How To…Write A Thai Soap Opera!

There are many a job to contemplate doing as a foreigner here in Thailand. If you pick up an English language daily you may come across some fine job vacancy that reads to the likes of ‘Wanna make up to 300,00 baht a week in sales?? All nationalities accepted’. Before you know it you’ll be stuck behind a desk at some illegal back-alley broker company calling up potential muggo clientele in Australia selling them bargain price stocks and shares that don’t actually exist, that is before getting busted by immigration and booted out the country.

Otherwise, if illegal activity isn’t yer cuppa coffee you can head for the islands and string yer guitar at a banana-shake backpackers’ bar and earn just enough to live on and perhaps even get the odd-job teaching English. A lotta foreigners on coming to Thailand hope to get into the ‘writers scene’ but are soon bewildered to realize that there are hundreds more just like them hoping to do the same thing and so magazines here can get away with paying their writers the equivalent to tiddly-winks, better off writing at thai-blogs for free.

So, if none of the jobs mentioned above don’t exactly strike you as that exciting, then how about going for a real pish-easy job and that is writing a Thai Soap Opera. Yours in name here has had the privilige of acting it out on a few of the nation’s Soapies during his time here but has unfortunately lacked the time actually needed to write a story. So, for all you buzzing writers wishing to ‘getta job’ and write a Thai Soap Opera, here below is stevesuphan’s essential guide..on ‘How To..Write A Thai TV Soap Opera.

Firstly, when writing your story it is extremely important to examine the characters required, here is a quick list:

1. (statutory) A milky-bar-coloured seemingly-innocent leading actress. Please be assured that even if she is as thick as your copy of the yellow pages and has the acting qualities of an ostrich, that is not the point – but looks are.

2. (statutory) A squeaky-clean leading actor. This is Thailand and if you, as a foreign girl, think one of the dread-locked beach-bums you’ve dated recently on Koh Samui fits the type of ‘macho-man’ then you are definetly mis-judged. Thai TV prefers actors with skin as smooth and white as a baby’s bottom.

3. (statutory) A jealous elder sister. Again, looks are vitally important and a right bitchie look is essential. Advised to also have previous real-life experience in beating up her friends, family and former lovers (Farangs desirable)

4. (statutory) Extremely dangerous ex-boyfriend/admirer. Unlike the leading actor this guy is squeeky bad, even richer, a filthy womanizer, addicted-gambler, drunkard and a complete delinquent.

5. (statutory) Totally nasty ex-girlfriend/admirer. Siding with the leading actress’ elder sister she is also an entirely loathesome type. Spends here time spreading gossip about the leading actress, stealing money from her parents and getting stupidly-drunk every time she’s upset

6. (opitional) A powerful and possessive father-in-law. Will not be doing much acting besides shoving one of his big-guns in the leading actor’s face and swearing to the likes of “Just you stay away from me daughter or I’ll be cutting off yer thingy-a-jig and chucking it to the ducks, and that’s before I kill ya”

7. (opitional) A not-so-smart ladyboy. Not much is required to fill this part, as the writer, just keep in mind that the ladyboy casted will be one of the dumbest, ugliest and most foolish around, moreover she will have looks that would frighten even yer neighbour’s blind cat.

8. (opitional) An uneducated Isarn maid. Again, acting qualities are not highly sought after but hilarious features are. It is recommended that you write her in as having a really corny country-bumpkin sounding accent, be as horribly dark-skinned as possible, have big goofy buck-teeth, big rubber lips and two holes for a nose. She need only spend her time waltzing around and whistling while wearing one of those kinky-looking French chambermaid outfits.

9. (optional) A ghost. Should you wish to stick in a ghost, do bear in mind that the visual effects on Thai Soap Operas are not of the highest international standards. Any green monster thingy that you have envisaged will probably end up with a striking resemblance to Kermit The Frog. Feel no fear however, just have it say ‘boo’ and half the viewers will be dumb-struck with fear.

