Category Archives: Working in Thailand

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.


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.


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

Acting It Out….On Thai Soap Operas

Even though ive enjoyed me life of teaching here in Thailand there have been times when ive kinda felt like doing something else. To cut a long story short, ive had my fair share of opportunity over the years here of having to put my acting skills to the test and be broadcast to yous all, sat there in front of your TV sets.

To this day when folks in the kingdom ask me “And what you been doing all this time in Thailand?” I always answer “mostly teaching and a fair dose of translation work to go with it” just cause I cant be bothered to explain the ins and outs of the other employment that ive been subjected to do. It may come a surprise to you but believe it or not your buddy and regular contributing blogger here stevesuphan has played as a main character on a few of the country’s soap operas. Asking how I got myself into such work is a question for another day.

Quite a few years back (just for the fun of it) and after having an array of small parts here and there on soap operas and a few movies thrown in, got a break one day when I bumped into a certain casting agent Mr P’San. Not long after getting to know P’San he was soon paging me up for a part on a channel 7 soap opera. Thinking it was just another miserly part worthy of a days shooting I went along thinking nothing of it til I was soon getting a rather nasty look-down from the asst director who was soon on the phone to P’San asking to the darned likes of “Couldn’t ya find anyone taller? his girlfriend on the screen is as tall as him and on top of that he’s a bit on the skinny side!”. Having had me ego right dented with that one I wanted to reply “Ya want me or not sweetie? and by the way yer not exactly the finest looking thing around town yerself!” before she said to me in the face “You might as well do, there’s no one else”.

Never having had any of the main crew taking any peculiar notice of me looks before I soon realised that the reason behind the fiasco was that I had to play the part of a mean rough Farang boyfriend of one of the star girls a certain Miss ‘O’ Patjeera, I soon found out exactly what the asst director meant about height as Miss ‘O’ at 170cm was just a fraction shorter than myself.

Pretty tasty girl I was thinking there and soon had the crew having a right laugh at her expense when the first scene out of the bag was for me to give her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Not a bad job I thought this when arriving back at my gaff that evening and waited eagerly for the call to go again for the next few scenes.

After a few more weekends it was all over after I had been ditched by ‘O’ for playing around with other girls and giving her just one too many black-eyes. Man, did I have to play some mean farang or what! Actually I wasn’t too chuffed about having to play such a stereotypical role but there was no butting out. In one of the scenes I did such a fine job of slapping her in the face and throwing her to the ground that Channel 7 soon made that scene as their ‘preview’ scene for the weekend’s next showing, so there I was, every 15 minutes in the evenings for the next five days, this big mullet of a mean face of mine blown full up for the screen with me so-called girlfriend (I wish) curled up on the floor in tears.

Well, I must admit it was pretty strange to be ‘a little bit famous’ and me Sunday afternoons of having a quiet burger in Mc’ Donalds weren’t quite the same again for a while, what with groups of poshy school girls sat on the table beside me giggling together and peering over their shoulder to have a right clear view of the Farang Girlfriend Basher, me. After a month or so of being on air every weekend I soon got the boot and was back to teaching and all the viewers had simply ‘ just forgotten me face’.

Before just getting used to the every day life of teaching again I got a call at about 11 at night shortly after from this other long long friend cum casting agent of mine P’Paeng that says “Steve, I finally got that big speaking part ya always asked for, they are coming to pick you up tomorrow morning”. Well, thanks a bunch for telling me in advance as what the heck was I to do with me teaching job but call in sick.

Not knowing the slightest, I was soon down there on Phuttamonthon road at the director’s house at 6 in the morning and he’s explaining my part of a pretty dumb but cute student farang who has come to live with the main actor for a while to study about Thai architecture or to the likes of something like that. Anyway I thought, the money’s not bad and certainly beats having to give any of the girls a good punch in the face. Thinking this was some cooshy on and off job like the last was soon mistaken that this was a full-on job for the next 2-3 weeks as they had to get the filming finished right quick cause they were behind schedule.

