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A Prayer Before Dawn 2017

A Prayer Before Dawn | Une Prière avant l'aube

A Prayer Before Dawn-Une Priere avant l'aube

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Fight your demons. Fight your fears. Fight for your life. Fight your way out.

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About the A Prayer Before Dawn 💬

  • Based on the incredible true story.

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is the remarkable true story of Billy Moore, a young English boxer incarcerated for 3 years in one of Thailand's most notorious prisons.

  • A man with nothing left to lose. Has everything to fight for.

He is quickly thrown into a terrifying world of drugs and gang violence, but when the prison authorities allow him to take part in the Muay Thai boxing tournaments, Billy Moore (Joe Cole) realizes that this is his only hope for survival.

  • The fight starts from inside.

Billy embarks on a relentless, action-packed journey from one savage fight to the next, stopping at nothing to do whatever he must to preserve his life and regain his freedom.


Q: What attracted you to A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN?

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: Firstly, the fact that it was a true story, the authenticity, Thailand, boxing, the prison world and above all, Billy Moore's character, fascinating in his contradictions, in his inner conflicts, his addiction and in all his complexity. It was Rita Dagher who first spoke to me about this project and offered me the screenplay that she was producing with Hurricane Films. I then read the book (A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand) which is Billy's story, from his childhood to his release from prison. After that, I met Billy in Liverpool and was instantly drawn to him. He is extremely sensitive despite the extreme violence that seems to inhabit him.

Q: To what extent was Billy Moore involved in the film?

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: He was very involved in the script writing, but he also gave us a lot of freedom. He was a point of reference when we were stuck. Johnny Hirschbein (the screenwriter) and I often called Billy while we were writing to ask him how he had reacted in such or such a situation. His input was fascinating as it accentuated the authenticity that I was looking for and allowed me to distance myself from a pure genre film.

Above all, his experience allowed us to tell the story of how a man who finds himself alone, and a foreigner in a Thai prison, an extreme environment in which he doesn't fully understand the codes, rules or even the language, and how boxing helps him to evolve and change.

Q: In one scene, Billy Moore, who is still imprisoned, manages to escape from a hospital room and wander around Bangkok. Did this really happen?

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: This may seem completely surreal, but it actually happened. I asked myself the same question as I was reading the book. I then talked about this with Billy as it's contrary to what you might write in a film. He did indeed escape with his feet chained, without really knowing where to go, he briefly thought about crossing the border into Cambodia and becoming a fugitive but as he walked, he couldn't stop thinking about how he would manage to remove his chains. Finally, he returned to the hospital. He preferred to serve his sentence than to become a fugitive. Billy was initially sentenced to three years and served his sentence first in Chiang Mia in the north of Thailand where he joined the boxing club, then in Klong Prem in Bangkok. He was incarcerated for two years before finishing his final year's sentence in England, which is a short sentence compared to most convictions in Thailand. Convictions for drug charges are often a lot longer. He was in fact convicted for handling stolen goods and firearms, which is strictly forbidden in Thailand, and suspicion of drug possession. If he had been carrying drugs, those red pills of methamphetamines known in Asia as ''Ya ba'' the ''drug that makes you crazy'', he would have been sentenced to twenty years or more.

Q: You never distance yourself from Billy Moore's point of view and you try to convey his emotional states by using simple cinematic techniques. How did you work this subjectivity?

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: I am interested in immersion in the film. Firstly, as a spectator but also as a director. To live a film as an experience. From the start, I imagined a film experienced in the first person. I wanted the audience to share Billy Moore's point of view, to discover this prison through the prism of his eyes, to feel through him what it's like to be in a ring, the sensations you can experience when you have taken drugs, what it means to be alone like him in an initially hostile environment. The entire first part of the film, where information is given to us in a brutal way, tries to recreate Billy's mental chaos, heightened by the use of narcotics. I was interested in visually translating the idea of Billy's internal demons, to experience the film at his own pace. As well as the image and sound which contribute to this mental state and help us to grasp what the character does and doesn't understand. I felt that the documentary dimension which consisted of working with non-professional actors helped this sense of total immersion.

