Name: Paul Spurrier
Born: Lowestoft, England
Nickname: The only nicknames I have are used by my wife when she’s angry, and those can’t be repeated here.
Where do you live? Above the Friese-Greene Club, Sukhumvit Soi 22
How long in Thailand? First came in 1999. Moved here permanently around 2004.
What brought you here? I split up with a girlfriend in 1999, and found myself with no plans for the Millennium New Year. So when a friend at the BBC offered me a job on a documentary about elephants in Thailand, it seemed like a great idea. I had never been to Thailand, and had only ever had Thai food once in my life. It was a massive eye-opener, and I determined right then and there that I would return to make films.
Your profession? Film-maker
Company: Commercial Films Siam
What does it do? Most westerners involved with production in Thailand find work from the international productions that come to shoot here. Last year, 80 films and many more commercials and TV series used Thailand for part of their shooting. Obviously, there’s more money to be made from international productions. Anybody who refuses this work, and all the money that goes with it, and the more sociable hours and the proper contracts and credits must be a stupid buffalo. So my wife tells me. But I enjoy working in the local industry. My first film in Thailand – ‘P’ - was shot entirely in Thai language, and my second film ‘The Forest’ was shot mostly in Isaan dialect.The only problem nowadays is that the Thai film industry is having a hard time.Of the top ten box office films last year in Thailand, not a single one was Thai. The Thai film share of the local box office has gone down from 30% to under 10% in the last five years. So our latest project ‘Eullenia’ is still shot in the same way, with Thai crews, Thai cast, but we brought in one English actor, and shot partially in English language. Nowadays, Thai productions are having to consider the international market.
What made you go into filmmaking? I was a child actor. There are only ever three stories ever written about ex-child actors. Either they are now drug addicts or alcoholics. Or they blame their entire life problems on their parents forcing them to go on the stage. Or they fall into the category of ‘Where are they now?’ I suppose that since I still get along with my parents, and am far too scared of Thai prisons to take drugs, making obscure local language films in Thailand probably puts me squarely in the third category.While acting, I always loved watching how the film was actually put together, so when I became a teenager, got spots, and didn’t look quite so angelic any more, it was an obvious choice to learn more about how films get made.
Any roadblocks when you first started working in Thailand? There are always a myriad of roadblocks. Investing in a film is probably the highest risk investment in the world. I’m sure you would be statistically better off taking all your money and putting it on black at the roulette table. It certainly doesn’t get easier to raise investment for a film when you’re a film-maker from Norfolk in England wanting to make an art-house ghost film in rural Thailand in Isaan dialect. The upside is that making films in Thailand is much cheaper than in the west, so you don’t have to raise so much money, and the investment level is much lower.
Which filmmaker inspired you? When I grew up, I loved Spielberg’s films. I always dreamed of making real ‘Hollywood films’. But not anymore. I am bored to death of superheroes, robots, dinosaurs and fast cars. Even the Bond films bore me. Have I changed, or have the films really just got dumber?
What was the inspiration behind Alec Newman’s character in ‘Eullenia’? After the reasonable success of ‘P’ and ‘The Forest’, we decided to take a leap forward. Our latest project is a three-part international television series – ‘Eullenia’. We could see that some of the best drama these days doesn’t seem to be coming to the big screen; it’s coming from the premium and subscription channels.’Eullenia’ is a dark thriller about a multi-millionaire expat who runs a financial institution, but who hides a dark secret. (And for once it’s got nothing to do with Soi Cowboy).It’s certainly meant to be a fun and sometimes scary ride, but we’ve also tried to make a statement about the ‘1%’, about the power that can result from wealth, and about the inequities in society.We were very lucky to be able to use the talents of a British actor Alec Newman, who is very experienced. (British viewers may remember him as the headmaster of Waterloo Road.) He brought an authenticity and sincerity that makes the character truly chilling.
There is a core question at the heart of ‘Eullenia’, which is ‘can money buy happiness? ’Speaking personally, as someone who left a thriving company in the UK, many people thought I was quite mad. But I’m fortunate in that I have a great quality of life, and have found incredible creative inspiration. I think a lot of expats in Thailand came to the conclusion that there was ‘another way’ to seek happiness.
What else takes up your time in Thailand? There are always going to be some things that we miss from our birth countries, though I have to say in the last 19 years, that list has been reduced dramatically. But I did find myself missing the diversity of films that were available to see in the U.K. A choice of ‘Transformers 67’, ‘Jurassic Park 12’, ‘Avengers 23’ and ‘Fast and Furious 17’ doesn’t seem like a great choice. So, just over five years ago, I opened the Friese-Greene Club, a tiny club where film fans, film students, and film-makers can come and watch old, foreign, cult, obscure and classic films.We have a nine-seat cinema, and we play films every night except Monday. We never play the same film twice in a year.
Any famous movie stars or producers hang out there? When we know that there are visiting film-makers in town, we are always keen for them to come and screen a film or give a talk at the club. So, we’re fortunate to have been visited by a number of directors, cinematographers and actors.
How do you rate actors and movie stars? When you try to promote or sell a film, still one of the first questions is always “who’s in it?”. Stars still have value. Even actors whose careers you might think are in decline can still do well. If you know their name, they still have value. Dolph Lundgren acted in five feature films and a TV series last year. This year John Travolta will be in at least four films. I often get asked ‘Why do actors get paid so much?’ And it’s actually very simple – producers need them. So they have to pay them.But then the next argument is, “But their last five films bombed!” Well... of course everyone would have preferred if the films had hit, but the truth is that the film found investors, the producer got paid, the director and crew got paid, and the film actually got made. That’s at least a partial success.And actors (usually) have real talent.Where I think it all gets a bit ridiculous is the whole celebrity culture when people get famous because they’ve been in a reality show! It seems there’s a whole group of celebrities who are famous simply for being famous!
Personal motto? I have to quote ‘Kung Fu Panda’ “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift… that’s why they call it the present”
High and low points in Thailand: When I first came to Thailand, everything was strange, intriguing and fascinating. Now, I’ll walk down the street, prance around an open hole in the pavement, dodge a food-cart, ignore a tailor shop tout, and never notice any of it. Even the massage shop ladies take one look at me and don’t bother to offer me a massage.When I first started to learn Thai language, the taxi-drivers would always tell me I spoke good Thai. I didn’t at all of courseThen I noticed that after a year or so, they started to tell me that I spoke very ‘clear’ Thai. The other day I realized that no Thai taxi-driver has complimented me on my Thai for years.So, the lesson is that if taxi-drivers compliment your Thai, it means that it is very bad!I sometimes wish that I could return to see Thailand with the same fresh eyes that I did 19 years ago. Now the strangest, most alien place that I visit is England!
Biggest bore? People who come to Thailand, but are still obsessed with the politics back home. Don’t they realize that the incredible luxury they have is that they don’t have to give a damn anymore?
LAST WORD: My friend Al Eberhardt always greets me with the words, ‘What are you up to? It’s Friday night.’It sometimes takes me a couple of moments to realise, ‘But it isn’t Friday night!’Whereupon he always says,’Hey, every night is Friday in Bangkok, Thailand!’