In January of this year, I was incredibly fortunate to encounter 周潤發先生 Mr Chow Yun Fat near our home. I wrote about it in my "A surprise encounter" article.
發哥 called me twice after that encounter to arrange delivery of the photograph he had taken while with me at the time. The first time he called, I was watching a movie at APM and my phone was turned off. I was very disappointed. The second time he called, I was in rehearsals for "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" and again, my phone was turned off. I was irritated and frustrated that I had once again missed his call. This time, 發哥 left a message to say that he had dropped the photograph off at a store in our village. I picked the photograph up the next day.
發哥 is obviously very careful with his photographs. The photograph was hand exposed in a dark room, and then framed in Central using high quality materials. The whole package; photo and frame; is very nice.
發哥 has my phone number. I don't have his phone number. I don't feel that I have the qualifications to ask for it. It has as a result been impossible to contact 發哥 and thank him for the photograph. I therefore wish to do so here.
I tried to scan the photograph but the protective plastic disperses the light from the scanner producing a very blurry picture. In the end, I had to photograph the photograph. Here then is the photograph that 發哥 took of me and five of our kids sometime in January.
It was just after the new year, early in January.
I was taking five of our kids for a walk up our favourite hill. We turned around the corner at the round-about near our home and began walking toward the bus stop where the trail up the hill begins. Half way to the bus stop, one of the kids needed to relieve himself. I bent down, wrapped his bi-product in newspaper and stood back up ready to continue down the road.
I was suddenly aware of someone standing on the sidewalk just before the bus stop. He stood motionless, dressed in dark sport clothes, both hands in pants pockets, a pastel blue flat soft hat on his head, standing with one leg vertical and the other slightly leaning outward. He was motionless, and he was watching me, intensely.
I sometimes have a vivid imagination and it began to work at this moment. I had no idea who the man was. He was too far away to recognise. He stood directly in the middle of the sidewalk and his demeanour looked menacing. I wondered if perhaps he was displeased that my kids and I were taking up the whole of the sidewalk. I didn't want trouble so I decided that if necessary, I would direct the kids to the road and walk around him when we reached him.
We kept walking. He remained motionless. We kept walking. He remained motionless.
We were almost there. I was getting ready to direct the kids to the road, making sure that there were no cars approaching, when the man suddenly outstretched his hand toward me, offering to take my hand in his, a handshake. I looked closer. He was smiling at me. I looked closer. I wasn't sure. It was near impossible to believe that I was seeing who I thought I was seeing. I looked closer. It was him. It was him!
We shook hands. He wasn't even the slightest bit nervous of the kids. We talked for ten to fifteen minutes. He asked me a few questions and asked for my phone number. Suddenly, he opened the boot of his car and took out a camera. We crossed the road and he very quickly took two photographs of the kids and me (you can view one of them here). We talked a little more. A few people across the road recognised him and called to him. He replied with the politeness and respect that he is famous for. We talked a little more and he left.
The kids and I continued our journey up the hill. I was in a dream state. I felt like I was floating. It was so hard to believe that I had actually met and talked to this man. It was so surreal!
Yesterday morning, the first day of the new Chinese lunar year, my wife and I were at the theatre watching "Night At The Museum". When I watch movies, I always set my phone to Silent. Even if it rings, I will not be aware of it. I'll then check the phone for missed calls and messages after the movie has finished. This time was no different. After the movie, I checked my phone and noted that there was one missed Unknown call and one message. I rang the message centre and listened to the message. It was him!
He had called to wish me a happy Chinese new year, and to arrange a meeting to give me a copy of the photograph he had taken. He'll call again, probably after the Chinese New Year holiday. It's going to be an anxious week for me. I usually turn my phone off during "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" rehearsals but I'm going to have to leave it on for a few days in case he calls. I don't know nor need to know his number so I'll just have to wait for him to call me.
We all have our idols, people we admire and look up to. Some people admire Stephen Hawking. Some people admire Li Ka Shing. Others admire movie stars and celebrities. I have no idols, but rather a few select people for whom I hold high regard and esteem. I don't respect people without integrity. I don't respect people who don't respect others. I don't respect people simply because they have money. I respect people who have talent. I respect people who worked hard to get to where they are today. I respect people who have earned my respect. He is one of those people.
He is 周潤發 Chow Yun Fat ;-)
Coming Monday (June 12, 2006) is going to be a busy day for me. I have three separate appointments, all of them relatively important, but the one that I want to point out to all of you; at least for now; is the one that begins in Central at 8pm.
I frequently get email messages and comments from readers who themselves dream of becoming famous actors or simply would like to be in the business, whether famous or not. I'm working at TVB simply because I'm lucky. There's nothing else to it. So what about other budding actors out there?
I would recommend two things.
Hong Kong Actors Meetup
For all of you who want to be in the business, whether as a director, actor, script writer or something else, I strongly suggest that you join the Hong Kong Actors Meetup. It's a group of local people wanting to work in the entertainment business, and almost everyone in the group is enthusiastic and ready to go.
