June 27, 2008

Director Stakes Claim to Budding Film Empire in Phetchaburi

By Woranuj Maneerungsee, Bangkok Post, Thailand

Jun. 26--Toranong Studio, once touted as Asia's largest movie studio, was a mess. The heavy rain had just stopped and it was soaked everywhere and many of the tents were covered in mud or destroyed.

Toranong Srichua, a local war and erotic film director, had just treated his guests to a Brahmin ceremony and couldn't wait to clear the mess away by himself. He had to prepare another venue for his 57th birthday party.

Local officials from Phetchaburi province, as well as performers and press had been invited to witness progress at the site of his multi-billion-baht dream -- Toranong Studio in Petchaburi's Tha Yang district, 155 kilometres south of Bangkok.

Only 5 percent of the 1,500-rai plot surrounded by hills and bush have been cleared for indoor and outdoor studios. A lot work still has to be done to build up the three-billion-baht film site to Hollywood standards.

This is just the beginning of his dream, however. Ultimately, he hopes that the development will increase land prices in the area to as rival those near Khao Yai, and make it a resort for sophisticated Bangkok residents seeking a getaway.

"Hopefully, our studio will push up land prices here. Imagine if the prices jump to one million baht per rai. We own 35,000 rai in this area, and we almost reach the Kaeng Krachan dam. You multiply 35,000 rai by one million baht -- we would not have to pay debts but could earn lucrative revenues," Mr Thanong said, referring to himself and his landlord-partner Olarn Assawarithikul.

He said they had used the land and the project proposal as loan collateral to borrow three billion baht from local and international financial institutions.

More than a decade ago, Mr Toranong was a liberal, some say radical film director. But becoming a businessman has been a big change for the director, said one of his assistants.

Mr Toranong's megaproject is located in Tha Yang district, about 40 kilometres from the city, and caters to foreign filmmakers looking to shoot Asian themes. Elephants and horses will be available for them to film historical and epic movies. Eventually, he hopes the site will become a little town surrounded by nature.

"If a film maker brings in hundreds of staff, that means they need accommodation, food and places to entertain. We have to build these things up to serve them, including a hospital," he said.

Several foreign film producers have visited Toranong Studio.

The director has designed the set for the first film shot from the studio, 2022 Tsunami. A 15-metre-wide pond has been set up for undersea shots. Another pond contains wrecked boats to depict the ravages of a tidal wave.

Other films in the pipeline include Amphetamine War, based on the controversial and violent war on drugs waged by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra that killed about 3,000 people. The director is also planning Ha Gokor "Five Parties", a historical movie taking place during th reign of King Taksin.

Within three years, his studio Twentieth June Entertainment plans to produce about 10 films. He expects each film to generate sales of 100 million baht both at home and abroad.

"We project that our films will earn less than Sia Jieng's (Somsak Techaratanaprasert, CEO of Saha Mongkol Film). He can earn 600-700 million baht per film. But we hope our studio will add value to the land," he said.

Mr Toranong had been planning to build a film studio since his late 30s.

"When I was 37, nobody listened to me. Then I was radical. I have changed now. I have read thousands of books, learning thoughts of world-famous thinkers, but I think I know so little. Anyway, they listen to me now," he said.


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