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Friends proud of their effort on amateur, 5-minute film about Edward Snowden's Hong Kong stay

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HONG KONG - It was shot in single takes with amateur actors, hobbyist directors and about $650 — mainly to pay for a room in the same Hong Kong hotel that briefly housed Edward Snowden.

But the short YouTube film some bill as the first movie about the National Security Agency leaker is a source of pride for the friends who made it, even as they acknowledge its limitations.

"Verax" gained much popularity at first, having been released just two days after Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow, where he remains, but praise of the film has given way to criticism, with many viewers berating the four directors for amateur work and bad casting.

The five-minute film is filled with Hong Kong scenery and melodramatic music and stars Andrew Cromeek, an American school teacher in Hong Kong with an uncanny resemblance to Snowden.

Cromeek is unfazed by the critics, noting none of the actors is a professional and that they didn't think the mere YouTube video would gain so much attention in the first place.

"I think the way it was shot was quite cool," he said. "We are all amateur actors. We all had one take. It was kind of like, shoot, go, OK, done. So it's fine. It's completely OK if people are like, 'It's the worst acting in the world.' It's totally fine with me."

Jeff Floro said he and the other directors, Edwin Lee, Shawn Tse and Marcus Tsui, had only wanted to hone their guerrilla filmmaking style and produce something that was relevant to Hong Kong at that time. Floro himself works in finance by day, and creates movies as a hobby.

Given the fact that little of Snowden was known at that time, the directors agreed to focus the film's attention on the relationships between different groups and agencies in Hong Kong.

They played with different ideas, "but in the end we felt like the tension is just there as it is, and we could just let it go through those circles and not actually highlight too much of Edward Snowden, considering we didn't have that much information about him," Floro said.

Money wasn't a concern of the filmmakers, who spent about 5,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$645) to make the film, most used to book a room at the Mira Hotel where Snowden stayed part of the time he was in Hong Kong.

"I think it was more about love of filmmaking, and we just thought it was relevant to Hong Kong," Floro said. "If we had wanted to cash it out, I think would have taken more time to really like, I guess put something longer together. And really like, try to pitch it, sell it in that way."

They plans to take "Verax" to film festivals and have been open about shooting a sequel.

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