沒預料的回報(下集)

Filed in General, Memoirs, Music, Press, 中文文章Tags: , , ,

彈琴伴奏的男人是一個很出色的音樂家。他看五線譜的時候,隨時可以變調,而且全部都很有感覺。他還可以一邊聽著音樂一邊寫下來譜子。無可否認,他真的很棒,只不過荷里活裡有很多這樣出色的音樂家,所以很難找到好的工作,最後只好甚麼工作都做。

當我們上到第八課的時候,這個音樂家沒有出現了。原來他終於找到一份錢和前途都有的工作了,那就是幫一個音樂舞台劇編寫他們需要的所有的歌曲和音樂。我們當然替他高興,但同時也明白我們這個課程剩下的課就不會再有人替我們伴奏了。真可惜。

那天,就是因為沒有這位鋼琴家,我們早了下課。學生們都走了,只剩下我一個人在教室裡。這門課就是我每逢星期五上的最後一課,也是整個星期的最後一課。我沒有功課做,沒有甚麼地方可去,連最熟的同學都有事,不能陪我。回家也不太吸引人,因為我住的地方存在著一種既不舒服又不太受歡迎的氣氛,只好留在教室裡,看看可不可以彈彈我們學生們喜歡唱的歌。

Our classroom, theatrette

The classroom in which Elizabeth's class was conducted was originally a small theatre probably used principally for viewing movies; possibly film clips of Lee Strasberg's lectures recorded before he died. I say this because there's a hole in the wall behind the curtains, a hole through which a projector would have projected the clips. Lee Strasberg's lectures are now shown in a newly renovated theatre called the Monroe Theatre, named after Marilyn Monroe, once a student of Lee Strasberg.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

音樂對我來說是很特別的。無論甚麼地方,甚麼時候,甚麼事情,音樂永遠都會在我身邊,陪著我,安慰我,鼓勵我。除了我的太太之外,音樂就是我一生最重要的,最可靠的朋友。可惜我對音樂的認識太少,幾乎甚麼樂理都不懂,甚至連一種樂器都不會用。

可能這兒就是緣份,在這個特別的情況下讓我有一個機會學到我一生渴求的技術。

坐在鋼琴前,看著一張我不會看的五線譜卻也有為了結他手而寫的和弦,我只好看著那些結他的和弦,慢慢地算出來每個和弦的結構。大調和弦就是用一三五的音,小調和弦就是把第三個音減半個音,就是這樣慢慢地計算出來每個和弦。不知不覺地,我在原本應該下課的時間前已經能彈出其中一首歌。雖然彈得很簡單,有一點兒像彈結他一樣的彈法,但是已經夠了,已經有音樂感。我的夢開始慢慢成真了。

那那天到現在已經有一年了。我不時練習彈琴,盡量使我的彈琴技術一天比一天好。有我的電子琴,有一些音樂書,我隨時都可以一邊彈一邊唱一些我喜歡的歌。不用說,我算不上專業,但是也不能說太差。關於彈琴,當然我還有很多要學的東西。但是已經有了個開始。

上個月,我去了印尼,去我們前家務助理的家並参加她的婚禮。可能因為她家鄉連一個會說英文的人都沒有,而我幾乎沒有辦法跟他家人溝通,我就在那時對印尼話產生了一點興趣。現在已經會說幾個字了,而每天都會跟我們現在的印尼家務助理學一兩個字。學了二十年廣東話,學得那麼辛苦,我沒想到我會再有勇氣敢去學另外一種新的語言。

很多人覺得到了某一個年紀的時候就沒有學新東西的能力了。是不是我這個四十歲的人已經證明這種想法不對的。如果你有甚麼想學的,但因為年紀的問題而不敢嘗試的話,不如馬上就去試試吧。你也可能會得到沒預料的回報。

沒預料的回報(上集)

Filed in General, Memoirs, Music, Press, 中文文章Tags: , , ,

去年,我為了能夠演更好的戲而到荷里活去了三個月。雖然我差不多半生在無線電視台從事演員,但是我依然覺得我的演技還可以好得多。始終,一邊工作一邊學習可以學到的的確有限。只有專業的導師(和一點緣份)才能學到最好的。所以,去年年初,我終於決定上學正式學習演戲。

我在荷里活的時間非常開心,但是因為我很久沒有跟我的太太和狗狗分開那麼長的時間,所以亦有一點想念他們。幸運地,那時候,香港打電話打到美國的費用很便宜讓我每天都可以跟我的太太通兩三次電話,而每星期天還可以到我美國住宿的房子附近的蘋果電腦商店借用他們的電腦和「iChat」軟件跟我的太太通視像電話見面,讓星期天成為我正個星期最開心的一天。

