Working on Big American TV

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2010 at 5:11 am

By Antonio Graceffo

The head producer from an American film company I work with sometimes in Bangkok called me while I was in Vietnam and asked me if I was interested in flying back to Bangkok to work on a Big American TV show. It was an on-camera-gig. Apparently they needed someone who could teach Muay Thai to the host. They would also need me to translate Thai language. The job sounded perfect and exciting for me to show off my martial arts and my language skills. The more he explained, the better the job sounded. Apparently the star was an extremely established TV host, who had been on the air for more than ten years. I would meet her and the crew at one of the most expensive hotels in Bangkok and take them to Fairtex for training. Fairtex is like the Harvard of Muay Thai schools. I, and most western boxers, have dreamed of training there and I was not only going to get to train at Fairtex but also teach, and appear on a Big American TV show at the same time. The deal just got sweeter and sweeter. The producer told me that, after I had given the star her initial Muay Thai lessons, I would then hand her over to Kru Apidae, who is called, the living legend. Kru Apidae is probably one of the only living ex-champions at his age. He had hundreds and hundreds of fights over his long career. His last fight was when he was 54 years old! Apidae would take over teaching the star and I would translate for her. After the training, we would shower, but I wasn’t sure if it was separately or what, and then go watch the professional fights at the big stadium in Bangkok. Regardless of who I had to shower with, I was in Heaven. “So, does this sound like something that would interest you?” asked The producer. I was about to blurt out a resounding “YES” when he cautioned me. “There is one thing you should know before you answer. There is no pay. And you would be paying your own plane ticket and expenses.” Being the media whore that I am, my answer came without the slightest hesitation. “When do you need me to arrive?” People, like my friends and family, always tell me I should negotiate, stick to my guns, demand more money, or at lest some money. But the truth is, with Big American TV you have no choice. The amount of exposure I would get from this single day of shooting was priceless. And if I said “no” I’m sure they would have no problem finding another American boxer in Bangkok to replace me. He probably wouldn’t speak Thai, but they could work around that. When you are starting out, you just have to take what you get. I wondered if that was true all of the way up the line. For example, although the star was making what I would imagine to be a lot of money, maybe she also felt underpaid or under appreciated. Once again, the network probably prefers to use her, but if she made too many demands or became a problem it would be cheaper to just replace her with any one of thousands of people who would cut off several toes to get their own Big American TV show. The producer told me the dates, and then gave me some instructions for film day. “This isn’t like your web TV show, “Martial Arts odyssey.” You will be using a microphone, so you won’t need to shout.” He was right, on “Martial Arts Odyssey” I did a lot of shouting, because the only mike was on the front of the camera. Next, he stressed several times. “The show is about the host, not you.” “I got it.” I answered. “You will be on camera, but you need to let her be the star.” “I understand.” Now, I was slightly annoyed. Do I have such a reputation for narcissism that he thought he needed to tell me that twice? “It’s her show, not yours.” He said, answering my unasked question. Yes, apparently, I have that much of a reputation for narcissism that he thought he needed to tell me twice to let the Star be the star. A few days before my flight, I received a phone call from the TV Star, so she could find out a little about me. Ostensibly, she had already seen my videos, so she knew how I looked and sounded, but she just wanted to hear my voice on the phone, to see if I would be right for her show. She asked me a number of questions about Muay Thai and martial arts and Asia in general. The final question was, “Have you ever been on TV before?” I told her that I had, and the network asked to see a film resume with all of my film and TV appearances on it. I sat down and made a list, starting with being a costumed extra in the movie “Delta Force Part Two” with Chuck Norris, to playing a bad guy in a Khmer Kung Fu movie, starring hero, Eh Phou Thoung. I had starred in, or hosted a lot of web TV shows, like my own show, “Martial Arts Odyseey” and other people’s shows, like “The Art of Fighting,” as well as one episode of “Inside Martial Arts TV.” I had done a lot of TV shows in Cambodia and Thailand and appeared as a guest commentator on a fight show in Taiwan, but really all the networks want to know about is your Big TV work. When I made the list of my Big American TV work, I realized it was all the same. I had only been on reality