10. (statutory) Extras. Of course, every production needs extras, but it is normal in Thailand to find ‘freebie’ extras. Any street scene you have proposed in writing is great for finding a few street urchins to strutt their stuff for only the price of a bowl of rice. As for any restaurant scenes – well, darned having to pay for any hired extras the director will soon be filming in front of a couple of tables of ‘real’ diners while shouting over “Pls do not look into the camera”

Secondly, a plot has to be written. It is highly suggested that the Thai Soap Opera writer have an education of no less/or the equivalent of Grade 6. TV Soap Opera plots in Thailand are more or less all the darned same from beginning to end. Here below, are a couple of quickie examples.

PLOT ONE:

Our leading actress, on having lost her father is subsequently beaten and abused relentlessy by her mom’s new lover, the ‘scarfaced-all-powerful-stepfather’. Meanwhile, the leading actor has become the MD of his own company at the tender age of 24 and soon falls out of love with his former ‘nasty’ girlfriend and ‘in-love’ with the leading actress who happens to live just down the road. At the same time, the deplorable step-father is trying to set the leading actress up with some right vagabound who has promised dad-in-law a fancy under the table pay-back check if he wins his daughter’s hand in marriage. In the end however, the step-father and obnoxious admirer are arrested and charged for some unexplainable darned reason and given lengthy jail sentences. The leading actress and actor get married and live happily ever married.

PLOT TWO:

Our pitiful leading actress is a Chiang Mai beauty, a true damsel in distress with a cute sounding slow Northern-Thai accent (unlike the horrible sounding Isarn one) and comes from a relatively poor background. Our poor leading actress has come to the big city to sow her fortune but is soon befriended by dozens of abnoxious folk trying to take advantage of the unfortunate little girl. In the meantime, the leading actor is falling in love with the Chiang Mai damsel but his mother is going absolutely ‘off-her-trosh’ at the thought of her beloved son marrying into a family of uneducated uncivilzed buffalo-herders. Mother instead, sides by his former girlfriend an alcoholic American educated Bangkokian girl with a super-rich daddie. Family feuds erupt. But eventually, after his mother has a heart-attack and drops down dead the leading actor and actress get married and live happily ever after.

Additional Notes:

Do remember to keep your script pretty darned short. Even though one episode of a Soap Opera is scheduled for one and a half hours do bear in mind that at least one hour of that time is devoted to TV commercials. In the west you say TV commercial break however here in Thailand it is in fact called a TV Soapie break, ie… for every five minutes of TV commercials aired there is one minute of TV Soapie time. Then, for some whacko crackpot reason the same TV commercial is often shown ten times in the space of ten minutes. Promoting advertisement products during the TV Soap Opera is the complete norm here, so when writing the script do not forget to leave out scenes such as the Isarn maid scrubbing the bathroom or washing the dishes while advising the leading actress to the likes of “Ooh the floor is so shiny and spotless” while there is a camera zoom-in on the cleaning product.

One more reason for keeping the plot just a little short is the availabilty of the leading actresses and actors. It is common on Thai TV that the same stars are playing on 4-5 TV Soap Operas simultaneously. Should you not believe me, then just flick around a few channels in the evening and you will soon be seeing the same folks acting it out in each and every show.

Next, there is location to contemplate. Thailand may only be a developing country but it is essential that your story be set in one of the spankiest flashiest houses that Thailand has to offer. Even though your script says nothing about the families involved actually having any work to do – that is not the point. It is mandatory that the story involves at least one family that is filthy rich beyond belief. Looking like a pauper is not the objective of writing a Soap Opera but beauty is. Even though all the actresses are actually just hanging around the house they will be dressed up and made-up to the heavens as if they were off to some fancy ball. And if you notice closely, you will soon be amazed that even after a nights’ topsy-turvy sleep the leading actress’ hair will be perfectly in place when she gets up.