I wanted the ''spectator'' to become ''active'' in a sense, to not just view the film with a certain distance, as entertainment, but to feel things from the boxer's, the prisoner's point of view, to live his addiction, in a visceral and organic way. It's this reality that I tried to share and make the audience endure in an intimate way.

Technically, we filmed almost the entire film in sequence-shots even though when editing, we cut within the shots. I wanted to work on the scenes in real time, to find a rhythmic homogeneity between the actor and camera, so that Joe Cole could be in a constant immersion and so that the audience could experience exhaustion, effort and sometimes suffering, through him. As we were filming in HD, and mostly with a hand-held camera, we could shoot ten-minute takes and give the actors real freedom. So they could let themselves go, to ''live'' or ''endure'' the situations rather than ''act'' them. It was also important for me from the start to film all the boxing matches and fights in a realistic way. Instead of cutting, I wanted to choreograph the fights to film them in their entirety. The fight that occurs in the middle of the film was filmed in one sequence-shot, close to Billy, to try and be in his body, his head, to share his adrenaline and his fear. Like something both physical and mental.

Q: With a specific work on sound too...

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: The work on sound in post-production focused on telling the story in the first person, once again to be as close to Billy as possible, right up to his ever-present breathing, which encouraged a more intimate relationship with the character. I wanted to extend the audio experience of Johnny Mad Dog or to approach sound in a sensory way. When at war, the senses are instantly heightened and we hear everything precisely, more intensely, almost in a primal way. This seemed to apply to the prisoners, in constant danger and always alert, or to the way a boxer may perceive sound in the ring, motivated by his fear and adrenaline. I was trying to recreate a sound scale, not necessarily a realistic one but a symbolic and mental one. Hence an important work on sound design while trying to maintain a realistic and raw sound material.

Q: Was Joe Cole the only professional actor?

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: Yes aside from Vithaya Pansringarm who plays the warden in Only God Forgives by Nicolas Winding Refn and who had caught my eye. All the other Thai actors were not only non-professional but most importantly, they were ex-prisoners and boxing champions. Most of them had been incarcerated for murder or drug possession having served 10 to 20-year sentences and some had just been released. I used their personal experiences to re-write the screenplay. They are the guarantors of the film's authenticity. The casting took me over a year in Bangkok so we saw each other regularly and built a mutual trust. I interviewed the real protagonists, immersed myself in their stories, their lives, their memories, to understand their journeys. I photographed their faces, their scars, their tattoos and listened to their voices. When we were rehearsing before filming, I asked the ex ''samurai'' prisoners to show us what happens when a new prisoner is brought to a cell; the intimidation, humiliation, rape, the rituals of life in a Thai prison. I wanted to convey truthfully and without judgment this inherent violence of the rite of passage for new prisoners. Moreover, Thai prisons are mostly renowned for being overcrowded, implying human promiscuity. How can one live decently locked up in a cell with 100 other inmates?

Among the Thai actors, Vithaya was the only one who spoke English. With the others everything went through a translator which was sometimes frustrating for me and could have been problematic, however this language barrier interested me for the film. I spent a long time asking myself how they would be able to recite dialogues when they didn't speak the language. I finally realized that it would be more compelling if they communicated beyond words. This was in line with the film which is first and foremost physical, depicting the confrontation of bodies rather than verbal jousting. The first day on set with Joe Cole he faced the Thai actors and had to try and communicate with them, to tell a story with only gestures. They had to find a common ground and understand each other without speaking the same language.

Q: Tell us how you filmed bodies in A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN?

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: I like to film bodies because they each have their own story. Bodies can't lie. They carry life's blows, the scars, past traumas. The prisoners' tattoos are an explicit expression of their journey. These same bodies are judged by Thai society as they are associated with delinquency and prison, as if culturally, because these men are tattooed, they are denied a second chance.

