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Realtime >> Friday January 25, 2008
New talent unveiled

TSP announces winners of inaugural scriptwriting competition

Over 800 scripts were sent in from all over the country, 15 were selected into the final round and, finally, two winners were announced last Sunday.

The first (and hopefully not the last) Thailand Script Project, or TSP, drew to a close with a small ceremony at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre where two scriptwriters were awarded 100,000 baht each.

Sumit Tiangtrongchit won with his oddball social-comedy White Buffalo, which tells the story of a Northeastern village whose female inhabitants are obsessed with winning farang husbands. Watanachon Kongton won the Nokia-sponsored prize from Mitrapap Khong Rao (Our Friendship), which tells the story of a dying Bangkok doctor who moves to a hospital in Pattani.

Both scriptwriters, along with the 13 other finalists, also have a chance of seeing their screenplays turned into actual movies if studios see their potential.

The Thailand Script Project was initiated by high-flying Thai directors Nonzee Nimibutr and Pen-ek Ratanaruang. Their idea was to look for hidden talent in screenwriting to replenish the short supply of writers in the film industry. The project stems from the belief that everybody, in every corner of the country, has a story to tell.

Beginning in August 2007, the project called for all Thai citizens to submit a three-to-five page synopsis of a movie. At first, they expected a few hundred entries, but in the end they were confronted with nearly 800 submissions. The long, tough filtering process yielded 40 qualifiers, and these 40 writers were invited to participate in a screenwriting workshop with professionals from the film industry.

Then, each of the 40 writers was given two months to expand their synopsis and to complete a 30-page screenplay (usually a screenplay for a feature-length movie runs for 70 to 100 pages). Out of 40, only 15 were selected by a panel of judges after a long discussion (Yours Truly was one of the them). Last weekend, these 15 finalists were given a chance to meet one-on-one with investors who were looking for good scripts. Two, as mentioned earlier, were given the cash prize. However, whether a screenplay is bought by the investors or not is not the responsibility of the project organisers, whose role was merely that of a non-profit matchmaker.

As one of the judges who read the works of all 40 finalists (and also some that didn't make it to the finals), I was surprised by the generally impressive quality of the scripts. Most of them are ''commercial'' scripts _ meaning they're written more with the hope of getting made by investors than with artsy pretensions _ and many of them display striking intelligence and dimensions. In short, a number of them were better than the scripts of most Thai movies released over the past few years.

The two winning screenplays, for example, represent what's missing in current Thai cinema: contemporary relevance. White Buffalo probes social attitudes towards interracial marriage with fair-minded comedy and precise socio-economical details. It will make an entertaining movie with broad appeal, and I sincerely hope some smart producer will pick it up.

The writer of Mitrapap Khong Rao, meanwhile, chose difficult material and worked through it with composure. A personal drama set against southern violence, the script makes no hasty judgements and captures the fog of moral ambiguity that characterises the situation.

Now, is there an investor who'll want to risk making a film about unrest in the Deep South? Would it just be cut to ribbons by the censors, and unpopular with Bangkok's legion of young, apolitical movie-goers? The sad answer is ''probably''. It's unlikely that Mitrapap Khong Roa will get made into a movie, and that shows how underdeveloped our creative industry still is. The Thailand Script Project was created as a platform to provide opportunities _ not just to aspiring writers, but also to movie studios _ to break away from the staple of comedy and horror films into something more exciting. The writers have embraced this opportunity with zeal, but we'll have to to wait for the day when they money-guys will be ready to do the same.

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