBF Pan Pacific champion and WBC Asian Boxing Council champion) who is a champion of boxing who made many prison.
KOMSAN POLSAN IS A GREAT CHAMPION OF BOXING
There is also Tiger who is a tattooed boxer, but are not it to him tattoos of prison which he has on the body, he has more religious tattoos, Sak Yant. Tiger also makes of the Boxing
JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE WITH BOXERS OF FILM AND SOMRAK KAMSING
The casting was longer than the shooting?
Yes the casting lasted on one year, the movie was shot in 30 days. It’s all the preparation, the casting, the contacts, that always take longer
It’s David Ismalone, a stuntman and a former boxer, who managed the choreographies of the fights, how have you met David?
David, I met him by the production in Bangkok. David arrived as consultant and choreographer of scenes of fight. He has some experience as former boxer, stuntman and choreographer of stunt. It was really interesting to work with him.
David also found me boxers, more professional boxers to complete the casting. As the champion Sayok (Lumpinee Champion, Radja champion, world champion WMC, winner of the tournament Thai Fight) which is in the first fight. He has a small role at the beginning of the movie, he makes the first fighter.
THE CHAMPION SAYOK PUMPANMUANG
When we began to work together, David was at first more on a classic plan of fight as he was used to making. But me, I wanted to do something different, to work more on sequences shot, to work on the length. We made the opposite of what is usually made with images of fights cut in all directions. We set up choreographies of fights which owed 10 minutes, to shot in continuity, so that every boxer know exactly the blows which they had to give
DAVID ISMALONE WITH THE BOXERS OF FILM AND SOMRAK KAMSING
THE DIRECTOR JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE, THE REAL BILLY MOORE, THE CHAMPION CHANAJON, THE STUNTMAN DAVID ISMALONE, THE BOXER CHALOEMPORN SAWATSUK
The scenes of fight were shot in sequence shot (Long plan which includes the completeness of a scene), by shooting long scenes you tried to give most realism possible for the scenes of fight?
Yes because you can shot during 6, 8 to see 10 minutes, the maximum it was 10 minutes. There is a fight in the prison where I almost kept everything, I cut little because it cannot be also long in a movie, otherwise you lose the attention of the spectator.
But we shot three rounds without cutting, the boxers made of real sparring, they really gave themselves the knocks. It gives a much more realistic side of the fights than to use the editing with techniques counter-shot, techniques which allow you to persuade that they knock each other about. While there, they were obliged to fight, they fought really above without beating but there was some contact
There are a lot of fights in the movie?
There are three important fights in the movie. The first one, Billy is stoned because he has took some Yaa Baa (Synthetic Drug), it’s a speed fight on the sensation to fight when we are stoned.
The second, it’s a fight he has to do for his survival, to be accepted in the boxing gym, the fight takes place in the prison.
And the third, he’s sent to another prison to fight against a champion. This fight was shot in the Philippines in a real prison.
I had seen on YouTube of videos shot in a prison, videos which they call “Dancing Inmates” it’s prisoners which dance on the music of Mickael Jakson. It had pleased me and I thought that it was easier bring in a film crew in this prison. We thus shot in the prison with 3000 prisoners which played the spectators of the fight. In this prison of the Philippines, they also had a program of reintegration by the boxing
THE SCENES OF FIGHT ARE VERY REALISTIC, THE KNOCKS ARE GOOD GIVEN
The tournaments of Muay Thai really exist in the centers Thai penitentiaries, you think that it’s a good way for certain prisoners to be able to take out there?
Prisoners let off steam and the boxing is the real discipline of life, they go out of the daily circle of the drug and of the life of prison.
I find that it’s good, it’s the program which allows them to move on and to exorcise their violence.
But in Thailand, they now trend to stop these programs of boxing in prison. While before it worked very well. There were several tournaments organized between the prisons where if you managed to be selected in international, you could go to fight outside of the prison.