Now, no Thai TV Soap Opera can exist without a bounty of fights, shoot-outs and slappa-ze-faces. Do when writing the script, think up at least three big scenarios every episode. Most popular scenes of all include ‘step-father belting his pitiful daughter-in-law’ and ‘jealous elder sister giving baby sister a good thrashing’. The viewers just love such scenes and the more the better to boost the ratings.

And finally don’t forget! Absolutely no love scenes whatsoever. A quickie cuddle between the leading actress and actor is perfectly all right but as for any scenes of the couple actually kissing, such filming is strictly prohibited unless the couple has been married in part. This is due to the country’s Ministry of Culture, who after much timely and costly research have deciphered that such intimacies do not occur in Thailand outside of marriage. So, if you want to put any filthy un-thai stuff like that in yer script you had better go back to writing in Farangland.

Visit Steve’s main page at Steve’s Weblog

24 responses to “How To…Write A Thai Soap Opera!

  1. I never realized the poor state of our soap operas. Thanks for writing.

  2. All soap Operas or TV dramas depend on ratings and meetings audience taste and expectations. The same is true for Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, etc. 2 weeks ago I was in Singapore and stayed with my friend’s family. Most of the kids are adults and with college educations. The parents have 12 years of education. The soap opera they are following are of the same standard like Thailand. I watched one of the episode with them. In a wedding dinner, the 2 mother-in-laws were at odds at each other. The plot is too simple and I would have guessed the outcome if i were a kid.

    Thailand has 60+ millions people and meeting people expectation is of commercial importance. To make movies or TV dramas that only a few will enjoy would be suicidal. We all know too well why Hollywoods sell but not the French movies.

    Thanks Steve, I always enjoy your blogs if I have the patient to read on. 🙂

  3. Seems that our webmaster buddie, a certain.. Mr Richard is a fan himself of Thai Soapies, thanks for those pics he stuck on the blog to liven it up. That middle pic is of the singer/actress ‘Benz Na Songkla’ in a new Soapie that has the hip sing-a-line that goes ‘Khon Tua Dum Tae Jai Mai Dum’ (I may be black but i don’t have a black heart.

    The make-up dept have been doing a decent enough job on her there.

    It’s a comedy Soapie and perhaps the most popular currently running.

    Didnt exactly expect many comments on a blog of this kind but for those who read it, hope you enjoyed it.

  4. Funny, Steve, as soon as I saw the RSS feed for “How To… Write A Thai Soap Opera” I immediately thought “That sounds like something Mr. Stevesuphan would write about.

    Do you have any pictures leftover from your acting days? 🙂

  5. Steve,

    This is a darned funny blog. The visual of a little kermit-the-frog barking out a ‘boo’ had me rolling. Thanks for another entertaining read. I must admit, I got a little hooked on a soapie when I was in Thailand back in…I think April of ’04. There was a bunch of these people lost in the jungle and one of the girls was wearing some black hilltribe costume. They were getting chased by some people with guns. Sound familiar? I looked forward to watching that every night. Or maybe it was every other night. Can’t remember. Anyways, good read. Thanks

  6. Like Dan, I knew it had to have been your’s Steve! Excellent break down of the average content, it was hard to think of one without all these features.

  7. ROFL. Yep. This is one great blog entry.

    Over here in the border state, we have the Mexican Soap Operas. From the look of the shows and what I’ve heard from folks who watch them, the title of this blog might as well say “How to…write a Mexican Soap”. LOL.

    Funny how a few aspects of Mexican cultures are similar to Thai. Another story for another time.

    For those who aren’t familiar with the effect of Thai soap, let me put it this way. The evening of final episode of “Koo Kam” (with Bird McIntyre), the streets were emptyed an hour before. The bussling city went quite for the 2-hour finale. There was even a full page ad in the papers: “Koo Kam finale is tonight. Don’t forget your Kleenex.”