The majority of these men got tattooed in prison. It's forbidden, but for prisoners with long sentences, the wardens turn a blind eye. Their tattoos reveal something about them, in an obvious yet discreet way. The bodies of the boxers and ladyboys also tell a story. Just like the child boxer we see at the beginning of the film, who I chose because he was a boxing champion, but also because of the birthmark on his face.

All these characters, surrounded by men in uniform, are tormented by internal conflicts that they express in their own way with their bodies, like a cry. They have that part of violence in them but they also have an unquestionable sense of humanity. I really didn't want to reduce them to clichés of prisoners or show them as mere criminals or dealers. I wanted to respect these people who despite having lived through difficult moments in their lives, remain human. Hence the scene over lunch in the boxing club where some tell their own story. I was confronted with the same dilemma for Johnny Mad Dog: to show the humanity of these child soldiers who shouldn't be judged as mere soldiers.

Q: You seem to be very interested in the way in which a character reacts in an extreme environment...

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire: Yes, that's true and especially how a character manages to steer away from violence when it has dictated his or her life since childhood. There is a sort of connection for me between the protagonists of Johnny Mad Dog and A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN, as if one were an extension of the other, a transition from adolescence to adulthood, from brutality to spirituality. A character who has had a very traumatic experience in the past, who we discover in the present and we don't know whether he will make it in the future. As a young child, Billy Moore was beaten by his father and as a teenager took refuge in drugs. He then left for Thailand to try and make it through, to try and build a new life for himself but he fell into the same trap. Ironically, it is in a prison environment that he found his own freedom once again. As the film goes on, those around Billy become kinder, more human, they share a fraternal bond with him, his own family. Billy's strength lies in his curiosity towards the Thai people with whom he shared this experience. With their help, he managed to fight his addiction and change his ways. He used boxing as an outlet, as a therapy. Billy Moore ends his book with: ''Above all, I just wanted to be me.'' The film tries to pay tribute to him and all the film's actors who have also lived through this in their own way.


Billy Moore spiraled into addiction from an early age. It was his only escape from the endless beatings he was subjected to. This lead to many years incarcerated in prisons, until his heart broke and finally surrendered. The war was over when he sought help and treatment via rehabilitation. After a period of abstinence, he later learned his demons were always waiting for that moment to pounce at his most vulnerable and wreak havoc within his life again, only this time in Thailand.

He ultimately ended up spending 3 years fighting for both his life and sanity in a Thai prison, and the fight became a literal fight as a Thai boxer. Billy was released on a King's amnesty in 2010 after being transferred to the UK and was victorious in his fight with addiction. No longer afraid of anything, he tackled his own demons with the same courage and determination.

He wrote his memoirs and eventually had it published. One day he was standing on Hope Street outside a small production company in Liverpool when he decided to take a risk and knock. He found hope via a film production company who wanted to share his life story with the world on screen.

Billy is now employed with a Liverpool based drug and rehabilitation service providing support to people still suffering, aiming to improve their quality of life, and inspire them to have a brighter future. He still applies the mental discipline of a Thai boxer to all areas of his life.

A Prayer Before Dawn Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire

Writing Credits

Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese (Screenplay)

Billy Moore (Based on the memoir by)


Joe Cole

Vithaya Pansringarm

Pornchanok Mabklang

Somlock Kamsing

Panya Yimmumphai

Tanipol Kamjun

Chaloemporn Sawatsuk

Komsan Polsan

Sakda Niamhom

Sura Sirmalai

Patsapon Kaysornmaleethanachok

Billy Moore

Music by

Nicolas Becker

Cinematography by

David Ungaro

Genres: Action, Biography, Crime, Drama, Sport

Countries: United Kingdom, France, China, Cambodia, United States

Information: A Prayer Before Dawn was shot on location Nakhon Pathom Prison in Thailand.

A Prayer Before Dawn Official Trailer

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