‘Big Bad’ is a phrase coined in the self-aware ‘90s show Buffy the Vampire Slayer to describe a major recurring villain driving the main story arc of the season. And if 2020 has a Big Bad, it’s got to be coronavirus, right? Enter Covidman. He’s red, he’s menacing and he rocks a rather slick streetwear look.
Director and former BBDO Bangkok creative chairman, Suthisak Sucharittonta, was inspired by the TV shows and manga of his youth to turn the virus into a supervillain for a hilarious online film for Thai Health. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Suthisak to find out more about the craft, design and ideas behind the film - and we recommend you watch it before reading the answers because there are spoilers!
LBB> How did the ad come about? Was it something you came up with spontaneously or was it in response to an existing brief or script?
Suthisak> It happened one day (on July 25th), during the ‘New Normal’ time, when I read tweets from twitter. There was a feed from Thai RSC (Road Accidents Data Center) that reported a daily traffic accident report which stunned me. The total deaths from road accidents in ONE DAY in Thailand is much higher than the total deaths from Covid-19 in the last SIX MONTHS! It made me think that we all have more chance of dying from road accidents than Covid (which we’re terribly scared of). That was a starting point that made me write the Covidman online film script. I presented to Thai Health clients, who were open for ideas to promote their road safety campaign, and they loved the idea.
LBB> The film does a great job of subverting cliches from thriller movies - what sort of research did you do beforehand, were there any particular movies you looked at or thought about?
Suthisak> Hahaha... I’m a fan of superhero and manga characters, especially ‘Kamen Rider’,
a Japanese manga and TV series that includes an evil organisation full of weird villains called ‘Shocker’
. I’ve loved things like this since my childhood. I’m quite far from a realistic world including Coronavirus images produced by the electron microscopes!
LBB> There is a fine line between comedy and horror, I think, psychologically. How did you manage to balance the funny bits and the scarier, more ‘horror’ elements?
Suthisak> Actually, I never thought of it as a scary or horror film, on contrary I just want to make it entertaining and funny from a beginning, because in my script I want a big twist at the end (in one scary shot) because I want people to be scared and aware of speed and danger on the roads.
LBB> The film is packed with hilarious details: The smiling mask, the guy using the bandaid as a mask, Covidman’s cough. How did you go about brainstorming all of these funny visual jokes?
Suthisak> Some of those gags came from my weird thoughts when I forgot to bring along my face mask to a meeting one day. I tried to grab some objects (Band-Aid, white envelope and sock) to use as the face mask, but thanks to my production team who helped feeding me many alternative gags. We all love silly gags!
LBB> And what’s your personal favourite detail?
Suthisak> I love the expression on the Covidman face. We explored many ways to give him facial expressions, and it ended up with minimal and simple and static emoticons, and our production designer finally proposed the idea of using die-cut black stickers which I really like.
LBB> How did you approach the design of the Coronavirus - were there any particular influences or important design ideas that went into him?
Suthisak> The Covidman was my first thought. As I mentioned earlier, I was influenced by Japanese manga, so I didn’t even think about a real Coronavirus. I gave my sketch to my production team at Triton. Rajadej Na Nagara, our production designer, helped in crafting all the details nicely. He simplified a red big spherical head with a crown of club-shaped peplomers or spikes with emoticon facial expression stickers on it, together with street style training wear in matte red with a shiny red fabric trim.
LBB> What was your approach to casting and directing the actors - did you want them to embrace the comedy or stay true to the horror and seriousness?
Suthisak> It was fun directing them, they’re all talented. I definitely briefed them to react as if they came across a real Coronavirus on a day that they lowered their guard, and forgot to put on or bring their face masks.
Suthisak directing a scene in Bangkok
LBB> Where did you shoot and how complicated was the shoot?
Suthisak> We shot in Bang Lampu, one of the old town districts of Bangkok. I like this area because of its charm and unique surroundings. We shot on Sunday and it was less crowded. We had three cameras shooting at the same time because we had only one day. One camera mounted on a Ronin, one on a tripod, and another one on a handheld.
Trying out Covidman before the shoot
LBB> What was the most interesting aspect of the production for you?
Suthisak> I love filmmaking because we never know how the film is gonna come out when we shoot, which is different from photography in which we can see something from the pictures we shoot. So, for me, it’s more challenging.
LBB> Comedy is timing - who did you work with on the edit and how did you approach it?
Suthisak> I’m lucky to have Manop Boonvipas of Matad as my editor. We’ve known each other since the ‘90s when he edited most of my favourite TV commercials. So, we are on the same wavelength!
Suthisak and director of photography Assada
LBB> I’d also love to ask you about the look of the film - the cinematography and the telecine give it a really retro, grainy feel. What were you hoping to conjure up with the look of the film and what sorts of conversations did you have with the DoP and colourist?
Suthisak> I personally love a film that looks real with a vintage/retro feel. I told Assada Sreshthaputra, my DoP what I like and coincidentally he likes the same approach. We discussed a lot about cameras, lenses and gear we like. He mainly shot with a RED 8K Helium camera with two full sets of vintage Leica Summilux-C and an M lens, and we had other two cameras shooting at the same time. We didn’t do much colour grading except desaturating and darkening some parts.
PRODUCTION HOUSE: Triton
DIRECTOR: Suthisak Sucharittanonta
DOP: Assada Sreshthaputra
2ND CAMERA: Suraboon Purnaveja
3RD CAMERA: Nakornchai Srisopha
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Thacksakorn Pradubpongsa
PRODUCER: Penporn Vitthisomboon
ASST DIRECTOR: Sanyapit Suriyotai /Pungchitt Wajanasatian
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rajadej Na-nagara
PRODUCTION MANAGER: Phoosuda Sanondontree/ Thanyamat Yamavirun
WARDROBE: Punnipast Hirunkoolchord
PROPS MASTER: Sirinut Prabpinas
LOCATION: Uthit Boonsoemkhanit / Poonsak Ponintawong/ Phanumas Mongkhonsappaya