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Reflections on death ... and life

Nov 20. 2017
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Filmmaker Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit dons his indie hat once more with the low-budget movie "Die Tomorrow"

AFTER MAKING the leap from indie director to major studio and making one of the most success-|ful films of 2015, the romantic |comedy “Freelance”, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit returns to the independent stage for his new movie “Die Tomorrow”, a story, as the name implies, about death. 

Yet while about death, “Die Tomorrow” is in many ways a celebration of life. Through six stories – which he chooses to call fragments – Nawapol present different situations in the lives of his characters the day before they die. 

“Death is a reflection of how people see their lives,” says the director, who makes this point with the movie tagline: “how are you today?” This, he explains, is a reference to how death can happen anytime and to anyone – children, young people, the middle-aged and the elderly. 

“The question is: do I get scared or feel sad when I’m going to die? Like everyone, I have felt both scared and sad when I’ve thought about it, but now I’m not sure how will I feel when the day comes. I think it will be like sitting in a dark room and even though I can see where the exit is, I don’t know when I have to leave the room. If I were not concerned about it, I would never see where the exit is,” says Nawapol.

For all its seriousness, Nawapol insists that “Die Tomorrow” is not a depressing drama talking about the moment of loss but rather a portrayal of everyday life. 

“It’s not an omnibus either. It is more like an essay or a music album. It’s like we listen to the tracks on the whole album. We know that each song has its own story but all songs are connected with the singers or the band,” he says.

This “Die Tomorrow” album is shot through long takes in six fragments.

“Long takes have become my personal language and I have often used this technique in my previous films. The long take in this film is appropriate to the concept. Don’t you think that our everyday life is a long take … a real-time event that we can’t cut or stop until we die?”

In a way, he regards “Die Tomorrow” as his own funeral book, albeit one he has prepared alone. In general, the funeral book is made by those left behind in tribute a loved one.

He completes this idea by casting the actors he has worked with on previous films – Koramit Vajrasthira from his first feature film “36”, Patcha Poonpiriya from his independent hit “Mary is Happy, “Mary is Happy”, Jarinporn Junkiet from his short film “Maythawee” and Violette Wautier and Sunny Suwanmethanont from the commercial hit “Freelance”.

“It’s in keeping with the concept of how I want to do my ‘final film” in case I ‘die tomorrow’,” says the 33 year-old, adding that he is surely not too young to talk about death and doesn’t feel he it’s a jinx, as old beliefs would have us understand. 

“As I get older, the more I realise that death is always close though we tend to ignore it when we are younger. Even at my age, death is in sight and we all think about it. We tend to go to funerals more often and our bodies start to show signs of deterioration like back pain. It hit me when my mother told me out of the blue where the land deed is kept,” says the director.

Death or near death has always hovered at the edges of his films. “Every movie has a personal element, it allows me to see myself at a certain age,” Nawapol explains.

Since finishing “Freelance Ham Puay Ham Phak Ham Rak More” (“Heart Attack”), he has worked less and been more choosy about the projects he wants to develop. “That’s not because I earned a lot of money from ‘Freelance’, more that I didn’t want to want to work myself almost to death like the main character Yoon (Sunny Suwanmethanon), he laughs.

He developed “Die Tomorrow” and submitted his proposal to the Ministry of Culture, who chose it to pitch at the Cannes International Film Festival. “My project was too small to get funding but it was good to go there and learn more experience about pitching,” he says. 

He also knew he wouldn’t be able to make this low-budget independent project within the studio system so after returning from Cannes worked on a new project with GDH before turning his attention back to “Die Tomorrow” late last year.

“Die” eventually picked up financial support from different organisations including the Culture Ministry and LG. Nawapol didn’t attempt to raise funds overseas as he didn’t want to wait. “It takes a year or more to get funding so I opted for domestic support,” he says.

As with most independent directors, Nawapol donned several hats, most recently handling the promotion and marketing via social media, which he also used successfully in promoting both “36” and “Mary Is Happy”. And just like those two films, his Facebook and Twitter hashtag #dietomorrow went viral, with online shops giving it a twist to promote their products. From MacDonald to Tops Supermarket and even, the hashtag turned into such slogans as “Eat Today before diet(t)omorrow” in online food promotions, “dry tomorrow” for a detergent, and even “shop today without fearing to die tomorrow” for the 11.11 online shopping campaign.

Nawapol admits he was surprised at the way the tagline was picked up by so many people. “I couldn’t buy ads because I didn’t have a budget, so I was very excited and surprised to see it,” he says with a grin. 

Another gimmick, though one he dreamt up himself, was the film poster, which shows photos of each cast member with his/her real-life birth year followed by a hyphen and space to insert year of death. He even designed an app that allows members of the public to put their own photo and year of birth on the poster. 

“Even though my promotion on the social networks was an overwhelming success for “36” and “Mary”, I didn’t expect that it would reach the same level for “Die”. It’s the only way I know and I enjoy doing it,” he says. 

“But I have to pull myself away from the online world because I also have other work to do too,” he adds.

His box office success with “Freelance”, however, doesn’t change the fact that “Die Tomorrow” is still a low-budget independent movie, meaning that the major cinema chains are not picking it up for mass screenings. 

“Die Tomorrow” goes on limited release Thursday with two show times a day at 3pm and 7.30pm at selected cinemas in Bangkok and upcountry. It’s screening at SF World Cinema, SFX Central Lat Phrao, SFX Central Rama 9, SFX Maya Chiang Mai, SFX Khon Kaen, SF Cinema, Laemtong Bang Saen and SFX Central Plaza Nakhon Ratchasima. 


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