This time round I was literally fired in the end, from my very decent in-company teaching job there at a well-known market research firm on Silom! Well, I wasn’t exactly booted out the door but at the end of the course the personnel manager did call me over to her desk and say “Steve, you are a fun teacher, the students really like you BUT I need a teacher who is going to be constantly here, keep on doing yer acting thing though you might end up becoming a superstar” (Oh yeah..sure). Fair enough I did bunk the next three weeks off work and told her the truth that I had been handed a main character part on a popular TV soap opera and after having started the job, there was of course, no way of pulling out.

By chance the soap opera was filmed just up the road from where I live now in Suphanburi and can always remember having to try and put on the regional accent. I doubt most of the readers (except the Thai ones) know that even though Suphanburi is just a 100km from Bangkok the locals do have their own distinct dialect which is called ‘neur’. Darned, I only been here a year but im already picking it up and on going into Bangkok, ive heard more than a few times now “Hey Farang speak neur!”

This time round there was a right bunch of characters playing and it was a lot more fun than the last soap opera where nearly every scene was just me and ‘O’. This time round there were a lot of well-known faces around. Farang always have a right giggle about the standard of acting on Thai TV but I’d like to say one thing, and that is, ‘a lot of the time it just isnt their fault!’ I mean there’s the director at lunch actually typing up the script for the afternoons filming and on handing the actors their script says “ok just one rehearsal and on with the show, no need to waste anymore time!”

The director though this time was a pretty serious guy and a darned well-known one too but more for his movies than soapies. As I said before the filming was behind schedule and after finishing our stuff on the Sunday, it was like on air the coming Wednesday, pretty micky-mouse production if you ask me.

Well after this soap opera I decided to hang up my acting shoes for a while and go back to full-time teaching to save some proper cash as I had realised too right that I was certainly not going to get stinking rich out of acting in Thailand. A year or so later however I got the bug again and popped into see P’San at his place on Lard Prao and informed him “If anything comes up again then do call me” which he did a month or so later. It was the same crew from RS Production that had once made mockery of my height and my skinny-chopstick look, on the phone to P’San asking to the whereabouts of that mean Farang Girlfriend Basher, I must have put on a pretty decent showing of it though as they were wanting me back again.

It was to be the last main part I ever took on again as this time round it put a right dent in me wanting to hold a proper teaching job. As the filming was done over the course of six months I was called in every now and then for just a few days every month. On top of that I had to make my way to the production company’s HQ, up there, also on Lard Prao for the 4 in the morning mini van to the likes of Khao Yai and Uthaithani a whopping three hours plus away! Sure, I must admit the scenery was great the folks and fellow actors/actresses etc.. were all real friendly but I was pretty bored of it all at the end of the day as I couldn’t apply for a full-time teaching job cause I couldnt exactly say to the boss “I’ll take the job but I’ll have to take a couple of days day off every other week to go acting upcountry”.

So, here I am back down to earth and no-one around these parts knows the foggiest to any of the acting that ive done. I don’t really care though as being a foreigner here in a small town like this one any Farang is already a star. As for me I am already well-known enough around town and that is already as much attention as I would care for.

As for behind the scenes’ gossip I got a stack-a-that, could even write up a whole blog on some of the scandalous stories and frivolous goings-on I witnessed. I do miss it at times, sure, especially the friends you make, those in front of and behind the camera but at the end of the day though I prefer to have a ‘proper’ job.


Soap opera = TV Series
Array = variety
To bump into = to accidentally meet
Skinny = very thin
Sweetie = darling
A fraction = a little bit
To ditch = to split up with, to abandon
Chuffed = happy (about something)
To bash = to give a good thumping
To giggle = to have a little laugh
Cooshy = easy
To get the boot = to get dismissed (From a job)
Thanks a bunch = thanks a lot
To bunk off = to jump work
To know the foggiest = to know nothing about

Working Undercover!

Delving through me archives last night I came across the following article which I had previously written up for publication here in Thailand, only to hear the likes of ‘Its pretty interesting Mr Stephen but it is just too darned long, well have to cut it by three-quarters!” the original version was a whopping 6000+ words that I do have to admit, on hearing the measily fee they were willing to pay I decided instead to ‘just keep it for myself’.