It’s a way to take out of the prison, to inhale outdoors, to see families. It breaks the routine in cell and allows them to have more hope on the future, the boxing brings them a lot of hope
Do you have shot in the prison of Klong Prem in Bangkok, one of the hardest prisons of Thailand, is what it been difficult to have authorizations?
No, we did not shoot in the prison of Klong Prem but to Nakhon Pathom in a former detention center. It was an abandoned prison. Because in the prison of Klong Prem, they don’t give authorizations, it’s very complicated.
In Thailand, they pay attention to the image of the country and a movie about the Thai prisons it’s not necessarily a film that gives the best image of Thailand. But I had explained well them that it was not a movie about the Thailand but the movie of prison, about is the country in the world, we know well that prisons are not the most paradisiac places.
Thai played the game. But there was a censor who came to see the shooting every day, he’s watching a little bit about what we were doing. I think that the boxing helped a lot them to understand the movie and that the Thai authorities agree that we make this film…
THE BOXERS IN FRONT THE NAKHON PATHOM PRISON
This abandoned prison was like a huge film studio for your team?
Yes the prison had just been emptied of his prisoners. They had transferred prisoners in a more modern prison.
Nakhon Pathom is fifty kilometers from Bangkok, the prison was in the city center, it was one of the oldest prisons in Thailand. She must be destroyed to be transformed into park.
I arrived at the right time, just as they transferred prisoners. What was incredible, it’s that the prison was completely empty but there were still the clothes of prisoners. It was as if we had asked the prisoners to leave so that I can visit the prison and make my movie. Besides, there was also a gym of boxing in this prison
Billy Moore, it’s in Klong Prem Prison in Bangkok that he did his detention?
Billy made two prisons. He was arrested at first to Chiangmai in the North and imprisoned in a prison of province. Then, further to health problems, he was transferred in the prison of Klong Prem in Bangkok.
His history is situated in both prisons. But it was complicated in the movie to make scenes in both prisons, it would have been too long. Thus we gathered the history in one and the same prison. With regard to the adaptation of the movie it was simpler.
The prison to Nakhon Pathom looks like more visually the prison where Billy was imprisoned to Chiangmai.
The prison of Klong Prem is a bigger prison, a city prison, a detention center where there are prisoners of long sentences
One of the main Thai actors Panya Yimumphai is a real gang leader?
It’s a real leader of gang, the side prisoner it’s also him who helped me to find all the ex-prisoners which play in the movie.
He made ten years of prison, he was released six years ago. But he returned to prison, he was arrested one month ago. After the movie, after the Cannes film festival, he was again imprisoned. He had a old condemnation which dated his time in prison to Klong Prem, he was dealing drugs in this prison.
Panya helped a lot me on the movie to bring a very realistic cocktail of the prison, by prisoners and by all his anecdotes which he lived
JOE COLE, PANYA YIMUMPHAI, JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE
JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE WITH THE MEMBERS OF THE GANG OF PANYA
Panya made you meet gang members from Bangkok?
Yes, Panya is very involved in gangs, all those who play in the movie are a part gangs. Panya knows all the world of the Thai gangs.
In Bangkok, there are two big gangs, that of those “above the river” and that of those “below the river” with regard to the river which crosses the city from north to south, the river Chao Phraya cuts literally in two the urban area.
It’s not easy to get into this world but I stayed more than year in Thailand. I saw Panya regularly and a trust it’s created between us. He opened and I think that he wanted to tell his story. All these gangs in Thailand are very rejected by the population, they live outside the Thai society, this movie was somewhere for them a way to exist.
When the movie was projected in the Cannes film festival, Panya was present and it was a moment important for him. For once, he was not top models who represented the Thailand but guys as him who also had the right to represent their country and to exist…
THE FILM TEAM AT THE 2017 CANNES FESTIVAL
In the Cannes film festival, after the end of the movie, there was an standing ovation during more than 10 minutes, the team of the movie was of course touched. But the Thai Panya was one of the most touched, he even cried, it’s the first time that he lived a moment like this?
