Hot Seat

Suman Tharan

Suman and I worked together for a number of years at a Bangkok language school but sadly lost contact (as you do) Then on a Friday afternoon on Sukhumwit Road, we bumped into each other, decided to go for a beer or two and to share some memories. I was both surprised and delighted to learn that 'Shooey' was now making a name for himself in the movie industry. This was definitely a topic for the ajarn hot seat. Lights. Camera. Action!

Q

Suman, welcome to the ajarn hot seat. I'm a huge movie fan so I'm looking forward to this. Let's start with how long you've been doing movie extra work and how many movies you've been involved with so far?

A

I've been doing movie extra work for about a year now and I've appeared in three films. I also have another three films in the pipeline, so I'm certainly keeping busy.

Q

Do you have an agent who finds you movie work or is it a case of applying for each job as it comes up?

A

No, I don't have an agent and that's really because I don't care about the money side of things. However, you have to keep in mind that other extras do the film stuff as a full-time job and rely on agents to bring in the work.

Believe it or not, agents can take up to an 80% cut (commission) on an extra's daily earnings. I've actually worked on film sets where I've got paid 10,000 baht a day and kept the lot, whereas some poor extra - doing exactly the same job - has gone home with 2,000 baht in his pocket because his agent has creamed 80% off the top.

Q

Wow! Now you describe yourself as 'a Malaysian of Sri Lankan descent' You clearly have a look that appeals to casting directors, right?

A

No, not really. Someone with blonde hair, blue eyes and movie star looks is always going to get more work than me. But of course, because of the way I look, I do get the pick of more selective roles.

Why do I get plenty of work? Casting directors seem to like me because I have a very clear speaking voice. On top of that, I can speak Malay and actually got the chance to use that in one film.

There is also something I need to touch on called the 'performer's etiquette' and this is crucial to making any movie. Even a lowly extra needs to be well-behaved on set and earn a reputation as simply being 'a nice guy to work with'. You'll rarely be short of work if you are someone who is seen as a valuable asset to the production team. On the flip-side, get a reputation as a moaner and a trouble-maker, and the work will dry up for sure.

Q

But you've always been an easy guy to get on with Shooey?

A

Well, as I said at the beginning of our chat, I don't work in this industry to make money. I suppose if you do movie extra work as a full-time job, you're more prone to hissy fits. But I always keep a smile on my face - and that's so important.

Q

What's the latest movie you are working on, who's in it, and where is the film being shot?

A

It's a psychological thriller, set in Bangkok, called 'All I See is You' starring Jason Clarke and Blake Lively.

Q

You mentioned to me that the worst aspect of being a movie extra is the hours of waiting around between shoots. Is that correct and how do you generally kill the time?

A

Spot on!

Let's take it from the top. There are four 'levels' of actor working in a film. The main stars, the supporting actors, the featured extras (those who have lines in the film or who are part of a major scene) and then finally you have the regular extras (the faces in the crowd as it were)

I'm normally in the 'featured extras' category. Featured extras are treated better than the regular extras. We're allowed to bring personal belongings on to the set, such as I-pads or books, and of course they all help to kill time between takes.

Now if we look at a typical day in the life of an extra. We start at 4.30 - 5.00 am. That's when we need to be ready to be transported to the set, wherever that may be. Once we arrive on location, we'll often sit around until about 6.00 am before tucking into a hearty breakfast.

Then it's time for costume and make-up so that we are on set as the sun rises.

It's a long 12-hour day Phil, but we certainly get well-fed. Much of a movie extra's day is spent eating, drinking and smoking. (laughs) I'm normally a pack-a-day man but when I'm on set, I can get through three packs of cigarettes without any trouble at all.

Q

So what's the best part of being a movie extra?

A

I'd say there are two main reasons why I love this work. Firstly, I can't put into words how much my appreciation of watching movies has increased. I watch a film with my mother and half-way through, she'll nip off to the toilet and I'll throw my hands up in the air. How can you walk out on a movie? Don't you know how much work has gone into making it?

