06th Apr2018

Exclusive Interview: Charlie Garrett talks ‘Muay Thai’

by Philip Rogers

Muay Thai is a new film from first time writer-director Charlie Garrett. Loosely based on his own experiences of travelling to Thailand, it details the story of a reckless city trader who gives up life in London to return to Thailand and train as a kick boxer. I got a chance to talk with Charlie about how he first got introduced to Muay Thai, why he turned down a bigger budget for a guerrilla filmmaking style and how close the events are to his own story.

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How did it all start?

I was planning to go to a Temple in Shaolin to do Kung Fu and the idea was to stop off in Thailand for three weeks and maybe do some Muay Thai. A friend of mine from school, his dad was a governor of the province which I am in now and he said the best camp in Thailand is in my province so come and train here. Three weeks turned into three months; turned into four months; turned into Seven. I got absorbed into the Muay Thai life here in an army base. I went back to England, went to Uni, but dropped out to start a business, did that for a few years and left that to make a film about the experience I had in Thailand.

Did you study Muay Thai previously before you went out there originally?

When I was seven I watched kickboxer Kid (1992) and that was it, I was obsessed. My mum gave me an ultimatum Ballet or Kickboxing and I chose kickboxing. I started from a young age I did Kung Fu, Kickboxing, Taekwondo, a little bit of Wing Chun, Akido and stuff like that, but I had never done any Maui Tai. The first session of Muay Thai put things into perspective. It was in an army base and as I was driving in through the gates there were armed soldiers with machine guns. My heart was beating, and I was freaking out, I didn’t want to do it anymore. We got taken in to meet the general and then got taken down to the gym. They were training at this time it was at the peak of the gym, they had champions and everything. They brought this one guy out to show us some stuff and he just walked out with a bag and was just kicking it. It was like lightning with the whips and the cracks. They asked if I wanted to train to train or train to fight. Seeing that I said I am just here to train, but after a few months I got use to it. I had been here three months, I was about to leave, and I thought it’s a bit of a waste. I thought if I don’t fight now I am probably never going to do it, so I decided to stay another month. Have you been to Thailand?

I haven’t no…

Well they have this massive festival called Song Kran, which is a nationwide festival and can last anything between one and two weeks. I decided to stay another month, but unfortunately, I went to see off my friends in Bangkok, and I ended up staying Bangkok for two or three weeks just partying. It all got out of hand, I was even smoking which is something I had never done. I came back and only had eight days before my fight. I trained for a few days, but because I was so unfit I got really ill, so I had to take a couple of days off, so I had half a day and then it was the fight. I ended up fighting and the advice was, first round, take it easy, suss him out, don’t rush in and stay calm, which makes sense and is the right thing to do. But I knew he was fitter and better than me, so I thought the only way I am going to survive is if I knock him out in the first round. So, I went in all guns blazing and he did look quite scared and looked to his corner, because I was bigger back then and I’m quite tall. But after the first round that was it, I was done. I was panting, nearly sick and he went from nervous in the beginning to smiling, just taking pop shots, I was just trying to keep him at bay. I lost convincingly, but I wasn’t knocked out, so that’s my claim to fame. Just after I came out the ring the big boss said, “Don’t worry”, then tells me that the guy was the former champion of Korat the second biggest city in Thailand and has had over 300 fights. I said, “Why didn’t you tell me” and he said, “I didn’t want you to worry”. About 5 years later I find out it was broadcast on live tv in 23 countries around the world which is quite humiliating.

I had seven months out here and it was a pretty mad experience, even though I had nothing to do with film at the time I thought this is a film, I am living a film. So, After I left my business I had a blank canvas and I thought why not do film. The original idea was to write something quite high concept and maybe get a studio or big production house to do it and tag along for the ride. I came out here [Thailand] for a year to write a script and chill out, because it was quite intense with the business, then I came back to England to get it made. It wasn’t long before I pitched the film out to a few people and got quite a big producer on board to do a high, well not high, normal budget film for three million plus. The only problem was, the same night I met a Gareth Edwards, Monsters (2010) Godzilla (2014), Star Wars [Rogue One (2016)]. When I met him, he had just done Monsters and I didn’t know the story about it. It was basically shot with him, the two actors a sound guy and a producer; the budget was $50,000 – $60,000 all in. I was chatting to him about it and I thought I want to do that. It was like jackpot, but I want to do it like that.