TV shows, playing myself. In about 14 different shows, I played the local expert who translated and did martial arts. In nearly every show, I was the guy who met the stars at the airport or somewhere in Thailand, Cambodia, Taiwan, or some Asian country. I did a “story time” where I told the star about the local martial art and about the culture. Then I taught them martial art. Then I introduced them to my teacher, and I translated for them. Fourteen times: And I still didn’t have my own TV show. Luckily, I had a call for some other work in Chiang Mai, Thailand the same week, which worked out well, as the second gig would reimburse me for my plane ticket. I flew to Thailand a week early so I could start training. I was at Muay Chaiya, training with Kru Lek when a Russian TV crew turned up. Apparently they were launching a show in Russia, similar to my “Martial Arts Odyssey.” It featured a famous Arnis instructor and karate black belt who looked like he was on the bad side of fifty but may have been a lot younger. He weighed about 100 KGs but shouldn’t have. He looked strong, but with a huge belly that prevented him from moving very much. At the Muay Chaiya school, we go through a standard workout which is quite grueling. He showed up late, and quit early, with just a few takes, shot in between, where he pretended to follow along with the exercises. At the same time, there was a German student at Kru Lek’s who couldn’t speak English. He asked me to translate for him and somehow the Russians decided that I was German. They had their translator, who spoke German and French much better than English, interview me in German. They asked me about my martial arts background and why I had come to Kru Lek and what I thought of Chaiya. It was a blast being on Russian TV playing a German. They also invited me to come film my show at their school back in Russia. Of course I wasn’t paid for the Russian TV show. Arman, from the “Kill Arman” show, has invited me to film in Finland, so maybe I could visit Russia on the same trip. The other project I was supposed to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the one that should have reimbursed my plane ticket, called and cancelled. So, now I had laid out for flight tickets all of the way to Chiang Mai and was simply out the money. I was upset about loosing the money, but I was excited about the filming which would start the next morning. That night, at 10:30 PM, the Producer called me. “I am calling to talk to you about your dress for tomorrow.” Said the Producer. “I will be wearing my Muay Thai gear, won’t I?” I asked. “Yes, but I mean at night, when you take the host to go watch the fight. I was thinking you should wear a three button polo shirt and nice jeans.” “I don’t own jeans or a polo shirt. But I was thinking I would wear a sleeveless T-shirt and walking shorts.” “I know that is what you are planning to wear. And that is exactly why I called.” Ouch! So now, it’s not just my narcissistic personality, it’s also my fashion sense that is in question. “If you can’t come up with an outfit like that, I am sure we could find someone else who could.” Threatened the Producer. I glanced at the clock. It was nearly 11:00 PM. I could think of twenty places in Bangkok that you could watch girls smoke cigarettes without using their hands, at that hour, but there was no where to buy clothes. On the other hand, there was probably nowhere else to get a Thai speaking Muay Thai guy, who works well on camera and works for free. “OK, I will wear what you want.” I answered, and we hung up. I tore through my closet and luckily I found the one pair of jeans that I own in the world. This was a stroke of luck, because I thought these jeans were in Taiwan, which is where my polo shirts were. I didn’t have a polo shirt but I did find a blue dress shirt that looked cool if I left it un-tucked and opened the top couple of buttons. I stuffed the shirt and jeans down in my training gear bag and went to sleep. At the hotel the next morning, I met the crew, and they were one of the nicest TV crews I had ever worked with. The host was extremely kind and very interested in Thailand. She and the director, and all of the crew members, asked me a lot of questions. It was good to see that they were genuinely interested in Thailand and in Asian culture. They all also asked me about my time spent with the rebels in Burma and time spent living in monasteries. It made me feel great, that famous/successful people had looked at my website. The other thing that made them all seem very human was that the Director was complaining that he couldn’t get his laundry done. The problem with staying in an expensive hotel is that they charge by the piece for laundry. Shirts cost $2.00 to wash. But in Thailand you could get a new shirt for $3. My laundry was cheap because I went to a normal Thai place. But for the crew, their entire perdium was being eaten up by laundry and expensive internet. Meals were another issue. Where I could eat on the street for a couple of dollars, they were all forced to eat off of the hotel menu where a salad cost, no lie, 700 Baht, $21.00 