HD shooters come to Thailand

Koh Samui Diaries: Location scouting for wannabe movie directors
by Adrian Rawle

FADE IN: The situation back in London seemed bleak. Work on TV commercials, by all accounts, had dried up, at least it seemed for location scouting in England. If I went back into the general film population, so to speak, I would lose my niche advantage. I made a decision to stay in Samui, come what may. At least I could be miserable in the sun, better than being miserable in the cold and rain.

I figured, that as we are all global now, one could work quite happily from anywhere. That said, I should do some much needed marketing and design an information pack to send to the production companies in London. I must also inform Polly and tell her all my work will be funnelled through her and she can handle all inquiries for me. I would also need to think about renting out my London apartment, but I feared if I did rent it out, there would be no turning back.

I could not, nor did I want to stay with Wolfgang indefinitely. I had to find my own space now I had decided to make Samui my home. I went to an estate agent in Fisherman’s Village and inquired about renting a small house or flat. There were quite a few on the market but nothing that took my fancy. I did not want to waste their time so I passed on being shown a few they had on their books and instead I decided to visit a property developer I had got to know when I was scouting for beachfront villas.

Kim, an Australian, was developing luxury villas in Bophut and had the low down on a lot of what was happening on the island and straight away he was able to point me in the right direction. I was looking for something new and comfortable in the area I preferred, north of the island and close to Cheong Mon beach. I like to swim in the mornings and needed to be close to a beach.

Kim drove me to a small compound surrounded by coconut palms off the main Samui ring road not far from Big Buddha. We parked and passed through the main entrance and into a large open garden area with a swimming pool in the centre. Built around the pool were a number of low-rise apartments on two levels. Kim introduced me to the owner of the apartment, a Thai man nick-named Yo Man, for no other reason than he used to know a black man when he lived in Bangkok, Kim explained.

I liked the feel of the place. The development was well kept and quiet and had a small barbecue area at one end. There were ten apartments in all, mainly occupied by ex-pats, who were developing properties on the island. The apartment I was shown was sparsely furnished but the furniture was modern and of good quality. It would not take me long to make it homely. I decided right away this was for me and with Kim’s help I negotiated a fair monthly rent with Yo Man.

Within no time at all I was settled into my new abode. Everything was bigger and better than my small room at Wolfgang’s and, at last, I felt I could stretch out and be free in my own space. The first night I stayed in and watched a movie.

I was preoccupied with playing house when I got a call from Polly. Suddenly, it seems, shooting abroad is back in vogue. I expect, because the Pound is still reasonably strong against other currencies especially, the US dollar. Although, Europe is a well established favourite with the film community, more interest is being shown for Asia. Other countries also have well established film industries and it is much easier to hire good crews and equipment at a lower cost than it would be in the UK.

“The director wants to shoot HD (High Definition) do I know anything about it?” was the first inquiry from a production company situated outside the capital. A strange question to be asking a location manager I thought, as it is, after all, just another format, such as Standard Definition and Digital Video. I get highly suspicious when questions of this nature are asked, as I worry that the person asking them probably doesn’t know much about it. I send my answer back, “Yes” and think nothing more of it.

I am aware of the direction that new technology is taking the industry, but I still do not believe film is dead yet; it is healthy to play with new technology and to discover its creative possibilities, but I believe technology should be driven by ideas and not the other way round. The new technology has, of course, a democratising influence, which allows many more people the opportunity to express themselves creatively, something I am all in favour of. It has had a profound affect on our industry and now the Internet is slowly replacing television as the favoured means of distributing content.

The next question that came back was “…can we hire an HD camera in Koh Samui?” I had to laugh, but I realised that this was probably a sensible question to ask if it was coming from someone who had never been on location outside the UK before. Without a hint of sarcasm, I replied that they could hire an HD camera in Bangkok and all the supporting equipment. I further added, that rather than asking me a million different questions, why did they not ask me what they want to do and I will advise them.

They took the hint and explained that they wanted to shoot a TV commercial on HD as they were going to do a lot of CGI (computer-generated imagery) work in post. I could hear their argument for the using HD, savings on film stock and the ease of transfer to their editing system for the special effects. I did not question this logic, as I knew they had made their minds up and, in any case, I had no doubt, that they had already sold the idea to the client. I told them I could get everything they needed from an equipment hire company in Bangkok, including the crew, and I would send them a quote.

I decided I would not add a mark-up to the quote from Bangkok as the production company was obviously small and had probably got the job because their quote came in under the quotes given by the bigger London based production companies. Small production companies struggle to survive and this job might be one of the few jobs they are going to get all year.

They wanted to use their own DOP (Director of Photography) and I suggested they send him or her out, prior to the shoot, so they could check and familiarise themselves with the camera and equipment. I also said I would make sure that the camera assistant and the gaffer electrician spoke English so there would be no communication problems. The Thai film industry is very professional and their crews are often used when Hollywood shoots in Thailand.

The reply that came back surprised me. I had assumed they were talking about High-end digital professional HD cameras that are used by the film industry such as the Sony F23. In fact, what they had in mind was HD Camcorders. I started to explain they should consider the following professional HD Camcorders; JVC’s GY-HD110U for 24p digital cinematography, easy to edit with FCP (Final Cut Pro editing software) or go tape-less and more high-end with Panasonic’s P2 capture cameras such as the versatile HPX 2000 that records in all HD formats.

Then I thought, hang on a minute; they should be discussing this with their DOP. I then realised they probably haven’t employed a DOP yet. I politely e-mailed them back and suggested they speak to their DOP and explain to him or her what they are trying to achieve and let the DOP decide on the best camera for the job.

There are a lot of different cameras and formats on the market and new camera models are coming out every year from all the major manufacturers. It is all about choosing the right camera for the job and making sure the camera format is compatible with the workflow.

They took my advice and I was able to talk to their DOP directly and tell him what cameras were available for hire in Thailand. I managed to do a deal with the hire company and get everything they wanted within their budget.

The reality in the end was they didn’t need me at all. Well, let’s say, they didn’t need a Location Manager, because everything they shot was shot in a studio in Bangkok which I arranged for them. What they needed was a Production Manager to organise the whole shoot. Naturally, I obliged and just changed hats!


Adrian RAWLE is a Film and TV Producer/Director and Writer based in Hong Kong. His company GOtv LTD and its partners specialise in new media concepts for Broadband TV. E-mail: gotv (at) netvigator (dot) com.