  8. Oh, Steve. A few other things you left out.

    The leading lady ALWAYS sips orange juice.

    PLOT #3

    Boy meets girl. Girl sort of likes boy but “hates” him for his lack of virtue or whatever. Boy pursues. Girl pushes away. Boy gets drunk and/or angry and fought with girl. Boy, well, forces himself onto the girl. But it’s not a rape, mind you, because deep down she does love him but she wants to reserve her virtue. It’s not a rape but a surrender of will. Girl officially “hates” boy. Boy went away feeling guilty and rejected so he went back to bitchy ex-girlfriend. Girl starts throwing up. Boy finds out she’s pregnant and returns to make good of himself. Boy and girl live happily ever after.

  9. Yes, this could be Indian Soap Operas too!! In fact here we have many NGOs crying that the operas create a typical ‘women’ profile. Any such debate in Thailand?

  10. I’ve read many a comment now from our Asian readers to the extent of which ‘what is considered Thai’ is in fact synomnous with Asia as a whole. Now we have Oakey comparing Thai Soapies to Mexican ones.

    It seems that women are portrayed in a very similar light around the world.

    Ive had many a discussion with friends concerning the potential brainwashing that arises from Soap Operas, be there anywhere in the world.

    Oakey’s plot#3 is well, yes, another possible scenario as it is pretty acceptable within Thailand’s social norms. Thai law laughs away any girl that tries to file a charge of rape if she has voluntarily went to the male’s abode ie… if a girl goes to see man in his room/house, he virtually has the right to enjoy himself whether she is willing or not.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments.

    And i do hope that our blessed readers/bloggers are not gonna go suffering from any ‘Kermit The Frog’ nightmares.

  11. While you make many valid points on ‘typical’ Thai soap opera storylines, it may not be fair to make such a blanket assumption that all Thai soap operas are made to cater to mindless viewers.
    I agree with your comments that most Thai soap operas (as with many around the world) share some common themes, ie. rags to riches; good vs. evil- virtuous female protagonists overcoming evil ‘villians’ etc… However, there are some exceptions out there and over the years I have noticed that there is growing consciousness within the entertainment business to be socially responsible about what is being portrayed on screen. Although most dramas still feed into the dominant ideology and follow similiar mediocre story patterns as you have described, there have been attempts to produce shows that actually depict some harsh realities in society, contrary to the typical rich and elegant lifestyle settings, girl meets rich/handsome guy kind of plot. For example, there was a soap opera aired on Channel 3 about a month ago where the producers, screenwriter, and actors did a great job portraying the reality of teenage life and relationships within families. This was done from the perspective of 5 teenage boys, coping with various issues typical of modern teens- family problems, drugs, dating, and school. Contrary to the popular happily ever after endings, not all 5 protagonists in this drama had happy endings, their fate determined by the decisions they make in the course of their lives.

    As a Thai person that has an academic background in communications/ edia, I found your statement “It is highly suggested that the Thai Soap Opera writer have an education of no less/or the equivalent of Grade 6” quite undermining. While it is true that these storylines and scripts seem so mediocre, it is may not be so simple in reality. To become a director, producer, actor, screenplay writer, there are definitely specific skills which may require years of training and experience. I would also like to add that many Thai televsion dramas have been adapted from some classic novels that are considered distinguished literature pieces by well respected authors. Although many do follow the typical guy meets girl, rags to riches formula, they do have some cultural significance.

    It is true however, that while some producers try to deviate away from the mediocre love storylines that you have mentioned, there is a certain formula of success of soap opears. Show business, like any other business out to make big bucks is about going for the “lowest common denominator” and making the bucks therefore it is important that compete for majority ratings. Studies have shown that many people who watch soap operas do so to forget the harsh realities in their lives and escape for maybe an hour or so into the idealistic world where money, perfect guy, and the perfect life exists. So maybe seeing the poor girl win over the rich man living in a big mansion driving a Mercedes for an hour every night gives them hope that such an ideal world is attainable television has served its purpose in creating such an illusion.

