A Conversation with the Editors of Bioscope Magazine
Interview by: Thunska Pansittivorakul
Starting and maintaining a film magazine, let alone a serious one, is no easy task. In the third of three insightful interviews with persons of import in the contemporary Thai cinema, journalist and filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul sits down with editors Suparp Rimtheparthip and Thida Plitpholkarnpim to discuss their Thai-language film magazine Bioscope.
Thunska Pansittivorakul: How did you begin creating Bioscope Magazine?
Bioscope: At that time, I was working on the content of Grammy's website Eotoday. At first they thought it would be an income generator but eventually they found something that made much more money - ringtone downloading. The amount of content decreased, so we had more time on our hands. We all had had experience in publishing (Tida worked for Cinemag, Suphap for Film View, books, and videos) and we had been discussing that Thailand doesn't have a film magazine of the kind that we would like to read. At that time the magazine Alternative Writer was being published with low investment and circulation, so we took our cue from there, putting the magazine [Bioscope] out on the sales stands ourselves. We didn't search for sponsors and kept investment costs low, so we wouldn't have headaches over business issues. We wanted to do what we wanted to do. We began with a small size (A5 size), until we viewed it from a business perspective and felt it would work [with a larger size]. We thought that if we do something that we love, we could make it, yet we could see that a 25 baht magazine that came out every two months would not be enough for survival, so we decided to make it a monthly magazine in A4 size.
TP: Why the name Bioscope?
B: We discussed this, and at that time we had Manotham Thiamthiapratana to help us. He was a person who liked to think of names. The word "bioscope" is the name of a system of film projection [used] in the past, and its uniqueness lies in that it is small and portable. Its linguistic meaning is "images of life", which we felt was suitable
TP: What is the concept of the magazine?
B: We felt that films are not just about what is seen on the screen, but it is an experience which includes the thoughts of the director as well. It has an origin; it is born from the fermentation and care of the producer of that work. This way of thinking branched out into various columns in the magazine where we go back to the roots, the society, and the period of time where each director came from. This includes other processes, such as scriptwriting; even the interviews go in-depth into the reasons why the film was molded this way.
TP: When the bigger issue was made, where did you find the funding, since the investment is no doubt higher than the smaller issue?
B: We talked to a distribution agent who immediately gives back 40 percent as soon as the magazine hits the stands. The printing house also had a credit system, wherein you don't need to pay immediately after printing. It was all money circulation, and we survived by doing other jobs as well—consultation for other magazines, making books for the film association and for film companies. We did everything for basic survival. We worked to make money to do what we were passionate about, and at that time we managed without investment capital, meaning without an office. We had no employees and tried to implement a system wherein no one owed anyone else any money.
TP: How were you able to sustain yourselves until you had an office?
B: We got to a situation where we had to make a decision. At that time Tae (Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn) had just graduated. We wanted him, but we didn't have the money to pay him. We could only afford to pay him to do small jobs of a few thousand baht each. How could he stay? Tae's friends also invited him to write scripts. We knew that if one day he moved in that direction, he would not have time to write for us and we would be in trouble because it was very difficult to find good writers like Tae. We had to choose to get an office.
TP: My view is that Bioscope is not only a magazine, but it is an experience—it has documentaries, film contests, small-screen film screenings, and there is also a reader's group. Why do you do all these things, if the magazine alone is already difficult to sustain?
B: Opportunities are very important for those who need it. We believe that our readers have dreams. They need opportunities and we are the main means of bringing those opportunities to our readers. It's not only open to readers, but also to the film industry because the industry needs new people while at the same time, people need opportunities to step into the film business. Being in the industry allows us to figure in many roles, enough to contact this person and that person to join our activities. Whether for a filmmaker or film viewer, what we want to present is how to create a foundation in viewing and filmmaking, allowing people to experiment in the areas of viewing and production. Our duty is to try to pull out small aspects in films and allow the reader to explore them. This is the main type of content in our issues.
TP: What about the activities that have been organized by Bioscope, such as the film screenings?
B: Our magazine was created after watching films in institutes. Our friends are from these places. Being able to discuss and exchange ideas with people who have different experiences is about learning, linking thoughts, which leads to additional education. We believe that if things like this happen, we will have a group of quality film viewers and filmmakers.
TP: And the short film contests—such as "My First Film"?
B: Part of the content of the magazine is the challenge to realize that watching films and making films is not a difficult matter. It may be complicated, but if you understand it, it is enjoyable to watch. Or if you create something from within [yourself], you can do it too. Stances such as this come from our own questions which arose after hearing from Thai filmmakers who complain [about] how we are inferior to Hollywood because of the lack of funding. We believe that this is not true because films come from within, from the heart, from the mind, not from external factors. Therefore, short films are the answer to this. Low investment, [availability of] technology makes it possible for everyone, but we have also discovered that some people have no idea of the production process at all. Does that mean that they will never have the opportunity to create films? It should involve both the process of thought training as well as learning about production, so that they can think [for themselves] and convey these in the form of a story. So we first ask them to send in their story, select from there, discuss these, and then enter them into a workshop which helps them all the way to the production process.
