Scene from October Sonata
The romantic drama October Sonata represents the first collaboration between award-winning Thai director of photography/creative director Teerawat Rujenatham (Deep in the Jungle, Raging Phoenix) and director/screenwriter Somkiat Vithuranich. The two have known each other since Vithuranich's graduation.
"Somkiat began his film career in 1984 as a very talented 25 year-old assistant director. I remember that he lent me Master of Light by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato," says Rujenatham. "There were plenty of books on film craft in Thailand at that time, but none on film 'arithmetic'. The book taught me about the scope of a cinematographer's work, which is not that of a camera operator - as I thought it was in those days. Being the cinematographer on Somkiat's new film has helped me return his favor."
"Teerawat became a famous cinematographer and won awards, including the Prasurassawadee Award for his first movie, The Moonhunter, while I turned into a scriptwriter. We never worked together but now 18 years later, he made me to return to directing on October Sonata," responds Vithuranich.
"I grew up watching the big screens in standalone theatres and was fascinated by the beautiful, larger-than-life look and the quality of film. I shot my first movie on film and it was shown in a standalone theatre," he continues. "But after that the whole industry changed in Thailand. I shot my second movie on a digital camera and was completely disappointed. The hard-edged look of the image and the lack of depth of field annoyed me, and there was a jerkiness whenever an object moved quickly."
Vithuranich has waited for more than 10 years to turn October Sonata into a movie. "It was rejected by almost every studio in Thailand, but I always hoped that someone would recognise its worth," he says. "In 2007, my friend and co-director on Mid-Road Gang, Pantham Thongsang, suggested the script to my producer. "Then Teerawat read it, contributed visual ideas and expressed a willingness to shoot it for half his usual fee. I told him that I'd die eyes open if the movie wasn't shot on film! Teerawat has put his heart into the movie and my dream has come true."
With its theme of unconditional love and promises, October Sonata opens on October 8 1970; the fateful day that Thai movie star Mitr Chaibancha fell from a helicopter and died while shooting a film stunt. Main characters Sanjan, a working-class girl, and well-educated Ravi meet at the movie star's funeral. Later that night, they arrange a secret tryst at Sanmook Motel, in a bungalow by the sea, where Ravi promises he'll return two years to the day after he finishes his studies abroad. Sanjan goes to the bungalow two years later, but there's no Ravi. As time goes by, she gives up hope of seeing him again and falls in love with Lim, whom she later marries. Ravi returns on October 8 of 1974, telling Sanjan that political involvement was the cause of his long absence. Two years on, Sanjan leaves Lim and fruitlessly searches for Ravi; then Sanmook Motel closes down. After being attacked by her ex-husband, Sanjan stays away from the site, but the following year Ravi returns. In poor health, he waits for her at the now derelict bungalow. The atmospheric story, which Vithuranich divided into three acts in the shooting script, encompasses 40 years.
Rujenatham, Vithuranich and the art director worked closely together during the scouting process and in preproduction, combining their ideas and rehearsing precise shots with the actors. "I've used every kind of format, but I believe film is still the best medium to transform life into cinema" notes Rujenatham, who initially suggested Super 16 to Vithuranich. "The budget was very low, so I wanted to save costs, but Somkiat chose Super 35 format to capture the beauty of the landscape. It was the right choice for this film."
"Most of the action in October Sonata takes place inside a small bungalow - which becomes another character - and on a terrace; a tiny box to work with, but a challenging one," he says. "KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 gave me wide latitude in the many different lighting situations, which I used to reflect the changing moods and time periods". He also used KODAK VISION2 250D 5205 and shot at 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a lightweight Moviecam Compact camera and Cooke S4 lenses for soft colour tones.
"As the film's message is delivered mainly by facial expressions, I needed to achieve an intimacy with close-ups and lighting. My photography had to reflect the inner depth of the characters as they change each year, which was very challenging, and the visual style played a significant role in reflecting the changing time periods. Somkiat and I spoke a great deal each day on set, but then he gave me the freedom to shoot the way I wanted, while he focused on the acting and storytelling," notes Rujenatham.
Vithuranich wanted the first act to appear a little magical, so several scenes were shot day for night; some in the studio with CGI; and others in the bungalow's porch, with a backdrop of the moonlight glittering on the sea. There is a more realistic feel to the second act, but all the shots needed to retain the same style of lighting, mood and tone. "From the beginning, Teerawat wanted it to look grainy; almost as if it was shot on Super 16, but I pushed to preserve the romantic tone," says Vithuranich. "Finally, Teerawat agreed with me, but in some scenes he handheld the camera - for example when Sanjan runs to the front desk and out to the parking space to see if Ravi has really left her. Here, her feelings are a mix of illusion and reality, so the handheld camera suited the sequence."
"In a scene that juggles reality and illusion, Lim tries to arouse Sangan from her imaginary world. She stands in front of a mirror and her image is reflected. "Teerawat swung back and forth between Sanjan and Lim in an almost documentary style. It's in juxtaposition to the weird and unreal atmosphere when she runs out onto an empty street full of protestors' posters and handbills. Although the third act is shot in a high contrast lighting style to reflect the decisions the characters are forced to make, I wanted to maintain an element of the romantic aspect," explains Vithuranich.
The shoot was exactly on budget and completed on time. It was processed at Kantana Film Lab and went through the D.I. process at OP. "I have worked with their staff for many years and trust them entirely. Everything is going well" says the DP, who looks forward to the opportunity to shoot a low-budget film in Super 16.
October Sonata was produced by NGR and is being released by M-Pictures in late December.