“Hey, I know a nice jap bistro near our place. Their ramen tastes good. Do you wanna try?” asked my boozer buddy four years my senior.
“Sure. See ya at the sky train station then,” I said.
Sorayos Prapapan is working as a freelance sound man and an independent filmmaker right now. I haven’t seen him for quite a while – a few months maybe. We first met each other on his graduation day. I was a freshy at the time and my first short film just got into the competition round of a short film festival. He saw my name from the festival’s website and greeted me on that day. We kept in touch after that and he gave me a collection of his short films that were made during his college years which fascinated me so much. No, the production isn’t perfect and the content isn’t that solid. But what interests me is his curiosity to explore what has happened to him and his friends and what they were absorbed in. He didn’t strive to find the answer, he just strove to question. And though those questions aren’t that objective, I still feel them floating in the air.
Most of his college films are fictional coming-of-age films, light drama and romantic comedy, that’s why I was so impressed by his first 30-minute documentary that was released two years ago (Click here to watch the full film online or just scroll down below). The film is about the Senior Statesman Pridi Bhanomyong who was one of the leader of the 1932 Revolution and the founder of Thammasat University. Witnessing the post-production process, I found that the film is not a typical documentary which includes talking heads and archival footage but an experimental piece of work which is touching and comprehensible. He combined his grandmother story line with the footage of the stage play 1932 Revolutionarist from Crescent Moon Theatre which is specifically shot. He attempted to make a metaphor out of it in order to reflect how things couldn’t last forever.
Since I consider the film and its process so luminous, I couldn’t wait to see his latest film ‘Boonrerm’ which is on its post-production process right now. He just finished shooting it two weeks ago and I called him immediately to get a glimpse of how it’s gonna be. He was glad to meet me saying that he wanna chit-chat and get a big gulp alcohol. So here is the conscious part of conversation we had that night, while the unconscious part is hidden behind two bowls of soba, a dish of edamame, a bottle of umeshu and two pitchers of beer.
First of all, how did the project begin?
Actually my filmmaking skill had been quite out of practice after I graduated. I haven’t done a single film with production crew until this one. The rest of my post-graduated films are self-made which means I shot everything by myself without a screenplay, edited, mixed the audio and then put on the voiceover or something like that. I have written many screenplays but haven’t made them into a film yet. Then I was funded by Pridi Banomyong Institute and Thai Film Foundation to make a documentary to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Pridi Banomyong. I had submitted the film to many local and international film festivals until it was officially selected by the Friends Without Borders Foundation (Fly Beyond the Barbwire Fence Festival Chiangmai) in January but hadn’t won a prize. Later I received an e-mail from them informing that I was one of the directors from the festival who was chosen to participate in their next project about human rights. So I submitted the proposal and was finally funded.
How do you come up with the story and what is it all about?
Before I started this project, I wrote a number of screenplays and had been looking for monetary support from various places. I had been carrying the concept of filming at home in order to raise the topic about my nannies but had never come up with a story until I was invited to join the project. Their concept was to make a film that support human rights and “DISOBEY” was the keyword they gave to the participants. So I decided to adapted the plot and the characters from one of my drafted screenplays. I’ve two nannies. The older one is “Yai Phad” (Yai means grandma in Thai) and the younger one is “Boonrerm” which is Yai Phad’s niece. (Both of them also appear in his Pridi documentary.) The proposal was selected and commented by the Director of Thai Film Foundation Chalida Uabumrungjit and Thai documentary filmmaker Pattana Chirawong. I developed the screenplay until it became the story of a housemaid and her female employer. Due to the given keyword, I assigned the housemaid many tough and burdensome daily quests which I admit that I also mistreated my nannies sometimes but in a different situation. When I first became an employee I was mistreated too and when I came home I was like, hah, finally! So it’s like I live in both characters at last.
Well, it does sound like a documentary. Ha ha.
It is absolutely a fiction but I would try to make it as realistic as possible in the post-production process. I might include a lot of cutaways and stock shots to make it feel like being shot by a guerrilla crew not being directed by me. I don’t know how many stock shots will be put in there but I won’t call it a documentary for sure. I call it a fiction. I just capture the truth and put it in there.
What do you feel about the relationship between housemaid and employer in Thai society in general?
I think there are many kinds of relationship. Obviously, my parents treat them as servants but it’s also because they are older than my nannies. But in a way they know that I really depend on my nannies as I’m very close to them. Sometimes I shout at them but we are so close that I can run to them and hug them, even more often than I hug my father. But it’s totally different in some big families whose servants dress up in the same uniform. One of my relatives is an example. I would never have a chance to befriend with them for sure because they always disappear after they serve me with a glass of water. Anyway I still feel the difference between servant and nanny. Have you seen the film A Simple Life? If everything turns out as I expected, my nannies will stay with me until that day. I believe that they care enough to stay with us and we care enough to let them stay as long as they want. However, there are many families who don’t really care.