TP: What is the "Films for Reconciliation" project?
B: We believe that everyone can tell stories. We want to open up another perspective and allow films to be the medium to tell stories in communities. People have the chance to hold the camera and tell their own stories—hence this project. We connected with the National Reconciliation Committee which wanted media to speak of the violence in the Southern areas. It was an issue of national urgency and we felt it would be good to make films with a role in speaking of this issue that few people dared to touch, or that people are cynical about. It is such a complicated issue that no films were made based on this issue. There are two projects that comprise this. The first is to allow people in general who do not have knowledge of filmmaking—those who have a story they want to tell and would not be heard even if they did [tell it]—to be able to make films so that their films would be screened for others to see. Second are the people who have knowledge about filmmaking, but have no interest in society whatsoever. The activity is the connecting tool. We feel that films have not been used in this role for a long time. The criteria for selection was about your opinion towards this issue, what stories would you like to tell, do you have any perspectives from which, if spoken, would allow the external person to increase their understanding of this issue?
TP: And the "Films From Next Door" documentary—how did it begin and why did you choose to make a documentary?
B: I had the chance to watch a film by Poon (Thunska Pansittivorakul) - Voodoo Girls. Certainly if you watch films by June (Apiwat Saengpataseema)'s films or Toi (Panu Aree) you will be watching documentaries, but when I watched Poon's film I said "Hey, stories close to us can also be told seriously—filming friends, filming things that are fun". It is able to change the idea most people have that documentaries are boring. It is obvious that the filmmaker underwent a thought process; he knows what he wants to say, even though it is footage that is seemingly taken for fun yet edited in such a way that there is some issue that he wants to tell us about. It's about [the director's] concept rather than complicated technicalities. Documentaries are another way to tell stories, but there is another group of people who are not good at thinking up a storyline first. We think that anything that is good in life can be made into a film. You don't need to mould a plot which sometimes even the filmmaker him/herself doesn't understand.
TP: But the difference is that the short films project had sponsors, but the documentary doesn't—it's funded from your own pockets. Why do you continue to do it—now that it is on its second year?
B: (laughs) When we began we thought that we would stop at one [documentary]. We had some money, but when we selected the stories we were interested in, we chose more than one. We ended up with four stories. It's fun and we're proud that there is a film produced "by Bioscope". We also met people whom we never thought would make films, such as Siwadol Rathee who made the film Klub Ban (Going Home, winner of the Wichit Matra Award, Thai Film Foundation Short Films Contest 2005). If it wasn't for this activity, he would have continued to sit around in the credit department for days on end. We feel that if he didn't have this opportunity, he would have stopped thinking of making it. That's why when it came out, it was very powerful, because it came from his true inner feelings. Is (Issara Maneewat, My First Boyfriend)—these people never knew about filmmaking before this, and now they are thinking [that] they want to continue.
TP: What do you think is the duty of a film magazine?
B: We found out that there are many people knowledgeable about films out there. They are obsessed with films. They can answer every question asked, but they have no understanding of the people around them at all. So we want to make a magazine that, once read, will lead to other things—a love for humanity, a love for one's own humanity—not only being lost with obsession in the world of films. A film magazine can say more than what it seems to be. It has to have its own life, and serve as an inspiration for those who are not involved in the film industry as well. One of our readers told us that he wanted to open a shop selling shirts but did not have the courage to do so, until he read one of our columns for the first time. It was about a director who fought and found his own way to success, and this served as an inspiration for him. He found the courage to open his clothes shop. It doesn't have anything to do with films, yet it makes us feel great because films touch people easily. You know that every time you watch a film, you can gain something for yourself.
TP: Do you think the government sector has an effect on the Thai film industry?
B: Yes. This is important because there has to be at least one working group that drives the industry. Promoting your own company alone is enough to kill [the industry]. The problem with Thailand is that it does not see film as part of culture. We think that culture is khon traditional dancing or prohibiting spaghetti straps. The government is trying, but when they do, they only view it in terms of sustainable economics. The film festival is therefore organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Making use of Thailand as a film location for foreigners is seen only in financial dimensions, in terms of how much money it will rake in. We never understand how film is culture. Take Korea for example. They are successful because they see Dae Jung Kuem [Jewel in the Palace] as part of their culture that leads to [interest in] Korean food and Korean tourism. [Television] series are popular, cartoons can be sold, celebrities are well-known, and singers are famous. It is a process and you need to be able to understand that if you see film as culture and see how beneficial it can be. It is not merely a declaration of Thai-ness in abstract terms, but also in economic terms—what it will lead to, and what are the ways it can branch out.
(Interview first appeared in Siam Contemp, a magazine published by the Ministry of Culture, Thailand. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author, Thunska Pansittivorakul, and with a new Thai to English translation by Vipavinee Artpradid)