Dramatic times in Thailand
Please excuse if this month's column is a bit “Thai-centric,” but so much has been going on in the industry here.
As I write this, more than 500 Americans (out of a reported 10,000 living in Bangkok) are at the JW Marriott hotel, a stone's throw from where the "red shirts" have set up barricades in Bangkok's wealthiest retail corridor. The group is meeting with HE American ambassador to Thailand Eric Johns and American security experts to discuss the present situation in Thailand and particularly in Bangkok.
This is an unprecedented meeting. In my 17 years in Thailand and four years in Japan when farmers were throwing bombs at the newly built Narita Airport, never has an American embassy called a meeting of its citizens—until now!
Shades of the fall of the America Embassy in Saigon, 1975. (No, silly, I was too young and not there! OK, I lie…I was not too young, but I was not there.)
The ambassador said the meeting was being held because the embassy has often come under criticism for not talking to its citizens at strategic moments. The upshot from security specialists was that the situation is bad but not dire—he has seen worse. The problem is that both sides have been backed into a corner and it is difficult to negotiate a win-win situation. Let's hope by the time you read this that the state of affairs has improved and the country is back on track.
Despite the turmoil in Thailand, productions keep streaming in. OK, they may be smaller indie productions and lots of TV commercials by the Japanese and Indians, but life goes on.
Millennium/Nu Image’s $10 million-plus Elephant White has been filming for several months, mostly in Bangkok, and according to producer Frank DeMartini, production has not been that affected by the demonstrations.
"The other day we were filming ten minutes from where the major demonstrations were and you could not even tell something was going on," DeMartini reported. “But we do have an exit plan if things get worse—we will have to move production out of Bangkok.”
DeMartini and the crew (including Thai director Prachya Pinkaew) have been in close contact with their bonding agent on an almost daily basis.
Not far from where DeMartini is staying in a serviced apartment, the five-star Swissotel Nai Lert Park hotel, which generally has an occupancy rate of 60% this time of year, is down to 20%. The Swissotel Nai Lert Park gained notoriety last year when Hollywood actor David Carradine was found dead there.
Does this column have a feeling of gloom and doom this month? Well, here’s more.
The area the so called "red-shirts" is occupying is in the gold coast of Bangkok shopping. Some of the largest and glitziest shopping malls have had to close. Their closure has darkened the movie theatres which used to do booming business in the area. While all of the malls are not shuttered (the Emporium is open), there are over 200 screens in the area. You can imagine what their yearly projections now look like.
Both SF Cinema City and Major Cineplex have their flagship theatres in this area. Ouch!
On an unrelated note…why do people ask repetitive, stupid questions?
I was fortunate to be with the Thailand Film Office at their booth at the Association of Film Commissioners (AFCI) Location Show in Santa Monica back in April. More than 300 people stopped at the Thai booth. Nearly 4,000 people attended the show (which had 240 exhibitors from 30 countries), according to AFCI’s count.
But why, oh why, do people stop by to tell you how much they love Thailand (nothing to do with filming there), how they love Thai food, or how they respect the Buddhist religion (What? This is a locations show, not a religious conference).
The "lookie-lous" far outnumbered the qualified people coming up to the booth.
The salvation, however, was the Thai Film Office cocktail reception held in Hollywood, which had nearly 70 qualified professionals attend. International location scouts, bonding company representatives, producers from Nu Image, Screen Gems and indie producers plus press, lots of press, attended. It's a shame you have to spend money on top of money to be with the folks that really matter.
But it may be worth it. Meetings were held in Hollywood with a studio that is talking about doing a $30 million movie in Thailand and a couple of others that are also discussing multi-million-dollar productions in the kingdom.
I guess that proves that, come hell or high water, the magic of making movies goes on. Civil war in the streets? Great! That can be background for a terrorist drama. Hotels closed because of the hullabaloo? Wonderful time to negotiate rates at five-star hotels.
So long for now. Next month, the Phuket Film Festival.