在荷里活上學,我當然學了不少,演技也有一定的進步。但是我也得到非預料的回報,使這個旅程成為我生命中特別重要的一個。

學生們在學校報名的時候需要選擇課文。有些課目就是必上的,而其他的課目就任你選擇。所有的課目都是關於演戲的,除了一個之外。

這個課的老師是一個很精神的八十五歲的名為 Elizabeth Sabine 的女人,恰巧跟我一樣是澳洲人。由於她的年紀不少,所以有時候就會忘記了她剛剛說的話而不知不覺重複說一次,可是她非常可愛的,而我們每個學生都喜歡她。

Elizabeth and Me

Elizabeth was a wonderful person. As far as I know, this was the last class she taught at the Lee Strasberg Institute.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

她教的是唱歌的技術。她曾經在澳洲,英國,美國,甚至香港(還沒有現在的灣仔的時候)都唱過歌,所以對唱歌非常熟悉。學校請她教唱歌的目的卻不是希望學生們能唱好歌,而希望學生們能學怎麼大聲說話。 Elizabeth 的名氣就是來自教人怎麼大大聲聲唱歌,也因為這樣而得到她的花名,就是「The queen of screech」。

一課為三個小時。首四十五分鐘就是鬆身和開聲的練習。十五分鐘休息已後,學生們就一個一個地在班學生們前邊跟一個鋼琴家唱歌,一邊唱一邊聽著 Elizabeth 的指示。

老實說,一般學生選擇課目的時候也都會選擇一兩個不用做那麼多功課的課文,甚至希望可以不上課也有。Elizabeth 的課就是這種課,所以很多學生就會當她的課是一種娛樂,一堂 karaoke,不用學甚麼東西,不用主意老師的指示,不用為了下次上課而作準備。Elizabeth 都知道這一點所以每次遇到努力的學生,她就會特別用心去教那個學生。

Elizabeth coaching one of my fellow students

Elizabeth would coach each of the students as they sung their chosen songs.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

And then there were eight.

Filed in Dogs of our Lives

Last week, we had an appointment with friends for dinner in Sai Kung. We left home early expecting to arrive in Sai Kung with plenty of time to look for a metered parking space (very hard to come by in Hong Kong) only to find ourselves at the end of a queue of slow moving cars waiting their turn for the round-about. We were almost to the round-about when we noticed something unusual in the driveway to the left of us; a small white rabbit.

It was clearly out of place and confused, skipping up and down the driveway, absolutely unsure of where to go. I immediately steered the car into the driveway and got out of the car wondering how I was going to catch the rabbit. As I approached the rabbit, guards in charge of protecting this very expensive home were wondering why an unauthorised car had parked in their driveway. As one of the guards opened the gate to request ("command" might be a better word) that I leave, I pointed to the rabbit upon which he closed the gate and left us alone.

Our new rabbit friend

She's definitely cute; white all over with black bands around her eyes and two black spots on her back.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

The rabbit was injured looking as if it had been hit by a car. Catching it and picking it up was not a problem at all. I later realised that the rabbit was probably in shock at the time making it easier to catch. I placed him on newspapers behind the front passenger seat of our car and drove off to Sai Kung for dinner. That night after dinner, we took him home with us and placed him in a spare cage.

The next day, we fed and looked after him. His injuries were more obvious in the daylight. He had cuts, scratches and grazes down one side of his body, and an injured eye that was completely white and didn't look too healthy. One side of his head appeared swollen and slightly lop-sided as well. He obviously needed treatment and we didn't want to keep him unless we had to so we dropped him off at the SPCA. I made it a point to inform them at the SPCA that we'd look after the rabbit if nobody else adopted him.

After the SPCA's doctor had examined the rabbit, they called to tell me that he was going to be ok and didn't need any treatment although he might eventually need to have his eye removed. Where I had surmised that the rabbit's injuries had been caused by a car, the doctor thought he had probably been attacked by dogs. Unfortunately, the SPCA didn't think he was suitable for adoption because of the bad eye and the unattractive injuries so he'd be put down if we didn't take him back.

Rabbit injuries

Probably attacked by dogs, she had cuts, scratches and grazes down one side of her body, and an almost completely white injured eye. Today, one week after this photo was taken, most of the hair has grown back and the white is going out of her eye. However, we still can't be sure if she'll be able to keep the eye.

And the doctor told us one more thing. The rabbit was a girl! (Apparently, it's very difficult to differentiate girl rabbits from boy rabbits and usually requires close experienced examination.)

