The first broadcast of “Meet Mr. Maitri” was an embarrassing comedy of errors.
The tiny television studio was crowded with actors, light and microphone crews, Peace Corps Volunteers, Bangkok Municipality staffers, a studio-supplied floor manager and me. The Municipality couldn’t afford to book the studio for rehearsals so the first take would be broadcast live. Somchao shared some more bad news. Directors assigned by TV-4 to help the Municipality looked on it as charity work. They rarely read the script before arriving, and didn’t sweat the small stuff. Sure enough, the director Khun Kasem arrived just ten minutes before the shoot, smoking a cigarette and flipping lazily through my script which I had lovingly crafted with close ups, fades, supers and pans. I told Bob O’Keefe, “Mr. Maitri,” we were going to have to wing it.
Fellini disappeared into the control room. Through the glass window, I could see him chatting with the assistant producer manning the controls. No hurry, no panic. He stubbed out his cigarette, settled into his chair and a voice counted down the last ten seconds: Sip, gow, bat, jet, hohk, haa, sii, sahm, sawng, neung…
Bob entered stage left, walked over to the cabinet where the two jingjoks lived, sat down on a stool, looked into the camera and said, “Hello. I’m Mr. Maitri!” – into the wrong camera.
I frantically waved to Bob, pointing at the other camera.The doors to the cabinet stuck. Bob tried to yank them open. The set wobbled and threatened to collapse on him. When he finally pried the doors open, the TV camera shooting the scene turned out to be too high on its pedestal. The audience could see Ernie and Dan inside manipulating the puppets. When it came time to cut away to the “Alphabet Trouble,” someone in the control room missed the cue. The master monitor showed black for what seemed an eternity to me before the film finally popped up.
I wanted to choke Khun Kasem. When the last scene was stumbled through, and the studio lights were switched off, I made a bee-line for Mrs. Boonsom.
“That was absolutely embarrassing,” I raged.
“Jai yen yen, Ajaan Maitri,” she replied. “Next time will be better.” She seemed truly happy – even excited. “Our students will enjoy the Alphabet film.”
I looked around. The TV-4 studio personnel were grinning and shaking hands with Bob and Dan, and congratulating Ernie on his flying gung fu leap up to the hotel balcony. It was the first time they had seen an educational program like that – sanuk maak! Lots of fun! I decided I needed to practice a little more mai pen rai – the cool it, no big deal, take a deep breath, Buddhist philosophy Thais excel at.
I ducked into the control room where Khun Kasem was chatting with the producer. I stuck out my hand. “Khawp khun maak” I said, and I meant it. Thank you very much.“Don’t worry, Ajaan Maitri,” he replied. “We will do better next time.”
And we did.