Movie director calls all the shots

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

FADE IN: Polly, my London agent, had called me at Pinewood Studios about a job. I was working on a film with just one week to go and planning in my mind a break from London with my girlfriend. After hearing the job was a TV commercial my first thought was I should pass on this one, as I was feeling a bit worn out and needed a holiday.

I discussed it with my girlfriend. At first she wasn’t keen on me taking the job, she was looking forward to that holiday. But she understood the
business. When work is on offer it is hard to turn it down.

A week after the film finished, I found myself reporting to the London office of a well known Film Production Company in Beak Street to collect the script, storyboards and schedule. My mission was simple; find the most exotic beach location on a beautiful island full of coconut palms.

The “Producer,” a sexy looking Polish girl oozing with self-confidence (she called herself the producer, but actually she was the PA), handed me the paperwork and went over the storyboard. It was a great board and I knew at once who the director was. It had his signature all over it, sunrises and sunsets. I was not surprised to learn that the director would not be speaking to me because he was in their LA office finalising a film script that he was going to shoot later that year.

After signing off on a wad of petty cash from the accountant, who reminded me I would have to account for every penny I spent with a receipt, I headed for my favourite coffee shop in Soho to boot the Mac and begin the search for the perfect beach location. A few days later I was heading for the airport with no idea that this location was going to change my life.

Touch down; no it was more like a put down, heavy with lots of bounce! Somehow the prop propelled Fokker 50 stopped just short of the end of the runway and with its left rudder down and its engines screaming we turned sharply to the right and taxied towards the airport terminal.

A sense of relief showed on my face as I approached immigration with my bags of gear and, before I knew it, I was heading out of the arrivals hall with grey old London far behind me. Despite not knowing where I was going, I assumed an air of self-confidence and looked around as if I was expecting to be picked-up as arranged. It had worked before on other locations, but on those occasions I had arranged an advance party to meet me.

Now it was different. I hadn’t had the prep time I usually get and the time for location finding had been reduced over the years as well as the budgets. As I stood pondering this last thought, I was approached by a Thai man who looked as if he hadn’t slept for an eternity and he tried to tell me in confused English that he could drive me, I expect mad, to find girls. I shook my head politely, but that only seemed to encourage him and he picked up my bags. Before I was aware of my actions, I found myself following him to a yellow top taxi parked half way up the kerb.

To say we drove would have been fanciful. I don’t know what he was on, but it smelt bad. I later learnt he was probably high on Mai Thai, the local whisky, which is as rough as sand. He dropped me outside a small building at the side of the road in a built-up area not far from the airport. After he had extracted two hundred baht from me and with no receipt, I gathered up my bags and entered the shabby looking premises.

Later I learned it was a German bakery in a shop-house and not a guesthouse, as I had first presumed. A bored looking Thai girl sat behind a counter. As I approached her I could see through an open door into a side room. There I saw a group of young Thai girls sitting on mattresses chatting to each other. They saw me looking and waved.

The girl behind the counter looked puzzled when I asked her for a room. When I got no response I tried again and eventually she slipped off her stool and went out the back. I had by this time, made a plan of sorts and had decided that I would stay one night, and then search around in the morning for more suitable accommodation.

As I waited for the girl to return, a blue Kawasaki Classic glided to a halt outside and a tall foreigner got off and walked in. I complemented him on his bike. He looked at me, nodded and went up to the counter. After a few minutes of silence I made a friendly comment about the pace of life in Thailand. He grunted a response and then disappeared out the back.

Alone once again I sat on a chair and looked at my watch. It was still on London time. I advanced it 7 hours. By now it was starting to get dark and a wave of tiredness suddenly came over me. I drifted off a bit and came to when the girl returned with the foreigner. I asked again about a room but got no sensible response. He looked at me, explained this wasn’t a guesthouse and said I could stay over at his place for the night. I grabbed my bags and in no time at all we were cruising along the coast road.

My newfound friend was called Wolfgang and he owned a dive shop in Fisherman’s Village. When we arrived he picked some keys up from his shop and showed me upstairs to a small but tidy room and handed me the keys.

Exhausted from the journey and a bit jet-lagged I decided on an early night. Without unpacking, I set the alarm on my mobile for 7:30am and settled into the short single bed.

I woke suddenly to hear my mobile ringing. I groped for it in the dark and just managed to grab it before it vibrated itself off the bedside table. The voice on the other end came straight to the point. “The director wants to know if you have found the location?” I switched on the table lamp and looked at my watch. It was 2am. Through the fog of sleep I reminded the voice, my so-called producer, that it was 2am here; GMT+7 hours ahead of London and no, how could I have as I had only just arrived, she should know. I didn’t wait for her reply and hung up thinking…and this is just the first day!

The following morning, despite little sleep, I woke before the alarm, showered and dressed. I wandered through Fisherman’s Village and came across a café near the pier called Karma Sutra. I ordered a large café au lait and croissant and sat outside by the road.

As I waited for my coffee, I started to make a To Do list in my mind. First off, I must get wheels. No self respecting Location Manger can get by without them.

By the time my coffee and croissant had arrived my list had grown to the point that I needed my notebook. As I made notes I reminded myself that I must get some local knowledge otherwise, I would never find the perfect location on time.

I finished my coffee and walked up the road to a shop-house, which had motor vehicles for hire. There and all alone, in front of the shop, was a small burgundy coloured Jeep with a sign saying hire me. I managed to barter the price down from 700 to 600 baht a day (this was all I could afford on my tight budget) and drove off down the road. It wasn’t anything like the Range Rover I was used to in the UK and it drove like a pig, but at last, I could say I was on my way.

I found a tourist map in the glove compartment, which showed all the main areas around the island. I studied it for a short while and then set off in the direction of Choeng Mon on the north side of the island.

I parked at the Imperial Boathouse resort and walked to the beach. Cheong Mon is a small bay with hotels and resort bungalows along the beach. Opposite the Imperial Boathouse is a small island called Koh Farn Noi, which you can walk to at low tide. With my digital camera I started snapping the crowded beach. I felt at last I had made a start and there would be no stopping me now.

I arrived back at the dive shop later that day feeling I had caught the sun, but also knowing I had covered a good part of the island. Once in my room I loaded the photos I had taken onto my PowerBook and started sorting through them. As I looked at them I was surprised at how much the island had changed since my first visit many years ago, when it was a backpackers paradise. I selected the good ones and attached them to an e-mail to the producer. I got a curt reply back. Where are the deserted white sandy beaches you are SUPPOSED to be looking for?

The following day I decided to blow the budget and get serious, so I hired a speedboat from the pier in Fisherman’s Village to take me to Koh Phangan, the full moon party island.

This time I had done my research carefully. I had spoken to Wolfgang who knew Koh Phangan very well. He told me where some of his favourite dive sites were and where to look for the best beaches, including a remote paradise beach he didn’t want others to know about and, when I heard about it, I knew it was going to be the one!

The twin 250 horsepower engines on the speedboat got us to Haad Rin beach in just over 20 minutes. After the boat had slowed and I got my breath back I showed the Thai skipper the hand drawn map Wolfgang had given me with his secret beach on it and told him that the beach can only be reached by boat on the east side of Haad Rin. The skipper look puzzled at first, but after studying it more closely, a light went on in his head and he smiled.

As we approached the remote beach I could see that it was perfect, just what I was looking for. I jumped from the boat and waded in the crystal clear water to the deserted beach, which was fringed with coconut palms. White sand oozed between my toes as I positioned myself for the perfect shot and clicked away.

Today, I felt I had cracked it! I e-mailed the photographs and all the details to the production company in London and waited.


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.