I've noticed many of my fellow bloggers have been making up for long lost blogging time this week, since I suppose the summer exodus has gotten to us all in some way, whether its the heat, the fun in the sun, or perhaps just being plain chock-full of work. My case has been the latter for the most part, (though it does get rather balmy here for a city that drops well below freezing in the winter! Keep us on our toes, Beijing!)
The epic battle over tea has ended. We shot the last week of the Tea War TV show in good ol' Hengdian, "the Chinese Hollywood". After the wrap party, I returned to Beijing to find a strange little gig waiting for me in nearby Tianjin. A famous Hong Kong director was shooting a film with mainland Chinese stars and felt that they needed some help with their English lines. Therefore they decided to seek out an English dialogue coach, namely: me. I slept a night in Beijing and road the half-hour train to Tianjin the next day. I stayed in a room that night with a less famous Chines actor and watched The Pianist on TV, (which made we wonder when that Chinese-made Adrien Brody movie is going to come out!) The next day, I helped a Chinese model translate excerpts from Dream of the Red Mansion (one of the four major Chinese classics) into English, and stood by with earphones to listen to her pronunciation and (perhaps more importantly) inflection.
On the 26th of June, I will be performing at Beijing's National Theater. I only have one 20 minute scene in the 2nd half hour of the stage production, but it is rife with Mandarin banter, and therefore will be a new kind of challenge for this westerner who usually gets a 2nd or 3rd take if he fumbles a Chinese line in a movie or TV show. During the first week of June, I rehearsed every afternoon at Beijing's West Town Cultural Center. Then I caught a plane back to Dali to continue my tea trade drama. Under this tight schedule, I will arrive back in Beijing only 3 days before the actual performance. And, on the day I arrive back in the capital, an official from the propaganda department is reviewing our production for the green light. The pressure is on!
In Chinese film circles, they have an oft-asked question: are you in it for the money or the fame? For us western actors in China, its almost always the former, since it's even harder for us to gain national recognition here than for Americans to recognize a second Bruce Lee. Along that line of thought, I've been making out pretty well recently. My screen time has been sparse, as of recent, but the pay keeps on rising-- so I can't complain.
From the date of my last entry, I've had three gigs... well, kind of. The first was the last day of filming for that prison break show. I know for sure now it’s finally finally over, since I have been paid. The last day consisted of simply gluing on a mustache and looking out a window, but the crew bought me round trip tickets and paid me overtime just for that. Someone must've forgot that shot before. Oops.
Most of my blogs so far have been about me me me me. And that's okay, because there's a lot going on with me... or rather, when element A (me) meets element B (China) there has been some rather explosive chemical reactions.
However, I have run into a brief low work period, and I would like to take the time to talk about some of the other "sea devil" actors in China, their trials and tribulations, what makes them tick. And believe me, they have more than one wild story to tell themselves.
I am now back in Wuxi for the 5th time, still dropping by for cameos on this show, even though all my lines have left my larynx many moons ago. I still can't believe I took a train back here just to shoot: 1) a shot of me entering a car, and 2) a shot of me running down a mountain. (And on two different days!) But yes, that is literally all we shot this time around. This crew is so generous! (Really, though!)
The third day I rested for a while, and then decided to look around Wuxi. There was a place called Lingshan scenic area that kept popping up on touristy website radars, so I checked it out. Apparently, there was a teeny little Buddhist temple that has got a few fans in the millionaire bracket, and over the last 20 years or so, they have poured enough money into it to erect a ten story tall bronze effigy of the standing Buddha behind the temple, as well as a multi-million dollar 240-ish degree cinema experience to the right of it. Inside this crazy, museum/cinemaplex, I walked through vatican-style flying buttressed archways with European style vaulted soft-toned paintings of Buddha and his origin story. It was truly surreal and not something you see every day here in the east.
I last left you, dear reader, at a hotel room in Wuxi. I had just finished shooting on what I thought was my last day of work on the prison break TV show. A few days later, I found out they added some non-speaking scenes for me. Well, that's fine! For the lack of a more subtle way of putting it: I'm paid by the day!
Those scenes would be quite a bit later however, so I first returned to my headquarters (apartment) in Beijing. My girlfriend and I had one more day together before she left again (to north-eastern China, near Siberia), this time to hawk a TV drama to a station up there. The show about a pair twins that switch lives for various reasons. I was suspicious of the similarity to my own Chinese movie script about a westerner and a Chinese man who switch bodies---which I wrote and sold last year---but it started production before my script was even written. Coincidentally, three or four "role-switch" scripts have emerged in Asia recently. Must be synchronicity. I also found that my own script is still on the back-burner, since they are trying to find ways to make it "more Chinese". Anyway, just when I thought things were winding down, two more last-second gigs popped up!