I went looking again for new producers who worked at a lower budget level and I teamed up with a few guys from Metrodome Distribution, because they were more into the lower budget range. It was still higher because they started off at 300k and we were working on putting it together like that. But over time the budget kept going up, from 300k to 450k to 760k by the end. I wasn’t anti big budget, but I didn’t feel comfortable at that level because it’s my debut film, and also at that level suddenly it’s; I am putting in two hundred and fifty thousand, so I want so and so to be in it or I want this director. It all makes sense but if I was going to do that I would have done it before. So, I left them over two year ago and decided to go independent. It was hard, it was like breaking up with a long-term partner. We had a skype call and I basically said I wanted to leave and go indie. Overnight I went from having a whole load of financial support, international sales deal, UK distribution deal, lawyer, the whole kit; to having absolutely nothing. I think I had tears at one point thinking what have a done, it seemed ridiculous.

Me and my mate were having Vietnamese in Dalston and I thought let’s just start and see what happens. I had a 550D at the time and we went out and starting filming around the city. We started putting it together and a story started to emerge. So, we started playing around with the background scenes and other people started wanting to get involved. We were going to do a backstory of him in the UK to get the ball rolling. A friend invested 10k, so we upgraded our equipment to get a Sony 7AS and then other people invested. We went out to Thailand to shoot the last scene of the first film which was going to be when he arrives in Thailand. We were out here for three weeks and we thought we can do what we were doing in the UK out here, so why wait? Why not just come out here and make it happen? It had been about a year, stop-start. We have been funding as we go.

Did you write the full script for the film?

I wrote the story, then I wrote the script, but after starting to film I stopped using the script. Our budget is so low, and our restrictions are so tight. Most of the people we are working with are real boxers, soldiers and I can’t give them line readings. We set up a story or situation and we say this is who you are, this is who I am. It is based on who they are, so they don’t have to step outside themselves too much, we just let it roll. You steer it, but there is no set dialogue. I am surprised at how well it works, and I am quite blown away by a couple of the performances by some of the boxers. There have been times where there has been a synthetic situation, for example one of my old trainers is on his death bed and he has been nailing it. I have worked with actors quite a lot, but I am getting better stuff here than what I get from actors back home. It’s amazing but also quite intimidating for me because I know that I have got to step up.

How close are the events in film to your own story?

There are lots of things that are straight form what happened and some of the scenes have been adapted, but some of those scenes seem to be becoming true. For example; I was late today because we are looking to take over another boxing camp. So, the whole part of coming to Thailand and opening a boxing camp, that bit is coming true now. I wasn’t a trader, but my business was financial training programmes and a lot of these were for traders. My business partner he was a trader. So I took bits of my life and mixed it up with bits from other people and it has just sort taken on a life of its own really.

This is obviously your first attempt at filmmaking, you have no previous experience…

Absolutely zero. I’d just like to say I didn’t plan on doing everything, this just happened. I didn’t think I would be in it, I thought I would just be one of the producers. I thought I would just write the story, I didn’t think I would write the script, I didn’t think I would direct it. But it is what is, and I wouldn’t change it for the world to be honest, although it has been absolutely mind mangling.

When do you think the film will be ready for release and do you know how you are going to distribute the film?

We have a post deal with Splice Post in London, so hopefully they will give it a touch up and polish which shouldn’t take too long, but realistically I think six months. The thing that interests me the most is self-distribution and that is the long-term plan. If we get distribution offers and they are good I doubt we will turn them down, but I see self-distribution as plan A. The Market is so big for Muai Thai, MMA, Martial Arts, they estimate over three hundred million UFC fans and now with social media we can connect directly.

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