What did you and the crew do at the garbage disposal factory the day before yesterday?
Let’s say it’s one of Boonrerm’s tasks.
How do you feel after you finished the shooting?
I’m so glad that I’ve done this. I haven’t started editing it yet but right after I finished shooting and started to watch many more films, I felt like having a deeper perspective about moving images. Before that I didn’t quite understand how one can create something new out of it, but now I’m more into the process of filmmaking and realize that we can design a lot more. The film was also fulfilled by the crew. For example, I talked to my art director Withit ‘Pin’ Chantamarit who is an independent photographer and found that we pay attention to different things absolutely. In the same frame in a 2-minute sequence, Pin as a photo man looked through the composition and noticed that there was a color missing from the frame while I listened to the sound and observed the acting. Everything can helps us getting the message across. Another example is about the costume. I casted the actress who played a maid in 6 to 6 the prelude short film of Hi-So (2011, Aditya Assarat) to act as Boonrerm, the actress who played the housekeeper in Mundane History (2009, Anocha Suwichakornpong) to act as Boonrerm’s aunt and the mother of a friend to act as the employer. Then there was a scene that Boonrerm had to wear a similar outfit with the maid in 6 to 6 so I asked Pop Picture (Aditya’s production house) for the outfit but the costumer recommended me not to do so as it wouldn’t look good for my film to have exactly the same actress and outfit with another film. While I understood more about costume and look issue, I was less attentive about visual stuff. In the past I was so confident with my visual skill but now I only have a series of composition and let the crew distribute their ideas which they did so well and so fast. It’s exactly like I thought and even better than that. Prop master also did a very good job.
It sounds so nice.
Yes, it is. After I graduated it’s very hard to run a crew-filled production if we have no money.
You have been working as a sound man since you graduated, so what do you feel to direct your own film with an inspiration from your own story?
It happened at the right time. I have been experiencing good and bad points of many crews from my own participation so I was kind of absorbing it. By the way, there was a period of time that when I watched a film, I only listened to the sound and didn’t even pay attention to the storyline and their narration. But the film P-047 (2012, Kongdej Jaturonratsamee) is exceptional. I was lured into the story since the beginning of the film and there was no single mistake in the sound. Even when the sound design grew out of the ambience, I still wanted to hear. I really watched this film as an audience for real. I left for Puchoen International Fantastic Film Festival the following day and got the e-mail about this project as soon as I came back. So it was quite continual.
What did you do at Puchoen?
I attended the classes but actually I attended the parties more. At last I’m just a drunkard! I understood what they said in class but just wasn’t able to have a complex conversation with them. I’m not a good speaker. So they only knew that they always met this Thai guy at the parties. Well, and there was a festival badge which allowed us to attend the film screenings so I watch 9 films in a week. Probably it’s not so many for the film critics but it’s a lot for me who was both student and party-goer.
Any comment on the film you have seen in the festival?
Actually the films in this festival are not my type because most of them are ghost films. But I’ve found a film from Brazil called Hard Labour (2011, Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra) which is the one that was screened in Cannes last year. I used the similar mood and tone and situation as them but not that much alike. I just created both characters with a power relationship like A does this to B, that kind of logic. Like now we are having dinner and a waitress spilled a glass of water over you. I just wrote it in the context of our culture which I’ve experienced personally. The westerners also have social classes but it’s different. Brazilians have both whites and blacks but I don’t even know if the white ones are the real Brazilians or not. My film is very much the same.
Do you have any other references or inspirations apart from the film Hard Labour?
When I attended the Reality Filmmakers workshop, Aditya Assarat said in this lecture that we should always write a film from what we know and understand. When I was in university, I’ve once made a film on what I don’t really understand and it failed. Now I’ve found that he was right and it’s much easier, really. So I started from my household and it had to be this plot. I haven’t gone deep enough into my family matter. I haven’t reached its peak yet. But I know enough about my nannies. And due to its scale, it should be fine to tell it in short film format. About the visual stuff, I’ve a signature from my Pridi film since I took it quite seriously. It was also shot at home so it has a lot of resemblances. Some scenes were copied and retold. Some gimmicks are related.
The Pridi film is quite political.
I think it’s not political because of me. It’s political because of the footages from the play which I think they were great. What’s different between the Pridi film and this one is that the Pridi film is a real documentary which includes my grand mom, my dog, my aunt, Boonrerm, Yai Phad and me as an interviewer while the characters in this film is fictional. I used only a few characters to tighten up the plot and avoid wasting the time. I also decided to use only female characters because I don’t want people to focus on sexual issue like sexual harassment. Because it’s not about sex, it’s about class.
Both films are completely different from your popular rom-com film “Magic Lover Show” you made in university.
