Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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 8 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 ansswered. “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.


emily said...

So glad you finally mentioned VOLUNTEERS.

Toledo said...

Just curious, but did you ever do a series about three friends who decide to drop everything and run a surf shop in Hawaii?

Johnny Walker said...

Sounds like this guy probably works as a Hollywood computer technical adviser, too. "Zoom in... now enhance!"

Janet said...

Wonder if VOLUNTEERS will ever show up on Blu-Ray? Has anyone heard?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Maybe At was just very, very wealthy and sheltered and thought everyone in Thailand lived the way he did.


Anonymous said...

"One of the funniest, laugh-out-loud scenes in any comedy; Tom Tuttle of Tacoma leading the Red Guard in the Wazzu fight song"

I thought the idea was hilarious, but poorly done by John Candy.
While "planes trains.." was his best performance, Volunteers was his worst. I think he actually helped kill the movie. Every time he was on the screen, I winced. When Candy was good, he was good, when he was bad, he destroyed movies.
The other big flaw in that movie was probably the director. It seemed like a couple of different movies were going on at once.
I still like it though. So many great bits.

Storm said...

"...We had no fashion consultant for Klinger however. The budget was only so large..."

This has reminded me of a question that I've been meaning to ask you, Ken, since this is the closest I'm probably ever going to get to talking to anyone who worked on "M*A*S*H"; Were Klinger's outfits custom made, or did the costumers just raid the studio's costume stock for the largest 50's-era dresses they could find and alter them? I've wondered about this since I was a kid; my Mom knew a lot of drag queens, and most of them had to have their dresses custom-made, which was costly, so it always seemed to me that to custom-make anything other than costumes specifically called for by the script would cost a lot of time and money.

Thanks in advance from a curious costumer,