Indie filmmaker Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit makes his first big studio outing with "Freelance"
As he watched the GTH team preparing Siam Paragon’s fashion hall for the press conference in which he and his new film would be in the spotlight, director Nawapol “Ter” Thamrongrattanarit’s expression hovered between confusion, nervousness and pleasure.
That’s because his two previous directorial efforts – the indie productions “36” and “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy” – were made on shoestring budgets and thus their promotion was largely limited to the social networks.
“Freelance Ham Puay Ham Phak Ham Rak More” (“Heart Attack”), his first outing as a director with a major studio, promises to be different.
“Even seeing the giant billboard for this film in front of Esplanade Cineplex was mind-blowing,” he says excitedly. “When I made indie films, having a stand in the ticket office area was the most elegant promotion piece I could afford.”
Nawapol is very much in demand these days. His debut feature “36”, and follow-up “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy”, were both critically acclaimed and well received at the box office. “36” consists of exactly 36 static shots, the same number as the exposures available on a traditional roll of film, while “Mary” was developed from tweets by a 14-year-old girl. He also directed “The Master”, a documentary about pirate-movie vendor Mr Van, which also won prizes.
“Freelance” is evidence of his recognition by the studio system.
Nawapol compares it to being successful at the Sundance Film Festival and earning a passport to work in Hollywood with bigger projects and superstar casts.
“It’s a great opportunity to communicate with a wider and larger audience. Take ‘Whiplash’ director Damien Chazelle. He’s now working on ‘La La Land’, a major project starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone,” he adds.
“Freelance” also has superstars – Sunny Suwanmethanon from last year’s blockbuster comedy “I Fine Thank You Love You” and Davika Hoorne from the top-grossing film of all time “Pee Mak Phra Khanong”,
The new film centres on freelance graphic designer Yoon (Sunny), who spends most of his time retouching images. Yoon needs some retouching himself, though, because working hard has given him a skin rash. He goes to hospital and promptly falls for Im (Davika), his beautiful doctor,
Nawapol originally wanted to cast new actors in the leads, as he has done with his two previous successes. But he quickly found out that the Yoon and Dr Im characters were too demanding for new actors to handle.
“In every film I’ve ever done, I just cast new actors whose are close in nature to the characters I want them to play. This time I needed acting skills. It was a new experience but one for which I am grateful as its strengthened my directing,” Nawapol says.
He’s also very much enjoyed the benefits of being backed by a major production company. “Working in a studio means I have better resources and equipment for my film. ‘Freelance’ might be a story about a relationship but it’s a romantic comedy in my own style and that makes it different from any of GTH’s other movies.”
The story was inspired by his own experience of getting sick while working as a freelance writer and being overwhelmed when he consulted a doctor, who turned out to be an attractive woman.
Nawapol chose a skin rash to bring out the irony of such a condition in a man whose job it is to make people look perfect. “Besides, it shows better on film than other illnesses,” he grins.
But while he’s aware that the collaboration between the most successful studio and the indie superstar is hotly anticipated by both their fans, he is also quick to stress that “Freelance” bears more of his personal signature than GTH’s other films, which are known for their formulaic “feel good” style.
“I can’t do 100 per cent like them as we are have very different styles. Nor did GTH force me to follow their formula. They let me do what I wanted and we discussed it when it reached the editing process,” he says.
“The discussion was still very much based on what we agreed in the first place. My experience in filmmaking also helped me to stand up for my points when they disagreed with my ideas. Instead of panicking and cutting out what they disliked, we worked together to find ways we could re-edit it and finally came up with the win-win version,” he says.
“My experience with ‘36’ and ‘Mary’ helped immensely in making this film. GTH has been professional and more than fair in giving me a budget and being ready to take the risk with me. Obviously the investment is not as high as other GTH films but I’m happy with that scale. In fact, having the same budget as for ‘Pee Mak’ or ‘I Fine’ would have been very stressful.”
Nawapol also feels that the timing is perfect for him and GTH to work together, pointing out that the company is stable following a string of box office successes so they can afford to do something different with an indie director like himself.
“I’m not a rookie filmmaker anymore,” says the 31-year-old Chulalongkorn University graduate. “Nor did my success come overnight.”
Quite the contrary in fact. Although Nawapol knew he wanted to be a director since his high-school days, he spent almost 10 years as a scriptwriter, making his own short films as well as three feature films. He even interned in editing and scriptwriting in GTH in the early years as he realised he still lacked filmmaking knowledge. The studio’s producers, Jira Maligool and Wanruedee Pongsittisak, saw his talent for writing, and quickly offered him a job as a member of the script-writing team for such big projects as “Top Secret”, “Ruk 7 Pee Dee 7 Hon” (“Seven Something”) and “Rod Fai Fah ... Maha Na Ter” (“BTS: Bangkok Traffic Love Story”).
But in making his own films, Nawapol opted for the independent route. “I knew I had a lot more to learn, particularly in terms of production work. I needed the experience, which staying as a scriptwriter wouldn’t give me,” he explains.
He describes “Freelance” as a mid-range film and is hopeful that it will at least break even or make a modest profit, thus encouraging GTH to be more interested in trying new things.
“Who knows? I once joked that if the film is successful, then maybe GTH could open an indie production arm – GTH Searchlight or something like the 20th Century Fox Studio’s Fox Searchlight,” he laughs.
- “Freelance Ham Puay Ham Phak Ham Rak More” (“Heart Attack”) opens in cinemas on September 3.
- For more details, check FreelanceTheMovie.com.