Last Wednesday I posted my review of Till We Meet Again, an award-winning American-Thai production. The film follows the experiences of a couple traveling through Thailand, paying particularly close attention to how separation and loneliness play a part in their relationship.
Following that is “Making Till We Meet Again“, a series of interviews with the creators. The first of which is an email Q&A with director Bank Tangjaitrong to get insight on how Till We Meet Again came to be. Following sometime after should be interviews with Johan Matton, who both starred in and wrote the film, as well as co-star Emrhys Cooper.
From what I could tell this is actually your second time working with Johan Matton, with the first being your award-winning short film That Girl, That Time, which you wrote and directed. He was the star of both films, but actually penned the script for Till We Meet Again. Can you share anything about your experiences working with him, as well as having him on story duties this time around?
I always look forward to my collaborations with Johan as we’ve worked together so many different times in the past from a director-actor capacity. With Till We Meet Again, Johan was not only the actor but also the writer and producer, and to most directors that would be an immediate red flag since lines would be blurred and there wouldn’t be a sense of hierarchy with too many “voices” on set, but that was not the case here. Collaboration is essential for me and I try to bring in the best people for the job and learn from them and listen to them. Every idea was valid whether it came from an actor, producer, writer, gaffer, etc. But it had to all be funneled through the director and he or she would choose what works what doesn’t and I think Johan understood that. During the shooting process our relationship was always about director and actor first, that was the priority.
I read that you were born and raised in Bangkok, and wanted to know what it was like filming the majority of a feature film in your home country. In particular I noticed that while shots are certainly beautiful, they never feel exoticized. Unlike, say, the way Thailand was portrayed in The Hangover Part II where it’s very clearly depicted as a foreign place.
The way we shot Thailand was very important to our story and I wanted to make sure that we weren’t just including famous landmarks and treating the visuals like an ad for the tourism authority. We needed to find that balance between what’s expected of a film shot in Thailand but also a film about the human condition. It’s important that a scene that takes place in the confines of four walls can be equally as intriguing as a scene on a secluded tropical beach.
During the film one of the characters muses aloud about how Thai people should “be thankful [they’re] in their country spending money.” As someone who lived in Chiang Mai for four years I’m no stranger to the fact that the economy is highly dependent on the tourist industry. With that in mind do you think that Eric, Joanna, Daniel, and Miranda are an accurate representation of the men and women who tend to visit that corner of Southeast Asia?
Erik, Joanna, David, and Miranda are just one group of people that visit Southeast Asia. There are of course plenty of others who permanently move here and live here like locals. There are people that open successful business ventures, artists, musicians, restauranteurs, etc. The scene is incredibly diverse but we chose to focus on the backpacking community because we wanted our western audiences to also have a sense of familiarity to this journey and be able to relate to this adventure.
On a similar note, Till We Meet Again is about four White tourists and their experiences in Thailand. With such a tight focus on such a small cast it’s understandable that there wouldn’t be much room for many other characters. Did you ever feel the urge to include more Thais, in speaking roles, than what made it into the final cut of the film? [Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm is listed in the cast on IMDb but does not appear in the film]
We left a few scenes where Erik interacts with locals on the cutting room floor actually because I felt that some of the scenes that were written didn’t really amount to anything other than a few lines of expository dialogue or scenes that didn’t seem fleshed out. Every scene needed to move the story forward and we trimmed and cut what didn’t. The scenes that were cut out wouldn’t have done justice to the Thai characters in them and instead of just inserting them briefly I preferred to wait to give them the attention they deserved.
Both That Girl, That Time and the following Night Porter were short films released before Till We Meet Again. What was it like going from half hour films to a feature length that’s over three times that length?
Going from a short film format to a feature is like going from a pop song to an orchestra. It’s a completely different ballgame even though the fundamentals are still the same. The most challenging part for me was how do we find the best way to properly pace the film and hold the audience’s attention. With a longer duration, there’re a lot more decisions that need to be made in terms of timing and when to introduce questions to the narrative and when to answer those questions. There are so many possibilities and as a director you just have to trust your instincts to find the right ones.
Consistency is so vital in long form narrative and each scene needed to maintain that so during the shooting process the outcome of each scene had to convey the mood and tone that we set out to achieve from Day 1. Also with short films, in terms of stories, you often deal with characters that are in a specific situation rather than an elaborate and complex narrative with detailed backstory. That Girl, That Time and Night Porter were short films about chance encounters in a workplace over the course of one day, whereas Till We Meet Again spans years of a relationship that take place on both ends of the planet.