So we now have a girl rabbit staying with us. She might belong to someone in the neighbourhood where we found her so we're putting up advertisements in the local ParknShop but I think she'll probably be here for the long haul. One good thing about keeping her is that we now have sexual balance in our home. With four women, one man, seven male dogs and three female dogs, the males outnumbered the females. With the rabbit, males and females are now equally matched. That has to be a good thing right?

Today, one week after finding her, the rabbit's doing really well. The doctor had told me that she might not regrow hair in the injured area down the side of her body but in less than one week, she has already grown most of it back and she's quite pretty. Her pink nose is really cute and almost never stops moving. She's especially cute when she's washing her ears and face. It's the first time I've ever been this close to a rabbit and I'm enjoying the experience.

Our dogs are absolutely captivated by her. Unfortunately, it's more than curiosity. If she ever escaped from the cage, she'd almost certainly be killed by our dogs. I remember watching Beethoven sitting in front of the cage and watching her on the first day she stayed with us. Beethoven; normally very quiet and gentle; was shaking all over with the excitement and anticipation of being able to catch and kill the rabbit. It wasn't a pretty sight but there's very little you can do without time and training. Killing cute furry animals is part of their nature. Beethoven is getting used to the rabbit and behaving much better now but there's no way I'm letting the rabbit out of the cage any time soon. For extra safety, I'm the only one here allowed to open the cage.

Rabbit curiosity

All of our dogs were extremely captivated by the rabbit and very very curious. The dog in this picture is David, the oldest of four brothers and sisters found as pups in a bush near our home. He's very gentle, playful and loving, spending a large part of his free time lying on the floor next to my feet while I sit at the computer.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

I'm hoping that her eye will heal but there's still a very good chance that it's permanently damaged and will have to be removed. Even so, she's very cute.

We haven't named her yet. Any ideas?

Song: The Nearness of You

Filed in Memoirs, Music, Music: My SongsTags: ,

My next am730 article is just about finished. Part 1 was published a week ago and Part 2 should be published next week. I'll post the full article here after am730 has published it.

This am730 article mentions a teacher I had the fortune to meet while studying at The Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles last year. Her name was Elizabeth and we had a wonderful time together. One of the songs I sang during class that she particularly liked was "The Nearness of You", a wonderful song published way back in 1937. I'm going to record some of my songs and post them here on the blog and I thought this song would be a good start.

This song was recorded in September of 2004, just after returning from Los Angeles. Both the piano and voice are mine. With only three months of piano in my pocket, it was the beginning of a new life in music for me.

I hope you like it.

The Nearness of You as sung by Gregory Charles Rivers, September 2004.

TVB series. They’re special too.

Filed in Hong Kong, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視Tags: , , ,

With reference to the TVB soaps, there are a few things I feel I should say, especially after reading the comments to my previous article Hail Hollywood TV.

First. Most of the main actors and actresses are really very good at what they do. Working for TVB is not easy, especially for them. While filming any one series, the average main actor works 18 hours a day and sometimes more, averaging perhaps just 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night. Between scenes or between showers, they have to read their scripts, understand what's going on and work out how they're going to act the scenes. They carry their own scripts around with them (these days usually in an aircraft hand-luggage suitcase on wheels), remember what clothes they wore for each scene and do lots of other stuff that the actors in Hollywood never have to worry about. It is also not unusual to get the scripts only hours before the scene. That makes it very hard for the actor and there's nothing they can do to change the situation.

When working on location, the meals provided by TVB are usually low-cost rice boxes, usually Chinese BBQ assortments so that everyone will have something acceptable to eat, occasionally something a little more special like 茶餐廳 spaghetti. No seating is provided so the actors either eat in the minibuses or sit on any available surface while eating. Actors in Hollywood get buffets.

At the same time, the actors and actresses still have to master the politics of working for the dominant television company, making sure that they're friends with the right people and don't tick off the wrong people. Rumors includes gifts to higher ranking personnel and sometimes other more personal things. These artistes, as a friend of mine calls them, work damn hard. They're worth much more than they're paid by TVB. If they worked this hard in Hollywood, they'd be USD millionaires. Unfortuantely, their contracts make it extremely hard to work with non-TVB productions so it's very difficult for them to make decent money outside of TVB. Occasionally, they'll get one or two well-paid commercials to supplement their incomes.

Incidentally, there is no such thing as residuals in Hong Kong so the actors and actresses make nothing out of a series if it's re-broadcast anywhere in the world or if it sells on VCD or DVD.

