Director Somchay Phakonkham talks about ‘The Boat’
The Boat – Synopsis
Somchay Phakonkham is an award winning Laotian-Australian film director from Melbourne, who has directed countless short films and music videos. He has also worked on several independent feature films such as “Little Black Dress” and “Eraser Children”.
In the short span of his career he has won several awards including the Silver Screen Award for Best Short Film at the Nevada Film Festival in 2012 for his latest project ‘The Boat’.
He is now moving onto directing feature films and has his eyes set on the golden statue.
1. The Boat takes a different turn from some of your earlier work. Whereas you mostly did comedies with Youcake Productions, the first short film from your new production company ReInvent Films is a serious drama. What kinds of new things can you learn from adding new genres to your range and body of work?
I found that working on a genre such as drama demands more from your actors emotionally; they are required to go to a darker place within themselves to bring out the right emotion for the scenes. As the director I have to create an environment that allows them to go there, without them being afraid, which will help bring out a more genuine performance.
However both genres demands different things from your actors, whether it’s having great comedic timing or hitting the right emotion tone, they are both hard in their own ways.
I also found that in comedy there are a lot of improvisations which usually ends up being what’s in the scene. Whereas on a drama, improvisation becomes a great directing tool to help actor tap into their subconscious mind if they are having mental block.
2. There is a very poignant, lyrical feel to The Boat, while clearly being grounded in the lives of some very stoic, Anglo-Australian men. Your actors reveal a number of inner layers involved with how some males in a father and son dynamic struggle to relate to each other. How did you choose (find) your actors and what was it like directing them?
For this project, you could say I cast the roles by personality types, meaning if the role of a character was very quiet and introverted, then I would try and cast someone as close to that personality as possible. I personally find that you get more natural performances this way. But of course this technique can change from project to project.
Secondly I cast them based on suitability, whether they’re suited to play the role and how they fitted amongst the rest of the cast. In my case, it was the trouble of trying to match a father and son together that would be believable.
Directing both, Jeremy Kewley, and James Schaw was a great pleasure and a huge learning experience. Jeremy Kewley who has been in the industry for a number of years brought a lot of his own experience and ideas to the story which help cultivate the character he portrayed as Walter.
New Zealand actor James Schaw who is fairly new to the industry brought a lot of innocence into his character, which really helped mould the role of Finn.
Both actors were extremely professional, they gave me what I wanted and more. I think I was very fortunate to have these two amazing actors for the project and I couldn’t ask for a better pair.
3. How difficult was it filming outdoors in the open water?
Lol I think my cast and crew can tell you how difficult it was filming in the open water.
I’d say it is pretty tricky for anyone who wishes to film outdoors in the open water, because you have all these other elements that are not within your control. Such as the tides, the sun, clouds, winds and the sound of the waves constantly crashing into your boat, but I think we were extremely lucky that day. The weather held out, the waves weren’t too strong and we managed to block most of the wind from nearby rocks. So we didn’t experience too many hiccups which are always a good thing.
I think you just need good planning and preparation, and just be prepared for any conditions you may encounter and don’t be afraid to get wet hahaha
4. Tell me about your co-producer, who is also an Asian Australian. How did you come across his own work and how you came to collaborate together?
Thai Phuong is a Chinese-Australian actor who moved to LA to pursue his acting career. He has been in numerous TV shows, feature films, and has recently completed a film with director John Sayles on a project called ‘Go for Sisters’. He is also one of the main stars in the new anime-flavoured, sci-fi ‘The New Kind’, taking on the role of ‘Giant’.
I have been a fan of his work ever since high school when he was just starting out doing school plays, and we have always been interested in collaborating with each other.
As a co-producer on ‘THE BOAT’ he has brought a lot of his own experiences as an actor to help oversee the end product from an actor’s perspective, which really helped allow the film to showcase the outstanding performances given by our talented actors.
5. What’s next?
Right now I’m currently developing a story with American actor/writer Han Tran. All I can tell you is that it’s a sad love story, so you’ll just have to wait and see lol.
I’m also on the lookout for new scripts and writers to work with. So if you have a script or you’re a writer who would like to collaborate on an idea, don’t be afraid to get in touch.
Phakonkham was a panel speaker and screened one of his short films at our inaugural AAFFN 2011 event in Melbourne, and was interviewed in Peril’s special issue on AAFFN. We look forward to keeping an eye out on his ever growing range of films and achievements in 2013.
Interview by AAFFN’s Indigo Willing.