USD. “But China Town is right across the street.” I said. “Why not go eat there? Food is great and it’s cheap.” The crew explained to me, and this actually made sense. They were filming only five days in Thailand, then five days in Sri Lanka, and five days in Malaysia. They never stayed anywhere long enough to get acclimated. And if they ate local street food they would get ill. This made me think. I have been living over here for years and just take it for granted that I can eat anywhere I want and normally I don’t get sick. When I do get sick, we just work around it. When I was filming “Martial Arts Odyssey: MMA Saigon” I’d had terrible diarrhea for five consecutive days. I was so weak we had to film in two and three minute increments, with long bathroom breaks in between. During the grueling exercise sequences, the dehydration and fatigue actually worked well. The audience really saw how hard the training was. But, the fight scenes had to be filmed on a separate day because I was just too weak to fight and make it look convincing. In Big American TV, there was no extra day for filming. You had to keep exactly to the schedule. One show I worked on told me they spent $10,000 – $15,000 per day. So they definitely couldn’t afford to do extra days of shooting simply because someone had stomach pains. The Producer wanted to see my outfit that I would wear to the fights. I pulled the wrinkled shirt and jeans from my bag and he made a horrible face. “Don’t you own an iron?” he asked, like an accusation. “No, I sold it for crack.” I admitted. “Don’t worry.” Said the TV Star. “I will have my assistant iron it for you.” The assistant took my outfit and assured me it would be ready by evening. We drove out to Fairtex and the owner met us in the parking lot. Mr. Lin was a super nice guy. He took us to the Fairtex shop and said, “Take whatever you want.” Wow! Talk about a kid in a candy store. I got a whole Fairtax boxing uniform that was made of some sort of space age material that breathed and allowed sweat to evaporate. I got very cool gladiator shorts, and hand wraps made of some sort of light, clingy material that gave me the best wrap of my life. As I was leaving the shop, the attendant asked me, “Do you need gloves?” Gloves? In my experience, boxing gloves weren’t something people normally gave you for free. “Sure, if it’s not too much trouble.” I answered sheepishly. The attendant handed me a brand new pair of 10 oz boxing gloves that matched my new outfit. For me it was a huge windfall. For Fairtex it was good advertising, because I have worn the gloves in nearly every show I have done since then. And of course they say Fairtex in huge letters. The training area at Fairtex Bangkok is incredible. They had about four boxing rings and a forest of punching and kick bags. The bags were of all different sorts, heavy bags, medium bags, low kick bags, and some very cool shaped bags which approximated the shape of a man, with a wider head and torso, but narrower legs. There were also a couple of over and under bags, which I had seen but never worked on before. Fairtex comped two hotel rooms, one for the star and one for me. So, I guessed we wouldn’t need to shower together. I changed clothes, stepped out of my room, and bumped right into Apidae. Meeting the living legend was a great experience. I wished I could just step inside his head and see all of the incredible experience he had fighting. He immediately took me in the ring and gave me a private Muay Thai lesson. Although he had excellent techniques to pass on, most of what he taught me was dirty fighting. He had a lot of step on the man’s foot techniques and dislocate his knee accidentally and so forth. It was a great laugh. The star came out of her changing room a half hour later and we started our Muay Thai lesson. She was extremely fit. And she apparently enjoyed learning Muay Thai. I taught her basic punch and elbow combinations. She particularly liked the uppercut elbow, because I told her it was one of the techniques that a woman could do and knock a man out. “Can I hit you with that again?” She asked, after we had practiced it several times. Next, I introduced her to Apidae and translated for her. When shooting was done, the producer gave me some sandwiches to eat in the car because we were late for our next location. The next thing on the shooting schedule was the Star, having drinks on the roof of the hotel at sunset. The scene would take about two hours to film, so I had some much needed free time. For some reason, I get completely exhausted when I have to train or fight on film. Everyone else was worn out too, but they had to soldier on and do the next shoot. Since I didn’t have a room at the expensive hotel, the Director said I could use his room while everyone else was on the roof filming. In the elevator on the way up, he warned me. “If you want to take a nap, you can lay on the bed, but don’t go under the covers, because that grosses me out.” The room was a huge suite, so I opted to sleep on the couch, but there wasn’t an extra blanket. Finally as the Director was bolting out the door to