Yes, because all at once, he thought, we see my life on the screen and people don’t judge me as criminal but as actor. The public recognized somewhere what he lived and at the same time of what he managed to broadcast on screens. It’s a beautiful digression in his hooligan’s hard life…
You knew the world of the Thai boxing before making this movie?
I knew a little as spectator because I liked this sport. I had been long ago in Thailand and this world interested me but I did not know more than that
Have you been to see boxing camps to absorb some Muay Thai?
Yes, I visited many camps, and I took the actor Joe Cole in boxing camps for that he trains.
We were in the camp Meenayothin where he trained with the great champion Aikpracha. Aikpracha had to make the role of the boxer which fought against Joe in the last sequence of the movie. We had repeated a lot with him in his camp. But at the last moment, his manager did not want that he shoots because he had a fight of planned.
In two days, I had to find quickly another champion for this scene. And thanks to you and your web site siamfightmag where there are many interviews of Thai champions, we found Chanajon. We contacted him and he made the role in the final fight against Joe.
Joe was also in the camp of Somrak, Somrak trained him and prepared.
We also shot in the boxing camp 96 Peenang, the camp which is under one highway in the district of Klongtoey. We shot the first fight in this camp with boxers of the district. It’s the fight where Joe is stoned, the decor a little rotten of camp is well with the scene.
I was to see also fights in the stadiums of Bangkok, especially in the small stadiums of the North of Bangkok, in the stadium TV7 and in the stadium of Rangsit. I liked to go as well to a stadium as David knew well the TV 23 stadium in the suburb of Bangkok about Nonthaburi. These stadiums are more intimate and there are fewer tourists than in the stadiums of Radja and Lumpinee.
Somrak liked to go to the stadium TV7, we followed him when he had boxers who fought in stadiums.
It was a very nice experience to immerse myself in the world of Thai boxing, to spend time to absorb of this world to be able to retranscribe at best the boxing in the screen…
The film will be released when in Europe?
The movie will go out officially in France and in Europe in April or in May, 2018. Because the movie was bought by an American production company ” A24 “. They are priority on the release of the movie in screening room, thus we wait that they decide for the release in the United States and then he can go out in France. At the moment, the movie is broadcast abroad in festivals, in several countries. We also made some previews in France. He will be again in preview in France before that he goes out in the French film rooms
Thank you very much Jean-Stephane for this interview and I look forward to seeing the movie!
Thanks to you Serge
A Prayer Before Dawn, a powerful film to discover soon on European screens!
A prayer before dawn is the true story of the fight of a man to survive inside the prison of Klong Prem, famous Bangkok Hilton. Billy Moore went in Thailand to escape a life of drug addiction and alcoholism. He managed to overcome his internal devils for a while, but relapsed having tried Yaa Baa, a very addicting shape of the methamphetamine.
The life of Moore quickly sank into the chaos, the drug trafficking and the violence until he’s finally arrested and imprisoned to Klong Prem, a place where the life has no value.
In this hell, he’s quickly confronted with the violence of gangs and does not have than two choices anymore: die or survive. When the prison authorities authorize him to participate in tournaments of Muay-Thai, Billy gives all he has left…
A prayer before dawn is not a report of ordinary prison. It’s the story of the fight of a man to survive in one of the most difficult prisons of the world. It’s also a story of redemption in the most improbable of places.
Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, been born on December 31st, 1968, is a director, a producer and a French scriptwriter.
2003: Carlitos Medellin, a 75-minute documentary feature film, awarded at the Paris International Film Festival of Human Rights in 2004.
2008: Johnny Mad Dog, full-length film crowned by the Prize of the hope in the Cannes film festival and the prize Michel-d’Ornano to the Festival of Deauville in 2008.
This fiction in the borders of the reality was coproduced with the famous director Mathieu Kassovitz.
JEAN-STEPHANE SAUVAIRE WITH MATHIEU KASSOVITZ
2017: A Prayer Before Dawn, full-length film in Official Selection at the 70 th Cannes Film Festival
2012: Punk, TV movie broadcast on Arte channel and which received the Best Director Award at the La Rochelle 2012 TV Fiction Festival