Its still a block-buster of a long blog but I think you’ll find it well… ‘different’. It is a true story and for once in my life I haven’t exaggerated too much!

I Was an Undercover Cop

Living over there on the western banks of Bangkok for a couple of years or so with not much in the way of many Farang buddies meant that I hung around a lot, at mostly Thai places and so therefore getting the chance to meet up with only Thais. Now, near the school I was working at was a groovy little cheapo kiosk within the local cop shop compounds where I would often go after a hard days work to sink a few bevvies if I had no private evening classes on. Very soon I had a stack of miscellaneous friends working all sorts.

One day I got chatting away to a certain Mr Lee a chubby round-looking Chinese sorta guy who pointed out to me that he was working in the film business. It was another can or two or was it three that ‘yes’ he was in the film business but that he was working in a certain part of the company that was solely responsible for busting dealers selling copied material, mostly DVDs ie. Infringement of copyright.

Well anyway, that was the reason that Mr Lee and his team were at the cop shop again that evening after they had busted another dealer in that area. I soon asked Mr Lee about what exactly happens to the guy or girl who gets caught selling such stuff to which he replied “Nothing, the owner of the stall who is never there comes along after to the cop shop, pays the fine, the stock minus the company’s movies are handed back, the stall is back in business again, the vendor goes back to his sales stuff, the owner goes back to counting her millions and that’s the end of the story”.

Very soon I see something going on between Mr Lee eyebrows and the next thing he is propositioning me to get involved in his busts. He went on to explain “Hey, how about you coming to work with us, I mean we need a Farang to work as a ‘nok tor’ (undercover buyer) as some of the biggest and meanest over there dealing to the tourists etc.. just wont sell any of their gear to Thais” ie stevesuphan here was pretty ideal, could pass as a gullible tourist but communicate perfectly well with the team in their own lingo as none of them could speak English.

Still completely undecided, Mr Lee is on the phone calling his big boss a certain Mr Toom who in turn is waffling down the phone the commission to be got on each ‘jao’ (stall) that was busted. We exchanged phone numbers but for the next couple of days I just kept ignoring all of Mr Lee’s calls until one evening shortly after he comes to see me personally at the cop shop kiosk. Giving a wally of excuses to why I hadnt been answering his calls informs me to ‘get ready’ there’s a couple of stalls down there near Silom that need busted tonight! The rest of the folks at the cop shop said as most Thais would “Well, just go, if it doesn’t work out just don’t go again”.

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2046….Behind The Scenes

Well, this didn’t exactly mean to be my next story til I managed to pick up a copy (of a very scarce Bkk Post on Sunday). Having been surprised that the epic Hong Kong movie 2046 had been finally released in Bangkok’s cinemas, I couldn’t resist writing about it.

A long long time ago, I had the unenviable task of having, within very short notice to hunt down a Few Farang (including myself) to play as extras for a few days. So, there I was running around Banglumphu trying to find Farangs who were short of cash as you must have had to been pretty desperate to accept their measily fee. I was only doing it cause I was getting commission as I had heard that the Chinese productions were real stingy, which I found out later was an understatement.

“a right mix up”

Well, on the very first morning I had the casting agent blowing his top as one of the Farang hadn’t shown up. So there I was, revving it back to Banglumphu only to find this ghostlike Farang open the door to explain that he had a severe hangover and didnt have the energy to perform any acting skils, thanks a bunch mate. Back on the set, being not exactly in the best of moods, we had to dress up in these silly looking sailor outfits, which were to be our attire throughout. We had to wait for our call in this dirty carpark (RCA)opposite the set.

Next, I see this trampy looking Farang in fisherman pants,looking as if he had just fallen off the Khao Sarn – Koh Samui bus come up taking fotos of us with a funny looking camera, I mean he wasn’t even looking directly in the lens, so i thought him mad ( I had never seen a digi camera before. How rude i thought and so i asked the guy “Excuse me do you mind?” and to this he replied “Yes, I do. I am the cameraman/asst. director. Pretty embarrasing! Anyway, how the heck was I to know that there would be a Farang working on a Hong Kong movie?! I was to learn after that it was only Christopher Doyle, Hong Kong’s leading Farang moviemaker.