the shoot, he said, “Here use this as a blanket.” He handed me one of those $300 bathrobes they give you in expensive hotels in the movies. The training with Apidae, plus the filming really knocked me out and I slept for over an hour. When I woke I couldn’t imagine being fit and ready for the Muay Thai stadium shoot. I needed coffee quickly. Snooping around the kitchen (yes, this hotel suite had a kitchen, a living room, and it even had indoor plumbing which made it very different from the hotels I would normally stay at.) I found a coffee maker and some coffee grounds. Since I couldn’t find a filter, I assumed this was some type of expensive coffee maker that didn’t require a filter, so I dumped the grounds in the machine, filled it with water and plugged it in. The next fifteen minutes of my life are a bit of a blur, punctuated by the smell of burning coffee. The grounds clogged up the coffee machine and the brown water spilled over onto the heating element. The brown water boiled, snapped, evaporated and stunk. Then more water came out and more coffee grounds, which spilled onto the white counter and onto the white floor. I unplugged the machine and tossed it into the sink. Looking for a rag to clean up the mess I only found a very expensive, white, wash cloth. Forty minutes later, when the Director opened the door, the first thing he noticed was the smoke. Luckily, the sight of the blackened wash clothes and the wrecked coffee machine distracted him. He took two steps into the room and froze, as if deciding what sort of names to call me. I was running through possible options, insults for the country bumpkin who ruined your hotel suite, but the epitaph that he screamed was not even on the list. “You drank my coffee!!!!! What am I supposed to drink for breakfast?” Fortunately for me, the phone rang, urging us downstairs for the next shoot. At almost the same instant, the assistant came to the door with my freshly ironed clothes. We all piled into the van. Everyone else was tired, but I was just waking up. They all mentioned how hungry they were, because we had worked through dinner. Fortunately for me, I had snagged some extra sandwiches at lunch and stashed them in my training bag. Through a yawn, the Director exclaimed, “First you drank my coffee. Now, you’re eating a sandwich in front of me!” Since I was probably never going to get to work with this Director again, I went ahead and rubbed it in. “Sorry, it’s just that after my nap I needed a snack.” At the stadium, the Star and I took spots, standing along the railing on the second tier. We were miked, but the cameras were shooting us from the other side of the studio. That was cool because on “Martial Arts Odyssey,” we couldn’t even do a shot like that, because there would be no audio. Actually we would do it twice, once from a distance, for visual and once close up for audio and then I would sink them together. Or more accurately, I would lay the video over the audio and not really care if they synched or not. But with Big American TV we were able to get audio and visual at the same time. Technology was a great thing. And while we are on the list of great things, an assistant would be nice. Also, hotel rooms with stuff like a living room and coffee and a $300 bathrobe. And of course, there was the big difference between me and all of the Big American TV people, they were getting paid and I wasn’t. The shoot at the fights only took about thirty minutes and we left. The driver of the crew van dropped the TV Star and her assistant at the hotel, then he took me to the subway. On the way home, I thought, and not for the first or last time, Big American TV is great. I gotta get my own show. Thanks to some very nice friends who read my stories and watch my videos, I now have a paypal account, with a link here on my facebook page. Or, here is a direct link to the donation page. You can add this PayPal link to the bottom of emails; it goes directly to your unique donate page: If you can help, thank you so much. If you can’t help, don’t worry about it. I know things are tough out there. But, either way, please keep watching and enjoying Martial Arts Odyssey. I never wanted this to become a huge business, and I wanted everyone in the world to be able to watch for free. Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries. See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe. His books are available on Contact him: His website is This episode was edited by Antonio Graceffo and features the official Martial Arts Odyssey intro and outro by Andy To. Antonio,graceffo,Brooklyn,monk,Thailand, thai,muay,Chaiya,travel,tv,show,Cambodia,khmer,boxing,kickboxing,kick,bradal,serey,pady,Carson,gym,Angkor,martial,arts,odyssey,cambodian,muay,thai,Phnom,penh,Angkor,wat,boxing,gym,kickboxing,kick,khun,yuthakun,yuth,kun,angkorian,professional,training

  1. They spend 10 to 15 thousand dollars a day? Is that for the hotel suites? I guess they are real proud of themselves for their ability to recruit volunteers. I’m glad you at least received something from Fairtex.

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