“Making Movies is a Slow Business”, by Alister Bredee


They started filming in Alicante and moved on location to Thailand in October. The tsunami drama, “The Impossible” is a Spanish production telling the story of one family’s harrowing experiences when giant waves ravaged the Andaman Coast of Thailand. Ewan McGregor plays Henry and Naomi Watts his wife Maria in the English language debut of director Juan Antonio Bayona. His Spanish speaking horror film “The Orphanage”, opened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and picked up several awards.
The crew needed many extras both Thai and foreign for this production. The final filming sequence was set in the grounds of the Takuapa Hospital which lies 30 kilometers north of Khao Lak. The hospital grounds were transformed into a seeming refugee camp as survivors both injured and unhurt congregated in a desperate search for missing loved ones.
Some 900 extras both Thai and foreign converged on the site before sunrise on February 1st. The ex-pats came from most of the popular destinations in southern Thailand. Koh Samui sent three bus loads that converged on Donsak on January 31st. The adventure started a few weeks previously when small flyers posted in strategic locations asked “would be actors” to contact Danny who sent them all to a casting at the Piano Bar in Chaweng’s Soi Reggae on the 21st January. The successful were texted the next evening.
Once on set the groups were marched crocodile fashion into the “Extras Base Camp” where they were assigned a group and a number. The colored card that went with this determined whether the individual was injured or unhurt. Own clothes were surrendered as colors had to be pastel camera friendly and those who needed it went to make-up. The injured were splattered with chocolate sauce that bore an amazing resemblance to blood. The purpose of the extras was to provide moving background to the central scene. Lucas, played by Tom Holland first appears on the hospital entrance searching the moving crowd below for his missing parents and younger brothers. Later he moves down onto the hospital lawn where his siblings run tearfully into his outstretched arms and they are later reunited with their distraught father, played by Ewan McGregor. Naomi Watts had gone home as her family reunion takes place at Suratthani Airport. When it comes to making movies scenes are not filmed in chronological order so her work had already been completed.
It takes many shots before the director is satisfied with the material. A film is really made on the cutting room floor. This is when the production team pores over every frame and decides what goes into the finished product and what does not. This process can take a year or more, although “The Impossible” is slated to be premiered before the end of the year. Anyway, the extras plodded across the set each time the magic word “action” was sounded and came to a halt with the instruction “cut”! Then it was “back to one” and the whole rigmarole was repeated sometimes up to thirty times. It was long, hot and often dreary work. Production Assistant David doled out sun screen lotion to stop sun burn, but supplies began to diminish as the week went on because the director was disturbed by the white shiny effect this had on his fleet of extras.
Friday February 4th was shooting day 85. They were running over time and over budget. The extras were supposed to go home on the Saturday but many were still needed. They asked who was prepared to stay and surprisingly the majority agreed. Those who stayed were offered reduced salary for two days of holiday and were destined to continue their work on the following Monday when their number was to be culled to 400.
Production Assistant Olga worked like a Trojan to keep everything running smoothly, but she was not looking very happy as filming came to a close because of a heavy downpour on the Friday evening. I have feeling that all those who still want to be extras will have the opportunity right up to the moment the production team board their flight home in mid-February.

This article first appeared in “The Samui Gazette” of Friday 18th February 2011