Sunday, June 03, 2018

Real Housewives of Thailand

Among the many things we learned on MASH was the value of research. Gene Reynolds, the showrunner, loaded us down with transcripts, articles, books, and even maps. The more authentic, the more real you can make your world, the richer and more interesting it will be. During our time on MASH we conducted numerous interviews with doctors, corpsmen, nurses, and soldiers who had served in Korea. And there were five years of interviews before us. Gene and series creator, Larry Gelbart, even took a trip to Korea. Many of the stories we used came right out of the research.  In some cases we had to tone them down.  The real stories were too absurd to be believed.

On staff we had a medical adviser, a technical adviser, and a military adviser. We had no fashion consultant for Klinger however. The budget was only so large.

But my partner, David Isaacs and I continued to do our homework on future projects. Hey, Paddy Chayefsky used to do extensive research and so does James L. Brooks (although Brooks got it from Gene Reynolds as did we) so you know there's value in it. 

Over the last 12 ½ years of this blog I might have mentioned once, twice at the most, that we wrote the Tom Hanks/John Candy movie VOLUNTEERS. If I didn’t mention it, now you know. The bulk of the film was set in Thailand in 1962. Tom’s character joins the Peace Corps to avoid a gambling debt. So we wanted to know about the Thai culture – what their lives were like, their food, their homes, customs, religion, concerns, etc.

Our producer, Walter, said he knew someone from Thailand who was living out here now. We arranged a dinner with him.

The gentleman, whose name was At (that’s a name we used in the movie) selected the meeting place – the most expensive Thai restaurant in Los Angeles if not the world.

At apparently was a relative of the royal family. He ordered for us. Every dish was scrumptious, but hugely rich. Lobster sauce, and filet mignon, and exotic noodle dishes. We asked what the common folks ate. “This,” At answered. “Really?” I said, “Jungle Curry Pork Ribs, Ginger Whole Seabass, and Crab Meat Noodles?” Yep, he insisted. That’s how the peasants ate.

Except, according to At, there were no peasants. Everyone in Thailand lived in nice homes. I guess the real unfortunate ones didn’t have a view.

We asked how the general population in outlying areas filled their days. Working in rice fields? Taking shelter from the monsoons?   Oh no. They played a lot of sports.

We of course used none of this nonsense in the film but stayed late into the evening asking more questions because we were highly entertained.  Had we used his stuff our movie would have become REAL HOUSEWIVES OF THAILAND.
I’d like to think he was bullshitting us and didn’t actually believe any of the balloon juice he expounded. According to At -- there were no communists or warlords. Many huts had TV (in 1962). Recreational opium was the perfect nightcap after a feast of Lamb with Spicy Lime or Roast Duck with Mint Leaves.

Research is great… as long as its valid. I don’t know whatever happened to At. I do hope he wrote the Thailand page on Wikipedia.

19 comments :

Anonymous said...

Just curious. How much did that meal cost?

Pam, St. Louis.

Janet Ybarra said...

Ken, I can't tell you how this point about doing local research has nagged at me.

You see, we're fans of the series NCIS. We also happen to live in the area where it's based, metro DC. It's a great series... except when it comes to being realistic to this area.

Script writers will have enlisted men living in Chevy Chase....they never could possibly afford a cardboard box in Chevy Chase in real life.

And I know out there you refer to highways as *the* 405, etc. We don't. We don't. So the scripts shouldn't. They should say, "Boss, he got off 495 and too I66 west."

The worst---the absolute worst---is writers referring to this area as the "tried state area."

NO ONE here does that because we are all well aware the District of Columbia IS NOT a state. That is a pretty big deal for us out here because residents of DC pay taxes but have no voting members of Congress. It is, as the slogan on the DC license plates reads, "Taxation without representation."

Why Don Bellisario doesn't send someone out here to figure this stuff out is beyond me. We joke he should hire us as his local consultants.

Patrick Wahl said...

Much underrated movie, don't know why it isn't more popular, and Hanks is excellent in it. You should pat yourself on the back for this one.

VincentS said...

I assume At didn't pick up the check.

Y. Knott said...

Why Don Bellisario doesn't send someone out here to figure this stuff out is beyond me.

A show like The Wire was about getting the details right, to really heighten the drama. But if you're watching NCIS for a gritty, accurate portrayal of Washington, or of forensics, or of the actual naval law enforcement scene? You're gonna be mighty disappointed....

C'mon, NCIS is now going into its 137th season, and remains wildly popular without having paid any special attention to being particularly realistic or believable in any aspect whatsoever. It's a fantasy, to be used for entertainment purposes only. So why pay any extra dough to get the street names right?

Mike Bloodworth said...

I have VOLUNTEERS on DVD. It has several good scenes and funny lines. I knew a guy that used to own a brothel in Thailand. I'm sure he and his employees would have vastly different descriptions than At. But,the big question is, how much leeway or "dramatic license" is acceptable in a script? I was reading an old TV GUIDE article about the inaccuracies on C.S.I. Real forensic investigators pointed out several examples of, "They wouldn't do that in real life." And on LAW AND ORDER, often the prosecution got the last word. Maybe that's a New York thing. But, in CA the defense always has the final arguments. Sometimes its hard for the layman to tell if its just sloppy research or fudging for dramatic effect.
M.B.

