An interview with Sayombhu “Song” Mukdeeprom.
Sayombhu “Song” Mukdeeprom, 48, is the cinematographer behind Luca Guadagnino’s Best Picture-nominated Call Me by Your Name. But Song first made his name as a creative force on the local film scene, and has long collaborated with Uncle Boonmee director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. We spoke to him about his work, the awards process and his frustrations with the Thai film industry.
How did you get involved in Call Me by Your Name?
Luca asked if I was interested in working with him and I immediately said yes. I hadn’t even seen the script. We worked together before. My first film with Luca was A Bigger Splash .
What’s it like working with Luca Guadagnino?
Luca is such great guy with a vision and an open mind. He gives his crew his trust. Whenever I suggest an idea, he always says, “If you want to do it then just do it. Let’s try that.” Luca makes me feel like a family member. And that’s why I said yes without a second thought.
Do you see any hidden messages behind Call Me by Your Name?
For me, Call Me by Your Name is a love story and a coming of age film. I never felt like it was a “gay” or “LGBT” film at all. You know, having two men in love with each other is nothing new and love has no gender limitations.
Did you know at the time of making the film that it could be up for Oscar glory?
I don’t think anyone focuses on the awards while working. We do our best and let our work speak for itself. Awards are about politics. Everyone knows that. But I am glad to see that my work is being recognized with so many nominations.
What is on your mind when you are shooting?
There were only two words on my mind at the shoot: “sunny” and ‘’’80s.” My task was to present a picture of Italy’s summer in the ‘80s. Since I’m a cinematographer, I have to find a way to use every element in the shot to make the film look like that. For the color palette, I have to give all the credit to the art and design team. The buzzing flies happened to be there naturally while we were filming. It was the right place and the right time.
Do you have a coming-of-age story? Any unforgettable summers?
Just sports, especially soccer. I don’t have a romantic story to tell [laughs].
What do you think are the strengths and weakness of the Thai film industry?
The strength of the film industry here is that there is always space for new faces with guts and skills. There are three main weaknesses in my opinion. In Thailand, most films are made for commercial purposes. Films are treated like a product rather than a work of art. It’s an understandable direction since the investors are more businesspeople than artists. I’m not against commercial art, but I think we should make more space for films that are inspired by or represent real art and culture. Talented people are being oppressed and limited by a system where commercial art is taking over. It’s such a shame to see that. The second problem is distribution. It sucks. There are not enough spaces for independent or alternative film distribution. In Bangkok, it’s possible to see an independent film, but it’s impossible in other areas of Thailand. They only have the choice of commercial theaters. And it’s related to the trend of commercial art. Anyone in the industry will understand this point about workforce and regulations. In order to make films, producers, directors, cinematographers and actors are needed, but also the workers who will help us build, find or clear a location. Our work depends on them as well. And they are not being treated properly by the investors who only care about the final product. They are humans, you know, and they deserve to have benefits and overtime pay as well. Regulations are not well implemented or do not cover all the benefits these people deserve. It’s a Thailand-only problem judging from my experience.
What’s next for you?
Two more projects with Luca Guadagnino, Suspiria and Rio. Suspiria is now in post-production. We haven’t started filming Rio yet. Also, I’ll have two Thai films with Pongpat Wachirabunjong and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.