Koh Samui Diaries: Location scouting for wannabe movie directors
by Adrian Rawle
FADE IN: In addition to writing a diary, I have been keeping a weekly log of the weather here in Koh Samui, which I have been doing studiously for over one year now. What has brought on this keen interest in all things meteorological? Well I am British after all and we are supposed to be obsessed with the weather. But no, this has more to do with the questions I get asked from production companies back in London. What will the weather be like if we come in August as we need lots of sun for this TV commercial? is the kind of question that is often asked. Unfortunately, as we all know, the weather these days can be very unpredictable, and that includes here in Thailand!
On numerous occasions, I have asked my local Thai contact whether it is going to rain the following day, so I can plan the next days shoot, with or without weather cover, depending if it is at all likely that it will rain. His success rate at predicting the weather is as good as my success rate at predicting which horse is going to win the next Grand National. Naturally, I resort to checking the weather on the Internet, with varying degrees of success.
On Samui, micro climates prevail; it can be sunny in one location and a mile down the road pouring with rain. At certain times of the year, especially the rainy season, luck plays a major part if one is to have a rain free shoot. Some PAs, new to the advertising business, think it is my job to arrange sunny weather for them and are surprised when I tell them I am not God!
This year we have had an unusually dry wet season in Samui, which has worked in my favour. I have managed a couple of shoots out of London during this period and had immense luck with sunny days for each of them. Since then, my agent Polly has told me, that my reputation for managing the weather is being talked about in the bar of the Groucho Club, no less.
Well, I suppose it is better to be known for fixing the weather than not being mentioned at all. I know better to think this will last, so now is the time to get on the phone and capitalise on my success.
Today I am feeling lucky. It is still the wet season but my record stands – no rain on my shoots! Will it last? Christmas is looming and I am debating with myself about seeing family and friends or going it alone – perhaps Bali this year?
I call Polly to catch-up on all the gossip back home. Her conversation centres round the weather, not surprising as England is having one of its wettest winters on record. After my phone call with Polly I had a sense that there might be a silver lining for me in one of those black clouds hanging over Wardour Street.
Sure enough, before the day was out, Polly had called me to say Shooting Shop, one of my regular clients, was going to shoot a Christmas campaign for McVities biscuits and needed to show young happy faces enjoying the sun and eating chocolate biscuits.
My cynical take on this was, that the advertising agency, responsible for this campaign, probably wanted to escape the bad weather and get a suntan before Christmas, to show-off to their friends, and had dreamt-up the ad in the sun at the last minute. Whatever the real reason, it was none of my business, of course, it is after all, work.
As time was short, I resorted to some of my usual locations, but re-photographed them from a view point I thought would suit the ad and, I told them these locations would work… Weather permitting. They were accepted without question and I set-about arranging the shoot. The dates were locked in as the agency had already bought the TV airtime for the ad, which was to go out nation wide two weeks before Christmas.
I checked the long-term weather forecast on the Internet, but it was inconclusive. Although we were still technically in the wet season the period before Christmas was, according to my weather log, going to be sunny for those days booked for the shoot. This was going to be a shoot without weather cover. I crossed my fingers that my luck would hold.
When Shooting Shop e-mailed me the crew and equipment list I was alarmed to see that the director was also going to light and shoot this commercial himself – another stills photographer turned TV commercials director – and on the camera crew they were only bringing out a camera assistant and no grip, despite there being 25ft. of camera track on the equipment list!
When I brought this up with the Producer, I was told apologetically the Ad agency had cut the budget back. Oh well, TV airtime is expensive round Christmas time.
Not only were we going to be short on crew, which will slow things down, the lighting equipment list was…well, a bit light! The director had only ordered reflectors and silks and no lights. In my opinion, that was a cutback too far! How would he match the light from one shot to another if the weather changed dramatically? Fortuntely, the chosen location was the beach outside our hotel, which would allow me to base everything there and, might solve the lighting issue.
I called my Irish friend in Bangkok from whom I normally order all the equipment. He is used to foreign shoots and has much the same equipment for hire that you would expect to find in London. I asked him if he could send along a grip/electrician with the equipment from Bangkok and, as a favour to me, throw in a 5kW HMI, choke and a long enough cable to patch the light into the hotel’s mains box.
Luck was still with me the first day of the shoot. The enormous blue sky was full of puffy white clouds and the sun was out. We shot the scenes of the talent playing and having fun on the beach. This went without a hitch and the weather held.
On the second day we had the all important product and pack-shot to shoot. The weather was fine and it looked like my record for successful sunny shoots would stand.
However, the day started with a time consuming set-up, where we had to put two non-melting chocolate bars in their perfectly cut wrappers and hand them to our talent to eat. Unfortunately, the humidity was high, causing a chocolate melt down and the talents make-up to run.
When we were at last ready to shoot, a big black cloud came from behind us and the first tell-tale drops fell.
Looking at the sky behind us I could see more black clouds rolling in. I knew I had to act fast, otherwise the rest of the day would be a washout.
I asked the grip to bring out the tent I had ordered from my friend in Bangkok especially for this eventuality. No ordinary tent, more a shelter with two sides missing. We put this over the talent and the light I had standing by, connected and ready to go, was put in position. The HMI light has been designed to match average summer sunlight of 5500K, so we were able to balance the light in the foreground with the background scene.
In the end I counted the shoot a success and my record stands. I might not be God, but…I made the sun shine!
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.