Lighting-Camera Expert Samon Siripanichgon on Working Internationally

Lighting-Camera Expert Samon Siripanichgon on Working Internationally

Jun 9, 2023, 6:48:02 AM Entertainment

Kenny Roger’s famous song “The Gambler” poetically refers to the choosing one’s path with the awareness that there will be moments of satisfaction and discomfort; the ability to make those choices freely are what makes life exciting. Samon Siripanichgon easily relates to these ideas from the Country & Western music legend; it’s an odd pairing but one that makes sense when you investigate more deeply. Born in Thailand, raised in China, and educated in America, Samon has what can only be described as a wide cultural perspective both personally and professionally. Much in-demand by the production industries of different countries, this set lighting expert (and camera expert) has found that his professional skill and proficiency in multiple languages allows him to access a pool of employers larger than most. This is a growing trend as the most talented become increasingly global along with a worldwide audience.

Samon Siripanichgon

The entire industry in the US shutdown during the pandemic and, like the rest of us, everyone went home to wait it out. For you, that created the unusual situation of finding yourself back in Thailand and collaborating with a cinematographer you knew from your time in New York City. Beyond the pandemic, how was this experience for you?

Communicating on set

Samon: I had worked with cinematographer Bhurin Treetampinich on a number of productions in America including the film Yuan Yuan. We made a good team and when we both found ourselves back in Thailand, he asked me to work with him on a national commercial for Nestle Bear Brand Milk which is a very popular product in Thailand. 

Did you find that the way a production is run in Thailand is the same as in the [United] States?

Samon: The outcome is the same but the delineations are different and, as anyone who works in the industry can tell you, those delineations are very important. You have to understand and respect the responsibilities and territorial aspect of each department. In America, the grip and electric departments work together to achieve a certain look in terms of lighting. Speaking very broadly, the electric department is in charge of placing the light while the grip department is in charge of shaping the light. The grips have the added responsibility of camera support (meaning dolly/ camera rigging). In Thailand, all responsibilities that have to do with lighting (placing and shaping) are done under one “lighting” department while camera support is solely the grip’s responsibility. Initially, it was difficult to get used to this workflow. I worked only with the lighting department, and sometimes I would be helping grips unintentionally or not help the lighting department enough. Also words for calling types of gear and objects are slightly different, or had a Thai name for them.

Is this about the unions or about cultural respect?

Samon: It depends on which one you are speaking about. I’d say overall, it comes down to respect whether that’s institutionalized through a union or simply the way things have traditionally been done. I have to say that even though I was easily the youngest member of my team on the Nestle commercial and I was the head of the lighting department, the older members of the team were incredibly respectful and willing to help me understand the separation of duties and responsibilities on the set. Another clear difference between the American way and the Thai way is the work day length. In America, most productions try to stay within twelve working hours. In Thailand, the average day is sixteen to eighteen hours. Twenty-four hour days are not uncommon. 

That certainly wouldn’t go over well with a US based production team. The professionals in Thailand have just accepted this as part of the way things are done?

Samon: Yes. It can be difficult but you learn to embrace the differences. Every place has its own manner of conduct and charm. I’ll give you this example. When I worked on Francesca Scorsese’s Fish Out of Water (This yet-unreleased 2022 film has a cast comprised of actors from Oscar Award– winning/nominated films The Wolf of Wallstreet, Goodfellas, and The Irishman), our wrap party was at an amazing Italian restaurant hosted by the Scorsese family. That was a special night to say the least. But working twenty-four hours on a Thai commercial means you get freshly made noodle soups that are out of this world! Very different situations but amazing food all around. Instead of getting grumpy, you have to stop, look around, and tell yourself, “I’m getting paid right now to do what I love more than anything!”

Published by Pooja Agarwal

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