Technology leads the day

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

FADE IN: After the last episode I vowed never to work again for wannabe movie directors and PA’s masquerading as producers. Of course, this was completely ridiculous, as I would have no hope of ever getting work again if I stuck to my vows. Anyhow, those were my thoughts, as I lazed in the sun “holidaying” on the paradise island of Koh Samui.

Waiting for your next job is always draining. On the one hand you are glad of the rest and, on the other, you are constantly worrying if the phone doesn’t ring. Normally, if I were in London, I would call some fellow freelancers and see if they were working and discuss with them whether business was slow or not. If it were, this would give me some reassurance that I was not at fault and hope that work would pick up again soon.

Still no call from Polly, and I am reaching the point where I have had enough sun, sea and sand. I decide I should go back home and do the rounds of the production companies in Soho and drum-up some much needed work. The danger of being on location for a long time is that people forget you and they always assume you are away on a film and therefore, not available, so they never call. The truth is, it is often a simple case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

It’s true to say I have had a great time in Samui and made a few friends along the way. Despite it being very much a tourist holiday destination, Koh Samui has a growing population of ex-pats who have come here on holiday, fallen in love with the place and ended up staying, leaving their old lives and livelihoods far behind them.

After packing and handing back my old jeep to its owner I head off for one last walk along Bophut beach. At the far end of the beach, I stop at Zazen and decide to stay for a sunset cocktail. It is then that I discover I haven’t got my mobile with me. Perhaps I packed it unknowingly.

Several cocktails later, I return to the dive shop and go up to my room. A message has been slipped under my door. It would appear someone has been trying to contact me. I rummage around in my rucksack for the mobile and end up tipping the contents onto the floor. The last thing to pop out, entangled with a pair of my dirty socks, is the mobile. I check the screen and see there is 1 message. “Call Polly” is all it says.

I call Polly back and she tells me to stay put. It looks like I have another job scouting for locations on Samui. Apparently, the word was out that I was in Koh Samui and Polly got a call from a production company asking if I could find a beach location for them. I expect the production company decided they could save some money by not sending a location manager out from London! I start to unpack my other bags whilst I wait for the e-mail that will give me all the job details.

I am surprised to find the e-mail is from Charlotte, an old friend of mine, who runs her own production company in Covent Garden. I don’t normally work for her as her company produces pop promos, most of which are not shot on location.

The e-mail arrives and I look at the shot list and storyboard, drawn by the director I am informed. I have never heard of the director, but surmise he may have been an art director as the storyboard is well drawn with a lot of detail and perspective. I expect this storyboard was used to sell the idea and, the director, to the client. The give-away here is there is too much detail in the drawings and the danger for me is the client will be expecting the locations to match the storyboard exactly, which is why it is never a good idea to put too much detail into a storyboard.

I later find out I was right and also that the director is from an advertising agency and this television commercial will be his directorial debut. Oh god! I am going to have to hand-hold a newbie director! Thank you Charlotte.

After that first e-mail, which told me the director would be out in a few days for a recce, things started to happen fast. I had no time to ask a lot of questions or even pass on this one, as I felt I couldn’t let my friend down.

Before I knew it, the days had flown by and I was at the airport waiting for the director. Fortunately, I had a couple of locations up my sleeve that I thought I would show him first.

I had been told the flight number only and I had expected he would be on a flight from Bangkok. To my surprise, when I looked at the board it said the flight was coming from Phuket. At the time, I thought nothing of it and continued to wait.

My first shock was, that I was not expecting him to be so young and I had also expected to see someone looking tired and jet-lagged having supposedly just flown in from London. I nearly walked right past him at the meeting point because he looked like a student coming to Samui for the full moon party with a pair of large headphones clamped to his head. I should have spotted his London garb, but then I’ve been on Samui for a while. Have I really been here that long not to spot the difference between Samui and London style?

And my second shock was, he was not alone. He introduced her as Joey, nothing more. The e-mail never mentioned he would be coming with someone. It turned out she was his “PA” come girlfriend!

I first realised this was not going to be a normal recce when we arrived at the first location I had planned to show him. Without mentioning a word he took out a state-of-the-art digital HD Camcorder from his rucksack and a laptop, then a tripod, some camera filters and several batteries.

I would not have been surprised if he had taken out a microwave transmitter, but he stopped there. He had enough equipment to shoot the TV commercial right there and then! He clipped a battery onto the camcorder, flipped open the large viewing screen and off he went.

He walked around the location, a beach, shooting everything in sight. This was how he engaged with the location. He didn’t once look at the location except through the camera. Such is the overpowering influence of technology today. Take 2; his PA did the same, except her gear was the latest digital SLR camera with a Canon 400mm telephoto zoom!

After shooting the location from every possible angle – I could see the shooting ratio being very high on the day and the budget for film stock going through the roof if he shot the commercial the same way – I expected it to end there. Instead, he hooked-up his camcorder to his laptop with a firewire cable, then sat on the beach under a palm tree with his laptop on his knees and proceeded to edit the pictures and, it was like this for every location we visited.

At nighttime I never saw them. In fact, we interacted very little and I don’t remember there being much conversation between us either, not surprising, as he had so much to keep him occupied; his camera, his computer, his iPhone and numerous excessories. As for his “PA?” I expect she got his attention late at night!

As soon as they came, they went. He was like a whirlwind and he didn’t stop the whole time he was on the island. Relieved when he had gone, I was able to settle back again to my own pace or was it Samui pace I was now at?

Days later I got an apologetic call from my friend Charlotte. They would not need my services anymore. “The director is going to shoot the TV commercial on Phuket, not Samui” she said. Apparently, he had found the perfect locations himself on Phuket the day before he flew to Samui!


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.