Inspired by the changes wrought by covid-19, former BBDO Bangkok creative chairman Suthi explores Thailand’s rich food culture in a new TV series, writes LBB’s Laura Swinton
Back in 2020, creative advertising legend Suthisak 'Suthi' Sucharittanonta retired as creative chairman at BBDO Bangkok after 22 years at the agency. But it wasn’t the end of the creative road for Suthi. Since leaving adland, he’s been busy working on a new limited TV series that’s combining his talent for directing, his passion for food and his love of his native Thailand.
Chauffeur Chef is a travel and food-inspired docu-drama, which follows a young chef who lost his restaurant during the covid-19 pandemic and has now become a chauffeur. Taking the form of a road trip adventure, the show , produced by Triton Film Thailand, will air on December 20th and 27th on Thailand’s Channel 7 HD.
The gorgeously-shot show serves as a celebration of Thailand’s rich food culture and lush locations. Appropriately enough, then, for a show that truly showcases the best of Thailand, one of the project’s key sponsors is the Tourism Authority of Thailand - alongside Ford Motor Company (Thailand) Limited, PTT Oil and Retail Business Public Company Limited.
According to Suthi, who created, wrote and directed the limited series, the show’s inspiration lay in the difficulties suffered by many people during lockdown, as well as a growing trend among Thais to explore their own country.
“The idea came during the pandemic two years ago when shutdowns triggered a tsunami of job losses and many businesses had temporarily closed. Some of my friends who lost their jobs ended up switching professions,” reflects Suthi. “So firstly, I thought of writing a TV series which could send out positive messages and give encouragement to those who are struggling and going through this tough time. Secondly, I saw many people were opting to take road trips all over Thailand during the country’s lockdowns. There are many beautiful towns and food in Thailand I’ve never seen before and they’re worth experiencing. That’s how the Chauffeur Chef idea was born.”
At a lake in Buriram province
Ever the creative, Suthi wasn’t content with doing a by-the-numbers food travelogue. Instead, Chauffeur Chef is a playful mix of docudrama and travel shows. “I love documentaries but I also love drama, action and other genres too,” says Suthi, who wanted to create something truly playful. “Chauffeur Chef is the fusion of more than one genre in which I can explore different types of narratives to tell stories in the most fun and flavourful way possible.”
Suthi and producer Thacksackorn in Buriram
But Chauffeur Chef wasn’t just about Suthi satisfying his own creative ambitions. He also wanted to do something that would give back to Thailand. Hence the relationship with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who saw in Suthi’s vision the chance to reveal the beauty of Thailand to Thai audiences.
“From the beginning, I intended to write the Chauffeur Chef plots to help promote Thai tourism, culinary, soft power, and a positive image of Thailand as well as to entertain audiences,” he says. “I’m lucky to have some sponsors to start the project. Thanks to the Tourism Authorities of Thailand, Ford Thailand and PTT OR.”
The beauty of Thailand is amplified by lush, cinematic visuals. Bringing all that to life was cinematographer Assada Sreshthaputra, who shared Suthi’s passion for stylish visuals.
“Myself and Assada, the DOP, are passionate about filmmaking and visual storytelling, so we obsessively discussed movies, scenes, shots, styles, cameras, and lenses every time we met. We shot with our favourite Red Helium and Leitz Summilux-C lens.”
Suthisak and cinematographer Assada Sreshthaputra
Creating the show has been a long journey for Suthi. He started writing the scripts in February, shot the first episode in Petchaburi province in June, and then headed to Buriram and Surin provinces in July. “It’s two months shooting but many months for preparation,” says Suthi.
In fact, time was one of the trickiest things that Suthi had to navigate. “Time management is the most challenging [aspect]. We had a limited budget and time so we had to be precise, stay focused and manage the production well. Using a second unit to separately shoot the food and cooking scenes helped save lots of time. And fortunately, we got great actors, they’re very experienced and professional.”
Suthisak and crew on location in Buriram
Indeed, the timescales were completely upside-down and unrecognisable from what Suthi was used to in the advertising world. And that wasn’t the only way that TVland and adland diverge…
“It’s so different! In filmmaking, we have lots of freedom without clients watching monitors and giving comments on shots we shoot, but it’s a different world which requires different skillset, tools and techniques,” says Suthi. “It’s a much bigger jigsaw puzzle! But nothing is too hard, we can achieve anything as long as we are willing to do it.”
Shooting the Sarus Crane
It’s been an enormously satisfying project for Suthi in terms of realising a new creative ambition, but from his perspective, the experience of exploring Thailand and discovering some of its hidden gems has made the production an eye-opening adventure in its own right. In fact, Suthi’s personal highlight was tracking down the incredibly rare Sarus Crane (commonly known as ‘Thai cranes’).
“It took us many months to find and prepare to find these crane birds! They were nearly extinct 50 years ago but have made a strong recovery. In 2021, 133 were released into the nature of the Buriram province. We thought it would be easy for an actor to stay close, touch or kiss them but no! They’re wild animals and they’re raised that way!”
Suthisak on set behind the camera
With the whole adventure wrapped up, Suthi is now waiting for Chauffeur Chef to hit TV screens. So, is he tempted to do more in the world of TV and film?
“Filmmaking is not my job, it’s my passion,” says Suthi. “I’d love to write more Chauffeur Chef episodes, and perhaps even write and direct a feature film next.”