I think I’m not able to do something like that anymore. On the last shooting day of Boonrerm, we went for a beer and I told them I considered my self as a very funny person with a great sense of humor but I think I won’t be able to make a comedy film anymore. It’s like since I took part in these indie film productions, I found myself eaten up with the realistic sense. So I’m not so sure if it’s my final style or not. Now I still want to make a comedy film but it might not be that kind of comedy. It might be a black comedy film that could get on you nerve.
So except for the graduation, is there anything else that changed your working process?
I think that it’s because I didn’t stick with the gang after I graduated. I managed to find my way eventually. I also admit that I’ve been passionated about Joe (Apichatpong Weerasethakul who won Palme d’Or from Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in 2010) for a very long time so I was quite into these realistic stuff.
So it’s mainly about Joe?
Let’s say it’s about the whole circles. I won’t be able to work in GTH (a mainstream film studio which is financially successful in Thailand) style anyway. However, I couldn’t figured out my own style yet because I’m still influenced by this indie circle I’m working in.
Is it also about politics?
It’s obvious that the situation during the year 2009-2010 was so intense that the whole country became more aware of politics. But for me it’s not really about politics because even I consume political news a lot more than before, I’m still not the type of people who are completely into it. So if it influenced me, it’s probably just a small amount. It might happened unconsciously. But my films don’t really criticize the governmental sectors or something like that so I don’t really like it when someone said that a film of mine is political even though it’s not. You know, the mere disadvantage of making a real political film is that if you take side, the other side will hate you. It always works this way. Or even you don’t choose side, both sides will hate you. I admit that I also take side. But once I watched a film from the other side that had a good point and I was totally OK with that. I still feel that a film is a film and a thought is a thought. It doesn’t mean that everything your opposition does is wrong. Do you want another jug of beer?
(Can I have a jug of beer please?) Well, I’m more into capitalism these days. If it occurs that I can buy happiness, I buy. I spend a lot on good meals and stuff but still I’m not using an iPhone like others. I love the earth less. There was a period of time after my graduation which I was so strictly naturalistic. I turned off the light and I saved the energy. But at last I stepped into the real world and I was like it’s OK to let the light or the electric fan on sometimes. Now I’m still a bit naturalistic but absolutely not scientific. Another thing I noticed after I moved out from dorm and left off my college life is that Rangsit (suburban) campus is so artificial. Well, it’s not artificial. Let’s call it a dream. A dreamland. I’ve spent my first two years at Thaphrachan (city) campus and the last two years in Rangsit so I see the difference. Talking about Thaphrachan, I see reality. I caught a bus along with others who woke up early to go to work and, as easy as that, I saw life. Meanwhile in Rangsit, students just woke up for their class attendance checking and went for a night out at local pubs, nothing beyond that. But we can’t stay with the dream forever.
How do you feel about your younger generation who are spending their college years right now?
I attended a workshop in Film on the Rocks Yao Noi earlier this year and got to know Madeaw (Chookiat Sakweverakul – the director of the very popular coming-of-age film Love of Siam) personally. He said that comparing to his generation during their college years, the younger generation seems to be more conservative. I found it very weird at first but when I thought thoroughly about it I was like, well, this is so very true. Another issue is the digital age. I found that my juniors aren’t really capable of dealing with analog stuff while their attitude is so conservative. Conservatives should be related to old-fashioned stuff but fall out that they are crazy about digital devices. It’s like a conservative who proclaims that film editor has to sync the sound manually but at home he uses a software to sync the audio waveforms. This situation hasn’t happened but it’s just like that. I’m not a conservative, I myself see the pros of analog, but I’m not syncing the sound manually though!
If my generation seems conservative, what about yours?
I think my generation is rationalistic. When we discussed or exchanged our ideas and disagreed, we won’t turn against each other completely. We kept up the conversation and talked it over until it’s clear that our justifications are conflicting and that our mindsets are totally different. Everyone defends with reasons.
What’s your plan after finalizing the film?
I was about to apply for a post-production house at first but I had already changed my mind after I finished shooting this film. I realized that I still wanna be a freelancer, work on a film set and, of course, direct a film. I felt excited every time my films were screened. During the screening of Pridi film, I had heard my heartbeat for the full 27 minutes. I just showed the mini trailer of this film to a friend and still felt my heartbeat. It assures me that I also love my films and that I’m into them for real.
Sorayos Prapapan (25) now works as a freelance sound man and an independent filmmakers. He was graduated from Thammasat University in 2009 with a film production degree. He was a part of many Thai indie films such as Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire and Pusan winner 36. He also attended numerous workshop such as the 1st Reality Filmmakers in Thailand, the 13 Little Pictures Film Lab in Singapore, the Films on the Rocks Yao Noi, the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival and an upcoming film lab in Luang Pra Bang. Visit his pages for some of his short films and videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/pandayossy/videos and http://vimeo.com/sorayos/videos