  12. Geez, that was some decent comment and a half!

    Thaiviewer is spot-on in that there are the ‘occasional’ Soap Operas geared towards the harsher realities of Thai society, but unfortunately, in my opinion, not enough.

    Absolutely, the media has to be far more responsible in regards to the influence it has over The Youth of Today. Firsty, they ought to scrap all those TV commercials and Soap Operas that teach the youth that white skin = beauty and dark-skinned = dumb dense and ugly.

    Then, in regards to the fairly-tale ‘poor girl meets rich man’. Just how many Thai girls (or girls of any nationality) walk around in dreamworld hoping that a frogprince is going to whisk them off their feet and rescue them from the dire straits of poor = unhappy???

    Men, as a whole are also potrayed badly. Any man who does not have a decent education, a well-paid office job, drive a flashy car isn’t worthy of knowing. And here, any man that has the odd drink, goes out at night or gets angry with his girlfriend is complete scum.

    Thai TV has helped set the precedence that only the perfect man is wanted. I hope Thaiviewer here with his educational background in media and communications will help the media here and everywhere to ‘get a reality’.

  13. funny blog! 😀 Love to see some pics of u in those soap operas!
    And don’t forget to hint to us faithful readers which shows u ever gonna be on in the future so we can catch a glimpse of ur “acting skills”.. hehe

  14. BKK Inkslinger

    Steve –

    Well done and surprisingly well-detailed – certainly an original, never seen anything like this in either of the English dailies.

    Westerners should keep in mind though that one of the most watched television episodes of all time was Dallas’ “Who Shot JR” episode in the late 70s. There were plotlines on that show that were far wackier than anything I’ve seen on Thai TV – the appeal of living in a world of pure fantasy extends the world over.

  15. Can’t show a kiss or love scene, but a husband/boyfriend slapping or punching a wife/girlfriend (always the bitchy one, of course) is just fine for the public’s consumption. Another conundrum of Thai culture.

  16. Comment from: oakmonster [Member] · http://oakmonster.blogspot.com
    Oh, Steve. A few other things you left out.

    The leading lady ALWAYS sips orange juice.
    ………………………………………………………………

    Except for that one time where the soap was sponsered by a milk company and everyone had to drink milk, including that bad guy who lived in a cave.

  17. Thanks steve for your Halarious blogs on how to write a thai soap.
    I have to admit, although most thai soap suck sometimes, but because I grew up with them, I love them to the point that I want to write thai soaps.
    However, the story I have in mind is dramatic but not like the plot you suggested. Could you tell me what to do in order to become a soap writer in Thailand?
    Thank you

  18. Hahahaha… I’m officially never going to Thailand…. =D =P

  19. thats really cool,sincerly cool no sarcasm

  20. I’m a student film maker and I love thai soapies! I really like the genie one going on right now and the um.. it’s the third picture (Or contains the actor in the third picture) I was there recently for a funeral but thats beside the point! I just enjoy this very much. I t gave me a good five minute movie idea. Thai soap in a nutshell xD

    I wish I could find a place that sells them here so I can watch them! I love how different they are in thai land than in america. I think they’re better in a strange way. (The people that die, actually DIE)
    And the romance between the actors are always cute! And the awful effects is the best part! Like with the genie and the cat who’s mouth doesn’t match the Voice Actor

    Well just wanted to say I love this and am favoriting it!

  21. Hello ,I just see your blog.I like your article.Nice to meet you.Sorry for my English language.^-^

  22. Achei muito interesting that’s soap opera.
    Very good.
    I’m brazilian and I like Thai.

  23. how is that about benz do you know her fourm or fan page sorry if you dont
    wont to tell me then dont but i went
    to know it she is pretty lol

  24. I just couldn’t stop laughing. It is so true but I got to say I am a big fan of Thai lakorn.