Second, the TVB series are never going to compare in terms of quality to those made in Hollywood. TVB is the dominant television station here and no other television company can compete. The audiences crave non-stop for new series and TVB doesn't buy series if they have a choice so they make series non-stop as fast as they can, but there's no competition, so the quality doesn't need to be great; just acceptable. The actors have no time to prepare for their scenes so you'll rarely see their full acting potential. The writers never have time to contemplate the scripts so you'll never see their full potential either. The directors and their assistants rarely have time for sleep and are as fabulous as anyone else could be under the circumstances.

Third, Hong Kong people are different. The daily pressures of work (with super-human requirements and usually more overtime than is healthy), travel, crowding, pollution and mortgages means that they don't want to think when they watch tv. Hence, many Hong Kong people really enjoy the non-intellectual TVB series. I remember hearing one couple tell me how much they loved to watch a show on TVB just before they slept. To me, the show was garbage with corny scripts and extreme over-acting, but to this couple, it was just what they needed to get a good laugh and put the daily pressures out of their minds before sleeping. I'm pretty sure that TVB knows what the audience wants most of the time. In this respect, there are a few actors at TVB who are really good as making the audience laugh and I think they're a valuable asset to TVB. One that immediately comes to mind is 梅小惠. She's one very clever girl.

So while Hollywood productions are obviously better than TVB productions in many aspects, there are still many things about TVB series that deserve respect. For many people, Hollywood series will be the preferred choice. For others, TVB series will do more to brighten their lives if even just a little and that makes them worthwhile.

One last thing. Within Hong Kong are many many very talented actors, actresses, directors, writers, camera-men, lighting technicians and others related to the film profession. With the right opportunities, without a doubt, they could create films and television shows equivalent to those produced by Hollywood. Unfortunately, the market was damaged by greedy members of the profession who wanted to make a quick buck. The market was also damaged by piracy, initially by protected powerful syndicates in China and now also by various internet technologies. Without a market, these talented people can do nothing. My hope is that the internet will change this situation soon, that new online markets will emerge allowing Hong Kong-made film and television to be sold and seen all around the world. The introduction of video to Apple Computer's iTunes store may be the beginning or a new era in television and film distribution. I hope so. I truly want to see Hong Kong's film and television industry thrive again soon. The world of film wouldn't be the same without it.

Hail Hollywood TV!

Filed in WorkTags:

Most actors dream of being in the movies. For years, television was considered inferior to movies and actors were classed accordingly. Of course, with soap operas such as Days of our Lives and Daily Hospital, this classification was understandable. These however were not the kind of television productions that we're seeing today, at least from the good ol' USA.

The television episodics now coming out of Hollywood and Canada are superb. The acting, scripts, directing, camera, special affects; it's all amazing and easily challenges anything you'll in the cinema. In fact, I believe that some of the current television series would beat today's movies in a face-off.

Television series that have me captured include Smallville, Medium, NCIS, Las Vegas, House, Lost, Numb3rs, Prison Break, The 4400, The Closer and Veronica Mars. New series that I find intriguing include series from the latest alien invasion trend including Invasion and Surface. It'll be interesting to see how Threshold develops too.

There's also another trend of television series focussed on the spirit world including Medium and Point Pleasant, and new series such as The Others, Supernatural and Ghost Whisperer. Vampires seem to be old hat and out of fashion these days although Buffy will always be one of my all-time favourites.

People watching television in the USA are beginning to find themselves in the difficult position of having to choose some television series at the cost of not being able to watch others, or leaving their Tivos on 24 hours and hope that they have enough time on the weekends to watch all of the incredible series now available to them.

Which actor wants to be in the movies when you could be in one of these amazing television series? I'm jealous of those actors lucky enough to be there in the middle of this new era of television productions. Unfortunately, here in Asia, television series are still in the Days of our Lives era with mediocre scripts, story lines, film sets and schedules (at TVB, we frequently don't get our scripts until the day before filming). Without any real competition or access to larger markets, I don't think we'll see any advancement in the quality of the series for some time to come.

If competition develops for the local television markets, it won't come from local productions. It'll be the Hollywood productions. Even though the productions are in English, even though viewers may have to read subtitles, the quality of those productions is now so high that people may begin to watch them in preference to locally made ones. If so, one of two things will happen. Either local productions will step up to the plate and improve the quality of their work, or the whole industry will collapse and recede just as the film industry has. As great as Hollywood television is, I personally hope that local productions accept the challenge and improve their work. Only then will we continue to have true variety in what we can watch on television.

Will local television productions get squashed out of existence? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, if you're a casting director in Hollywood and need an actor for a new TV series, please drop me a line.