Where to start here? It's only been a week or so since my last entry, but I feel compelled to write another before the news piles up so high that this blog becomes a novel.
Baring a similar resemblance to last year around this time, my February of 2012 became a somewhat exhausting whirlwind of unique happenings. I last left my readers at a hotel in Wuxi, where I was preparing for another day of acting as Smith the Thief before galloping back to Beijing to finish my WW2 crash-landed airman movie.
Well, almost immediately after posting that blog, I received a call from the 2nd AD on the set of a film being shot by the 2nd biggest director in mainland China, Feng Xiaogang. They wanted me to perform the role of translator to the US Ambassador. I quickly looked up the film online and realized that both Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins were being borrowed from Hollywood to star in the film! I couldn't say no. This was a great opportunity! Yet, there was setback--which was a blessing before I got that phone call: I was acting in two other shows at the time. My agent had already torn half his hair out finagling deals to weave me back and forth between the WW2 airman picture and the prison break show. How would he react when I threw a third flaming torch into his juggler's mitts?
No more forced baijiu drinking or bug eating (yes, that also happened in Yunnan)! The Spring Festival has finished!
So my holiday dry-spell is over and I'm up to my neck again in delicious, sweet work! It started at the beginning of this month when I did my first day as Smith the Thief in a spy thriller shot down in a southern Chinese city called Wuxi (nicknamed Little Shanghai for its style of development). Then it was back to Beijing to film a WW2 era "dramedy" movie, in which the Japanese and Chinese play a "shell game" with 3 US pilots who have crash landed near the Great Wall. Two entirely different shows make for good fun, except for that the delay of the war movie caused some near fatal collisions in scheduling. Read on, dear reader, and you shall now how I ran the gauntlet without (almost) any bruises.
Most people love the holidays. They can finally get off work and take a break. Actors are the opposite; they can't wait for months unwanted holiday to end so they can finally get some work!
Since I have two families from two nations, winter holidays are always a double-whammie. First I have to cross the Christmas-New Year's stretch in the US, then its back off to China for a 10-day Chinese New Year/Spring Festival marathon. This holiday cabbage patch is so tightly clustered that there's almost no room for work in between. It drove me apes and bats for a couple years, but this year I've finally been able to sit back, grab a candy cane and/or pork dumpling, and let the inevitable season of no-income spending pan out. The world never really changes, but it gets easier when you accept it for what it is and work with what you've got.
Just did a one day role in the biggest movie I've been in to date! The star is internationally recognized (JC for short), so I can see this one getting an international release. It was a really hush-hush production, so I can't say much. Let's just say I played the part of an auctioneer, and it was rather fun meeting the actor/director in person. He's a very down-to-earth guy.
In other less fantastic news: I’ve started making my own video blogs, (or vlogs if you will), in Chinese and putting them up on one of the Chinese knock-offs of “Youtube” called “Tudou”, which is Chinese phonetics for “potato” (Don’t ask). So far I’ve just created the forth vlog, and am uploading it tomorrow when my Internet connection is back online (I’m writing this blog in Word tonight). The popularity of the vlogs is mounting slowly, but undeniably gaining momentum, especially since I post links to them on two different Chinese “Twitter” knockoffs. My third vlog, which featured one of my expat friends in a small skit, already landed him a role in a TV commercial, believe it or not.
Again, I find myself in "Chinese Hollywood", aka Hengdian. This is the 4th show I've shot here, and it may not be the last. I'm in a hotel room by myself with working internet and maid service. I really can't complain at all this time around. Being tough with negotiations at the beginning ensures some of the nightmares that occurred in the past don't repeat themselves. These negotiations have ensured that all of my scenes have been grouped together, with the exception of one orphan. This orphan scene will cause me to have to wait an extra 5 days on standby before I am free to take other roles. Still, not too bad, considering some of the mind-numbing situations I found myself in last year.
In the show, I play 19th century American missionary and physician, David Abeel, a real life historical figure. My friend, and the star, is a famous Chinese geographer and political scientist, who goes against the Qing Dynasty in order to learn more about the outside world. Overall, its a good show with a good message. I wish I could do more of this ilk.
It's been quite a while since my last post. My computer bottomed out, so I broke down myself... and bought a Mac. This is my first blog from my new computer!
After finishing the feature film, I returned to Beijing for the first time in 8 months without a plan in hand. Up until then, it had been back to back shooting dates, wham-bam-get-there-in-a-jam style. In August, it was like the Chinese TV/film world patted me on the head, told me to take a deep breath and went on concocting other potions with their backs turned.
