Local author Andrew Kooman is experiencing something of a dream come true watching his acclaimed play She Has A Name being transformed into a feature film.
The cast and crew recently wrapped filming in Thailand, and another part of the journey is complete as further production and post-production await the project.
“We finished a 16-day, very intense shooting schedule with a crew consisting of people from Canada, U.S.A., Thailand, Singapore and the UK,” he explained. “When I write for the stage I always have the film version of the story in mind. I’m thrilled that my first full-length play will also be the first full-length film adaptation of my work.”
Kooman has brought many projects to the public over the past years, perhaps most significantly She Has A Name which saw tremendous acclaim during its theatrical run over the past several years and truly struck a chord with international audiences.
The play, which is about the battle against human trafficking, provides poignant insight into the issue in South East Asia.
Performances sold out across the country, and the powerful script proved an excellent vehicle to spark discussions and momentum for change in many people’s lives.
The story is based on an incident in Thailand where a storage container transporting more than 100 people ran out of gas and was simply abandoned. Ultimately about 50 people lost their lives. That tragedy was a kind of a trigger for the plot.
Jason poses as a john to build a case against a brothel trafficking girls into Bangkok. He must win the trust of a young girl forced to work as a prostitute who is known as ‘Number 18’ and convince her to risk her life to testify for the sake of justice.
“Principal photography began in Thailand in November,” he said. “We shot the film throughout the country in Bangkok, Pattaya, Kamphaeng Seang and Kanchanaburi. Using real locations like police stations, go-go bars and the beautiful Thai countryside, the film will have a very gritty feel.
“On set each day the crew numbered between 50 and 100 with people from around the world (but primarily Canada and Thailand). We’re proud to have a Canadian production that has an international team. This is a film about a global issue, so it seems very meaningful to have a global team,” Kooman said, adding most of the roles had been cast by his production team and an agent in Los Angeles.
Producer Shari Aspinall said the team has assembled an incredible cast and crew that will, “Create an alluring film that breathes authenticity. And like all great art, I believe it will change and inspire audiences. While this is a Canadian-produced film, it was important to us to have a creative team that went far beyond our borders, because the nature of the issue is so global.”
Meanwhile, Kooman said he’s constantly amazed at how the story has captured the imaginations of Canadians in particular.
“Though it’s been three years since it toured, audience members still reach out to me and tell me how the story affected them in a profound way. People who loved the play will be blown away by the film and I can’t wait for it to find a wider audience and new life as a feature film.”
Kooman explained there’s an increase in the scope of the story with more political context and back story.
“The core of the story is very much the same. The plot zeroes in on a bar called the Pearl which is a popular destination for sex tourists, famous for beautiful girls from all over South East Asia and the place where Jason, an American lawyer, poses as a john so he can secretly meet with prostitutes.
“Certain a young girl known only as Number 18 can be a key witness for his case, Jason must convince her to testify against her cut throat pimp.”
As Jason travels from brothel to seedy brothel in the thriving red light districts, he starts to build a relationship with 18.
“He sees in her reflections of the young daughters he has left far away at home in the U.S.A.”
But as Kooman explains, when Jason’s investigation starts to unravel, he realizes that rather than save 18 from her horrific circumstances, he has actually put her life at risk. “With a crime syndicate chasing him down and no resources but his own wits, Jason must try rescue Number 18 in the crowded city before the pimp moves her, for good.”
Transforming the story from a stage version to a film allows, as Koomans explains, for a bigger story.
”There are some surprising twists and turns, thrilling action sequences and new characters,” he said. “Visually it will be spectacular as film allowed the story to showcase the exotic beauty of Thailand’s landscape and juxtapose it with the seedy and clandestine world of organized crime.
“Although the scope of the film is large, at its heart, She Has A Name is the story of one man’s attempt to rescue a young girl from an unthinkable reality.”
Kooman invites folks to follow the creative team’s adventure as they move into post production.
“They can sign up for our email list and visit our film blog at www.unveilstudios.com/shn. On our web site and through emails we will give a continued inside look at the production and share some of the truly incredible experiences we had while filming and some of the challenges we faced as we filmed in a foreign country.”
People can also get an exclusive look at photos from the set and the cool gear they are using on their facebook (www.facebook.com/UnveilStudiosInc) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/unveil_studios).
Kooman regularly travels internationally to write and partners with non-profit organizations to teach on writing, creativity and identity. He has a gift for showing the harsh realities many in the world face while pointing readers to practical ways they can help make a difference.
He certainly has a solid team surrounding him as the amazing project takes shape.
The film is being directed by Kooman’s brothers Matthew Kooman and Daniel Kooman.
“I’m drawn to character driven stories that are dramatically told, when real people have to overcome impossible odds,” said Matthew. “For me that’s what this film is about. It so happens to be set in the real world, in a brothel where young girls are trafficked. I wanted to take up the challenge of telling an authentic narrative in that very raw but very real setting.”
“For me, She Has A Name is the kind of story where we realize, ‘This could be my life, this could be me,’” he said. “And that’s the kind of story I love, when the audience identifies with a character or a storyline completely outside of their experience and connects with it in a deep and meaningful way.”
Looking ahead, the team has developed an extensive digital strategy for getting the film to as wide an audience as possible.
“Beyond submitting She Has A Name into film festivals and pursuing distribution the traditional indie way, we are developing a robust digital strategy,” said Producer Donna Abraham. “We’re patterning with anti-trafficking organizations that will be endorsing the film with their networks. Those networks will share in profits. These ‘freedom funds’ will go directly to funding real-world efforts to eradicate child sex trafficking.”
Check out www.andrewkooman.com.