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Aditya and His Self : A talk in Wonderful Town

  Interview by Nuttorn Kangwangklai     Translated by Sorradithep Supachanya
  LINK : Aditya Assarat's profile and filmography
  Aditya Assarat Interview in Berlin
   
 

 

Aditya Assarat has never made a feature film, and his short films are few in number. Yet, he is well known internationally. Who is this man and what is the story behind his work?

Aditya made a name for himself and for the Thai short film industry in 2000 when his work Motorcycle, about a tragic loss in a rural Thai family, competed in numerous short film festivals around the world and won a handful of awards. Locally, he had directed music videos for a Thai rock band Pru and won a best music video award from Channel V Thailand. Later he was invited to work alongside Indian-born director Mira Nair and co-directed the documentary Three Friends with ML Mingmongkol Sonakul and Pumin Chinaradee which was showcased in Pusan and Toronto film festivals.

Needless to say, when Aditya (also known locally as Juke) has finally made his first feature film Wonderful Town, this is the perfect time to get to know him and his films a little more.

Life Abroad and the Road to Filmmaking

Aditya was 15 years old when he left Thailand to study high school abroad. At the age of 18, he enrolled in a college in New York, where he majored in history, not film studies. He admitted that he was not one of those filmmakers who knew their destiny since they were five years old. He chose to study history simply because he had fallen in love with the subject.

I had backpacked around Europe, which was very rich in culture and history. And so I came to be interested in the subject. Also, at the time I had to make a decision and I considered history as a foundation to better understand the world.

 


Adiya took an interest in film during his undergraduate years when he did not know what else to do in his free time other than to watch movies in New Yorks many cinema houses. Then he started to be curiousabout how to write screenplays, how to shoot particular scenes, ex cetera. Coupled with his writing talent and his dislike of the idea of other people adapting his script, he decided to formally study filmmaking at the graduate level in California.

Motorcycle

Motorcycle was Adityas thesis project, which he returned to Thailand to make. It was my first complete film and interestingly no one in Thailand was making short films at the time. After graduation, he stayed in San Francisco for six more months to learn about the short film and independent film industries. I tried to find out what could I do with my finished film and how to talk to people who might be interested in buying my film. There was one person who planned to show my film in an Australian cable television. It made me feel very proud.

Back then, no one in Thailand really knew what to do with a completed short film, other than to show it to your friends. But I searched the internet for film festivals and submitted my work to a number of them. There had never been a short film submission from Thailand before. If you asked me, was Motorcycle good? I did not think it was excellent. But it was one of the very few Thai short films. You could think of it as a som-tum shop in the Statesit might not offer the most delicious som-tum but it might be the only available store and people might line up just for a taste of this rare food.

When Motorcycle garnered attention, Aditya started to recognize short film as a valuable commodity. It has value; it can be bought and sold. At the same time, it is a work of art. It has to be both.

First Steps in Thailand as an MV and TV Ad Director

Aditya returned to Thailand and received a big break from directing music video for the song Por Dee Rao Mee Puen by a popular Thai rock band called Pru. Soon, he went into directing television advertisements. But he admitted that he was not ready for a feature film.

I felt that I must understand the Thai film industry first because it could be different from what I had used to in the U.S., especially how to work with people and how to manage shooting sets. Also, I did not know anyone then. It took me a while to get to know and collaborate with pioneering independent filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jednipith Theerakulchanyut, Soros Sukhum, and ML Mingmongkol Sonakul.

Chasing His Dream

Aditya set up his own production company for making music videos and television advertisements. One of the more unusual projects was the television show Dream Chaser featuring Kamol Sukosol Clapp (a member of the Thai rock band Pru) sightseeing various parts of Thailand on his motorcycle.

He enjoyed making television shows, more than he had expected. It taught him to be disciplined and responsible, as he must work on structured schedules and follow a well formulated plan to meet these deadlines.

Television shows help me make money and allow me time to make my films.

However, if a producer asks him to make a mass commercial film, he may have to think twice. I make films because I want to show something. I think it is in my nature that I am not suitable to commercial films. Plus, I dont really get these commercial films. Take slapstick comedies, for example. People who make these films grew up watching Ching Roi Ching Lan (a long-time popular Thai comedic show) and comedy caf?. I mean, I like it when I see it. I learn something new about what humors people. But, I dont think Im suited to make such a film.

 


Wonderful Town

Aditya first conceived his inaugural full-length feature project a few years after his return to Thailand.

At that time I had made four or five short films, which were shown in several film festivals. And I started to look for funding for my project. I submitted my proposal to the Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) and was selected to participate in the program. There, I learned all about how to make a feature film, where to solicit funding, what a producer does, and what kind of films producers want. It was strictly a learning period for me. In the end, I had to fold a few projects of mine.

Working with a Thai studio had not been in Adityas thought from the beginning. I was raised differently. I fell in love with the kind of films that would interest neither the big studios nor the Thai moviegoers. But independent filmmakers like us seem to want to make films that find very few Thai audiences, which make funding extremely difficult. Most of the funding for independent films then has to come from abroad. This makes me understand that if I want to make a full-length feature film, I have to make it with minimal budget.

Aditya and his friends set up a production studio called Pop Pictures. Luckily I have received a lot of funding from abroad. But in the end I still have to do a lot by myself because no big studios would be interested in small films like this one.

Wonderful Town was inspired by a small hotel in which he had stayed for a few days in a small town in a southern Thailand province of Phang-Nga. The entire story of Wonderful Town took place within this hotel, and revolved around the local hotel owner and an out-of-town architect who traveled there to help rebuild the place after the tsunami tragedy.

With minimal funding, Aditya had to exercise tight budget management, which meant that he had to shoot the film in a much shorter period in his other films. When I studied filmmaking, there was a nifty triangular rule of filmmaking: cheap, good, and fast. Every film can achieve only two out of three: cheap and good but not fast, fast and good but not cheap, and fast and cheap but not good. For my case with such tight budget, I had to make it fast and I tried to not let the speed compromise the quality.

Wonderful Town was edited by Lee Chatamethikul, a well known film editor in Thailand.

 

Himself and His Future Self

In his own opinion, he regards himself as a better writer than director. Moreover, writers only need a pen and paper to practice.

Filmmaking is like sports. We need to practice it all the time in order to improve. But there are not many chances to practice directing films because I am not a professional director at a big production studio.

In response to the question about whether a Thai film must showcase a Thai-ness, he said, for me, I do not have the duty to show Thai-ness. I have the duty to show only myself.

In terms of his future projects, he has already scouted some locations for his next feature film Sideline. But he admitted that he had not thought about going to Hollywood. It had been only five years since he left the U.S., and he started to get used to, and love, his hometown.

 

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