Then, after a week, I started getting calls for auditions. But they were all for projects months from now. My surprise was halfway of the pleasant sort: Chinese shows are finally starting to plan in advance! This is quite different from only last year when I would go to an audition for a show that was starting the next week, or sometimes even the next day. Still, this brief barrage of auditions quickily faded out like the crackle of hot stars on a kid's Forth of July sparkler. Another week of down time followed.
One day, out of the blue, I get a call from a TV station cheif asking me to host a travel show. I go to meet with the producer and director, who decide to hack out the finer details of the show based upon my personality. We end up making a show where a female host introduces different sites and customs around a city, and I take them on, usually making some kind of goof out of it. The pilot was set in Beijing.
Shot over 5 days, this show was to be one of the most tiring of my career. Instead of sitting down in a fold up chair and relaxing between scenes, this was the Nate Show and it was all Nate all the time! Usually this would be fine for an attention hog like me, but they pushed so much content into these 5 days that we were shooting for 14 hours a day on average. I would basically get home every night with only 7 hours before I needed to be at the set the next day.
I'm back in Beijing now. I finished the movie that had started filming when I wrote my last blog. After filming, I returned to Xi'an to pay a brief visit with my girlfriend's folks, before flying back to Beijing and going on auditions again. I count six this week, if you don't include callbacks. Things are really heating up. Unfortunately most are shooting around the same time, so I if I am picked for any, there's the possibility I may have to chose between more than one. If I had it my way, I'd clone myself and do them all!
Just last week, I interviewed for the role of a pioneering western photographer in the 1800s, hired by a toy-curious Qing dynasty official. This audition was for Jet Li's next picture. It was a smaller role, but for a big movie. (Yes, I know there are no such thing as small roles, and am not devaluing its importance, just its screen-time.) A week later, here I find my self in a smaller movie yet a sizable role. Which is better? You decide. I'm just having fun here.
Last month, I wrapped the drinker's comedy TV show with a no-holds barred 13-scene acting day in which I had over 500 lines of Chinese dialogue. And most of the lines were shouted. I'm not kidding when I say this: by the end of the day, I was shaking from mental exhaustion. I crashed for two days afterward, and then went to Thailand. Ah, yes Thailand, only a 5 hr flight from Beijing. Filled with tropical beaches and easy-going people. Quite a change of pace from the constant state of being overwhelmed by exhaust, noise and competitive people that I feel living in China.
I just signed my first feature film in China! I'm the 3rd main role in the film! Not too bad for a young thespian turned linguist turned globe-trotter turned thespian! The movie will take place right on the boarder of China and Vietnam, where it is being filmed. It's going to be a hot month of July for me down there, but I'm taking it on Sergeant Barns style: Give me grit or give me boredom! (That was my quote actually, not his.)
So after I finish this comedy show (which is demanding I learn 200 lines of Chinese dialogue twice a week (pant, pant!), I will read over the movie script more carefully and start understanding my role at a deeper level than the synopsis can provide.
My acting career is already in full swing. Next month, I will reach a landmark. It will be the point where so many people are looking for me that I will have to start rejecting gigs. This is not because I don't want to do them. It is because I cannot clone myself and do two things at once.
I have also fallen into the role of agent recently. A large movie company here is filming what is being billed as China's first original musical film, and hiring singers from Hong Kong and Russia to cameo in it. They also want a particular English singer to cameo at the end of the film, and asked me to aquire her. I contacted her agent and now I am suddenly thrust into a middle man role. Only can hope all goes well. I could really utilitize these connections in the future!
My script now has a due date of mid-June for my last draft. I am constantly stealing away to small tea and coffee houses when I have a day or two off from my internally exhausting 12 to 15 hour acting gigs. I'm only on page 50, and I still have to translate it into Chinese!
The last two weeks of the spy show were shot in Shanghai. I first filmed a couple scenes where another western actor and I had to drive down an old Shanghai road and talk about intel breaches. Thankfully, he managed the wheel, since it was a 1920s stick-shifter prop car and had the agility of a hippo with hemorrhoids. Not to mention the fact that there were 200 extras blindly jaywalking across the street in front of us like suicidal lemmings. I admire the other guy for keeping cool while driving, (though he let his steam off after each take.)
I finished the spy show on my 30th birthday, had a cake with the director and crew, and flew from Shanghai back to Beijing to face new adventures. Two projects involving my scripts are on the cooker now, but acting roles show no signs of flagging. I went on seven interviews in the last three weeks. Two of them already chose me. It's getting a bit insane around here in the spring time. There are about 100 shows filming simultaneously in China and twenty percent have western supporting roles. The small handful of Chinese-speaking foriegn talent can't get a breath in.