I asked one of the Chinese crew “Excuse me, couldn’t we actually sit inside the set(pub) only for him to inform me “This movie is top secret!” indirectly meaning “You loser extras can hang around in the carpark’. I was to find out later that the movie WAS top secret and when i did ask the Asst. director “Excuse me, what’s the movie about?” he responded with the likes of “The aftermath of a nuclear war”. What a bunch of lies!

I remember the very first scene when the director Wor Kar Wai asked the Japanese actor to the likes of “Ok you are losing at cards, will you continue playing or leave?”, What was this, I mean the movie didn’t have a script, what a freak director! Then who am I to judge, when Wor Kar Wai’s Chunking Express was ranked the eighth best ever movie since 1979 by a bunch of British moviemakers.

“Mr Tacky was told off by his manager for getting rather too friendly to the one in the middle. And it isn’t me!”

Then there was a Farang that I took along that did absolutely nothing within the four days besides sit around smoking, drinking beer, flirting with the model extras and fooling around with a couple of ladyboys at the back of the costume bus. Every time the crew shouted over for a couple of Farang he would just pretend that he didnt hear and so it was only me and this enthusiastic American who were there to strut our stuff. In one of my scenes I was shot head and dragged outside drenched in fake blood. You could have scene the look on a bunch of office girls that hadn’t realised that a movie was being filmed when they saw me walk by!

As for one of the main actors, a Japanese guy called Tacky Kawawackie, or something like that, I have absolutely nothing good to say about him whatsoever apart from that he plays the guitar pretty well. Having worked on a few Hollywood movies here, I had got used to the tradition that all the crew are treated pretty much equally. However on this set Mr Tacky was treated well above everyone else’s head. He was pampered all day like a big baby by his assistant fanning and wiping away his sweat as if he had no hands of his own. Next i noticed at lunchtime, him sitting in his mini bus scoffing away at a massive pizza hut and chicken wings. As for us, i thought the food so bad that I went to eat in the supermarket, again getting lots of stares cause of my funny sailor’s costume.

Since a few poshy schoolgirls had heard that Mr Tacky was playing, a smallish crowd would wait patiently outside the set to get a glimpse of their idol before going back. As for Mr Tacky, he was having none of that. As soon as he had finished work he would rush into his bus with his hand over his face with not even a simple wave to his fans. As you could have imagined, Mr Tacky isn’t as popular as he once was. I always remember some of Jean Claude Van Darned antics, but he still wasnt as ‘full of himself’ as Mr Tacky. He didnt seem to realise that most Thais didnt have a clue to who he was. He did look rather upset though, being totally ignored by the Thais, one time, while on the set waiting, the Thai extras got real excited about the arrival of another star P’Bird Thongchai Mc Intrye.

“The police cum set security cum extras cum handsome posers”

When chatting away to Mr Tacky’s assistant in Thai to Mr Tacky’s obvious distain, one of the extras whispered in my ear “Pls ask for his autograph for me?”, so I did. Only for Mr Tacky to reply “No, I don’t hand out my autograph to just anyone”. After that i continued chatting away to his assistant just to get up his nose. I mean, never in the 11 years that I have spent working on and off in the movie/tv business have I ever known any other star to refuse to sign an autograph!

Finally you may have read that the movie took five years to make. You are probably wondering why. Well, I can tell you that from the very beginning the production had serious financial problems. I didn’t go, but I heard from my agent the story of the crew’s fiasco on the final day of filming in Kanchanburi. Just as the crew were leaving for Bangkok to fly back to Hong Kong the extras etc.. were making a brawl cause the Chinese hadn’t paid their salaries as the production team had run out of money! So the police arrived and the whole Chinese crew were confined to the hotel premises until someone had to be flown in from Hong Kong with the cash! Im sure that Mr Tacky wasn’t too pleased! Serves them right, I say.

Mr Tacky’s Fan Clubs have been complaining that i didn’t use his real name! So here it is, just for yous:
Takuya Kimura or Kimura Takuya.