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My second week after moving to Bangkok had some surprising turn of events. I had managed to move up in the world, from hawking goods on the street of the notorious Khao San Road, to helping on set of a reality TV show set in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia as a Production Assistant. Despite my uncanny ability to drop things, accidently walk into scenes, and being completely devoid of any actual reality tv video production knowledge or experience, I quickly moved up from my job as a Production Assistant to my new glorious, and lay worthy role of Video Assistant. Extraordinary talent you might say? Fallen under a lucky star you murmur? Blown the set director? Naw – simple mathematics: One free lacky and a guy short got me off the bench and into the game.
So what does a Video Assistant do that the Production Assistant doesn’t? Good question. Now instead of wielding my GoPro and leaning out of fast moving tuktuks dodging rush hour traffic in Bangkok, I now was dropping carrying heavy tripods up 12 flights of stairs in an abandon building.
Making Reality TV Work: Always the Last Minute
12 hours before the crew was about to embark on a frantic journey across Laos, Cambodia and Thailand – like most video production shoots – last minute details falling through was the menu du jour.
“What…what the fuck are we paying this guy for? Huh, we need all the tuk tuks on the road by noon tomorrow or we will never make it”
“How the hell do they expect us to carry that much beer? We barely got room for production guys and equipment on the 7 tuktuks as is?!”
There were expletives of course. My virgin ears got used to the lingo. Chang, the biggest beer company in all of Thailand, was also the biggest sponsor on the show. It had donated a generous $25,000 worth of booze to be consumed for the show over the next three weeks. How much does $25,000 worth of free booze look like? Yah – that big. Enough to keep the Motley Crue ticking for a week, or last an Australian through a weekend breaky. But how do you handle the logistics of carrying that much booze across three countries in vehicles that are basically a glorified moped? Talent.
Well – and planning. You need planning to get the sponsors logos on the tuktuks.. You need foresight to know that you must get the tuktuk engines changed from ethanol only (used in Thailand) to normal petro consuming engines which can be filled up in Laos and Cambodia. How about the necessary camera mounts for all the cameras placed inside the tuktuks?And this is where the last minute heart pumping adrenaline kicks in – you got to do all of this with a shot clock. But that was on the backend. Lest we forget that that there was still 15 backpackers that were going to be put behind the wheel of some rackety 3 wheeled junk boxes. And backpackers traveling in Southeast Asian aren’t exactly well-known for their …let’s say – thoughtful judgment.
Prepping the Tuk Tuks
From changing the engines to putting more cameras in more nooks and crannies than a porn shoot, the mission of getting the tuk tuks ready for their grand voyage was a process.
Prepping the Cast
Just the Man for the Job: Tucker is sent to the Eagle’s Nest
“Tucker, set up those 15 cones in a row over the and put an egg on top of each one of them. When you are done with that, take the tri-pod and go to the 12th story of that abandoned building. You are going to shoot the aerial shot”
It is exciting getting bumped up on the food chain. No longer the coffee bitch. Still Tucker and not Turner – still, progress. But your initial excitement wanes rather quickly when you are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that A- you don’t know what the fuck you are doing and B – they think you know what you are doing, which leads us back to A again.
It didn’t take me long before I realized why I had been given my new title and its new set of responsibilities – No one else wanted to walk up and down 12 floors in the dark in a building condemned for having 50 shades of asbestos.
Good thing I have health insurance.
As I bumbled my way in the dark to the 12 floor, I strained to hold the two large tripods and my flash light at the same time. 12 floors with 2 staircases per floor doesn’t sound too bad, but when you are doing it multiple times you start to kick yourself for taking the escalator all those years.
My new home was wide in the open on the wrap around balcony. 12 floors up with 200 degree views of Bangkok. The site below me made for the perfect aerial vantage point. The cones, eggs, and tuk tuks were set up on the top floor of a parking garage, leaving me a perfect shot (in theory) of all the action down below.
Each of the 5 teams took turns practicing a mini-obstacle course with the tuktuks, having to weave in and out of cones with eggs on top. It looked fun. At least if did from a mile up.
Meanwhile I was up by my lonesome, in the Harvey Lee Oswald observation deck waiting for my moment of glory. The afternoon sun beat down on me relentlessly. My frail farang body struggled to keep the sweat out of my eyes as I stood glistening like a pregnant woman about to burst, doused in my own filthy sweat. It was 4 pm and about 99 degrees Fahrenheit. It was becoming clear that climate was playing its hand in my employment rise.
The Real Tuk Tuk Challenge: Training Backpackers
TukTuk driving 101. A poorly placed shifter.
Behind the Wheel
As you can see, it is a smooth ride. I am hopeful of what is to come when driving on the highways, mudslide zones, and general mayhem that is Southeast Asia for these kids.
The cast gets to know each other before they depart on their reality star journey.
So how was my time as a Video Assistant? Well – I didn’t fall off the building. I didn’t drop the equipment
much. I survived the third degree burns and came out a pleasant pink from the 12h story sun baking filming session I did.
I may not be able to shot straight, make the correct settings for exposure, or know half the lingo being thrown around, but I can chain smoke now with the best of them. Get ready Hollywood.