I can watch certain movie scenes over and over again because I can analyze them from lots of different angles. I know all the hard work that went into the making of that scene.

Secondly, I've always been a sociable kind of guy and I love meeting people and making friends. I'll come away from making a movie with sometimes 250 new Facebook friends. And hey!, life is all about contacts right?

Q

You recently appeared in 'The Mechanic Resurrection' with Jason Statham. Good bloke?

A

Well, despite his tough guy image, I have to say I found Jason very friendly.

Q

You had a speaking part in that movie?

A

I did indeed. I played the part of a prison warden in a Malaysian jail. But the film was shot in Chantaburi (laughs) Look out for me!

Q

And did you get to hang out and shoot a few games of pool with one of Hollywood's top tough guys?

A

Unfortunately not and I'll tell you why, because this is quite an interesting aspect of movie-making.

The main actor - in this case, Jason Statham - will use a 'stand-in' or a 'double' for any movie scenes that he's involved in. Once the film crew are happy with the scene, they are then ready for the final shoot. And that's when the main star is roused from his luxury trailer, mid-cappuccino.

So what I'm saying is that for most of the time you're on set as an extra, you're working with the stand-in. You have very little contact with the lead actor.

Q

When it comes to the top movie stars making these films, is there clearly a divide between those stars who look on the movie extras as perhaps 'beneath them', and those stars who genuinely appreciate the work that you do?

A

Oh, for sure. Jason Statham was very personable. He was taking selfies with the extras and never ever came across as the big 'I am'. But I've been told about some Hollywood A-listers who have ordered extras to be taken off the set for taking photos and making small talk, etc.

Let me go back to that whole performer's etiquette that I mentioned before. As an extra, you do NOT talk to the big stars unless they talk to you first. You also develop a sixth sense for an actor's body language. Some will give off a vibe of being approachable while others just won't.

Q

Talk to us about pay rates. OK, a scenario. Let's say I'm in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and I'm part of a crowd scene. It's strictly a non-speaking part. How much am I getting paid?

A

About 2,000 - 5,000 baht a day.

Q

But I presume the pay rises considerably when you have a speaking part such as the one you had in The Mechanic Resurrection?

A

I got 10,000 baht a day for that plus an extra allowance of 1,000 baht per day.

Q

Extra allowance for what?

A

You can spend it on whatever you want after your day's work is done - drinks in the bar, foot massages. Let me tell you - it's nice to have a relaxing foot massage after you've been on your feet for a 12-hour day.

Q

What do you think are the advantages of shooting a movie in Thailand?

A

I'm glad you asked that because I'm interested in the history of foreign-made movies here in Thailand. Let me educate you. The first foreign film crew to make a movie in Thailand was way back in 1913. And then for years and years, films were made only very occasionally. Sometimes there would be a gap of five years between one movie and the next.

The Thailand movie-making boom started in 2002. And since then, there have been in the region of 25-30 movies a year involving a Western production team.

But back to your original question - why choose Thailand? Firstly, it has such a diverse range of potential locations. You've got jungle and beaches. There are glorious palaces in contrast with modern buildings.

It doesn't even need to be a film about Thailand. Thailand can be Vietnam or Burma as we've seen in so many great movies shot here.

The labour here is both cheap and creative - and it's quality! From set designers to camera and sound crews, they all produce outstanding work.

It's also easy to deal with the Thai government. They will close roads or cordon off huge swathes of land so you can produce a quality shoot every time. The support systems here are truly exceptional.

Q

It must give you a serious buzz to see your name on the cast list at the IMDB website?

A

Yes it does. Even though you provide the information yourself to IMDB, they still verify that info by contacting the film studio. So if you appear on the cast list, you are on it because you deserve to be on it.

Q

Thanks for the chat Shooey - and we'll see you on the red carpet before too long.

A

Thanks Phil. I've got a somewhat meatier film role coming up in August. I'm playing the part of an Indonesian senator but I don't want to give too much else away. Sorry. Oh. and there are plans to cast me in a U.S sitcom - in a major role too! Now that does excite me. It's not going to do much for my cigarette smoking though.

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