John Hammes said...

Jamie Farr appeared on "American Bandstand" back in 1975. No kidding. Klinger's wardrobe was among the questions brought up by Dick Clark and the Bandstand "Kids". Farr came across, then as he does now, funny, self-effacing, and grateful for his success. Not sure how he wound up on that particular show, but there he was.

Forty plus years, a celebrity still proud of, and generous to, his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. It has been said that when a person forgets where they come from, they are in trouble. Given so many recent - and not so recent - celebrity meltdowns, Farr's continuing involvement (charities/scholarships) with his hometown - the real world - is a welcome relief.

Plus, he was a de facto regular on "The Gong Show": that should make anybody okay in anyone's book.

Aaron Sheckley said...

LOL, I wish I could "like" Y Knott's comment. I can't even be in the same room when an episode of NCIS or CSI is on. Every time one of them is sitting there in front of a computer screen and accessing every conceivable database in the world, and start saying "enhance that" when they're looking at a crappy surveillance video from a convenience store security system they magically can get in to, my eyes roll back in my head so hard that they almost need surgery to correct them. Those shows are such absolute fantasy that I can't imagine any of the writers on them thinking it was important that they get the local details correct. They probably think their being restrained by not introducing a super secret NCIS stealth hovercraft for Gibbs and company to get around in.

Janet Ybarra said...

For anyone else who is a fan of the old series EMERGENCY from the '70s, Jamie Farr appears in one episode as a patient in the Rampart emergency room who can't move his arm due a curse. Dr. Early (Bobby Troup) cures him and it's an amusing scene.

Donald Benson said...

Free comedy premise:

An old braggart finds himself the technical adviser on a big Hollywood epic. His tall tales clash with the facts as presented by the studio's tweedy historical consultants, and he sneers at their book-based claims. Of course the studio and the star love the braggart's more cinematic version.

Somebody mistakenly identifies him as a long-lost real-life figure, and he's threatened and/or blackmailed by the real guy's decrepit but still angry enemies and maybe the real guy himself. The movie itself is tangled in an epic libel suit because of the braggart's fake historical facts.

And then ... I'll work up an ending when somebody cuts me in for a percentage.

Donald Benson said...

The infinitely high-resolution snapshot goes back to early James Bond; one of the films had Connery reading the name of a distant freighter on a tourist's snapshot. Even earlier, "Spider Woman" had Sherlock Holmes looking at a what was claimed to be a photo of a fake aristocrat's homeland; a closeup revealed a tiny flag (obviously drawn on) reading "Sun Valley".

Mel Brooks tried to end that nonsense with "High Anxiety". The hero's sidekick blows up a newspaper photo to the size of a building to reveal he was in a distant glass elevator while his double murdered a guy in the foreground.

Al in PDX said...

Last week I watched an airing of the movie "No Time for Sergeants" on one of the cable stations. I was surprised to see Jamie Farr in it. Almost didn't recognize him in a regular uniform.

E. Yarber said...

The HIGH ANXIETY gag is a reference to Antonioni's 1966 film BLOWUP.

VP81955 said...

Diane English will probably have a better feel for the Washington area in the upcoming "Murphy Brown" revival.

ScarletNumber said...

John Candy doesn't look that fat in the picture.

McAlvie said...

I like and usually watch NCIS, but admittedly it's mostly because of the characters. As Janet Ybarra pointed out, its obvious to locals that the NCIS team isn't. I roll my eyes when someone goes from the Navy Yard to Quantico and back in less than an hour. Clearly they've found a way to avoid Fredericksburg.

I'll also echo, because it bears repeating if only for educational purposes, that Washington, District of Columbia, is not a state, and belongs to neither Maryland nor Virginia. It's in your U.S. history books, look it up.

Mike Doran said...

As a lifelong Chicagoan, I learned a long time ago that geographic accuracy is a low priority with film and TV makers.
Our all-time favorite here is the original opening titles for The Bob Newhart Show, which would have been a masterpiece of editing if only the CTA hadn't picked those years to start transitioning newer elevated trains into their existing fleet.

The stops and stations that Bob goes to were chosen for their looks, rather than for their locations; somebody actually tracked down the locations used, and determined that Dr. Bob Hartley's daily commute would have come to about four hours each way (which even for the CTA was a bit much …).


Honorable mention goes to Running Scared,a cop movie with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.

There's a scene where Crystal & Hines drive their cop car onto the Elevated structure near O'Hare Airport.

The chase concludes on the Loop Elevated structure, which is an impossibility; the Rapid Transit lines in question don't intersect - if the chase started at O'Hare, C&H should be under Dearborn, not over Wabash.

The director was Peter Hyams, who in a previous life had been a newscaster at Channel 2 in Chicago; he had to have known this.
I guess the camera eye won out ...

Rick Hannon said...

Mr. Sheckley notes the writers' restraint in " ...not introducing a super secret NCIS stealth hovercraft for Gibbs and company to get around in." Having driven in and around D.C. a few dozen times, I submit that, in fact, they did do so. In that traffic, anyone flooring the accelerator as the NCIS folks often do would be pancaked into the preceding vehicle in less than a second. That the hovercraft looks like a Dodge is just coincidence. And, I'd guess, lucrative product placement.

Unknown said...

How come you spent so much time researching Thailand, but not Peace Corps????