Hong Kong already has an actors guild; the Hong Kong Performing Artists Guild; but it's limited in what it can do. In my experience, it's pretty much made up of actors who hope that the guild can find work for them. Enthusiasm is almost non-existent and the guild has been unable to help local actors in any significant way in the entire time that it's been in operation. That's not to say that the leaders haven't done anything. They've all worked extremely hard, but for one reason or another, nothing really helpful to actors or productive ever came out of the guild.
The film and television industry in Hong Kong is a very small circle. It's a very tough circle, extremely difficult and costly; in terms of time and effort; to become a part of. Even sleeping with the director will not guarantee you a part let alone success.
Personally, I don't think the future of Hong Kong's film and television lies with this circle. It lies with a new circle, one to be created by the members of the Hong Kong Actors Meetup group. Enthusiasm is the key, enthusiasm that you find in college students, or people with stars in their eyes walking through the studded but old and decrepit streets of Hollywood (yes, decrepit. I know. I've been there).
So if you really want a chance to be part of the film and television industry, if you want to be someone who contributes to the future here in Hong Kong, whether you're Chinese, Caucasian, African, Mexican, Japanese, or whatever, then join the meetup group and get yourself over to the meetup meetings.
Next Monday night at 8pm, there will be a meeting on the roof of the The Fringe Club (2 Lower Albert Road, Central, tel 25217251). I'll be there; although probably a little late; so hopefully we'll see each other. Shout if you see me ;-)
TVB (Hong Kong)
If you're a foreigner with Cantonese talents, you might take a crack at TVB where I work. If more of you work at TVB, I'll probably get less roles to perform but that's ok.
Cantonese is imperative if you want to work at TVB; preferably speaking and reading but speaking alone will do if your spoken Cantonese is excellent. Acting training/experience is also preferable.
So if you think you're ready for the TV screen and have what it takes, write down your resume and send it to TVB at:
77 Chun Choi Street
Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate
Tseung Kwan O
Hong Kong (if you're mailing from outside of Hong Kong)
Include at least one photo in your application. Most importantly though, make sure to state in big friendly letters at the top of your resume that you speak (and read) excellent Cantonese. Only then will the talent people take the time to read through your resume.
Good luck people, and have fun.
I'm beginning to understand how people with MP3 players that cannot play Apple's FairPlay-protected music files feel, but from a different angle.
In my previous article Hope for a better Asian film/television industry, I stated that we need online stores from which to buy and download Asian-made television and movie content, all without virtual geographic boundaries and all without prejudice or bias to the producers of that content. Only then would the real market emerge, enabling countless talented people in Hong Kong and Asia to do their stuff and create excellent content for the world to enjoy. Two other conditions though were protection of the content to prevent casual piracy and iPod compatibility. The answer to these two conditions was obviously Apple's FairPlay.
The problem? Apple doesn't license FairPlay to anyone else to use although there were suggestions at one stage that companies like Amazon could resell content from Apple's iTunes store via a special arrangement. The result? Only one company, Apple, holds the power to allow independent film and video producers to sell their work online. Apple has the power to decide who can sell and who can't sell their content. They also have the power to decide which content can be sold where. In other words, they have (or soon will) effectively become the largest controller of music and video content in the world.
We could ask someone else to build another content protection system but it would be difficult and time consuming to build something with all the functionality that the iTunes store has; accounts, monthly 'allowances', coupons; and much of that functionality is probably patented by Apple or some other large corporation so that we wouldn't be permitted to duplicate it anyway.
In other words, unless Apple opens an iTunes store in Asia, unless Apple allows independent television and movie content producers to sell their wares through the iTunes store, unless Apple allows the same content to be accessible worldwide, then we; the entertainment talent in Asia; are up the creek without a paddle.
Again, I'm beginning to understand how the non-iPod MP3 player people feel. For me though, the problem is one of not being able to sell the product rather than not being able to play and enjoy the product. If things continue the way they are now, Apple will soon have complete worldwide control of online audio and video content sales regardless of how hard Microsoft and Real work to prevent this scenario. As much as I like Apple, allowing them or any other single entity to have absolute control would not be a good thing.
Perhaps what we really need is an open-source content protection system so that anybody with the desire can set up their own online video content store, selling to anybody regardless of the operating system on their device.
I've been filming 刑事情報科 at TVB over the last four weeks or so. Before we began filming the series, there was much enthusiasm and a meeting with the head script writer to ensure that we all knew what direction the series was taking and how we were to act our parts. The idea for the series was relatively new and we were pretty excited about it.
Unfortunately, one of TVB's annoyances popped up for this series; late scripts. For almost every shooting so far, we've received our scripts via fax on the day before shooting. For me personally, this is just enough time to get familiar with the dialog and be able to play the part reasonably ok. It is not enough time to fully understand what might be going on within the scene and within the dialog, and then being able to make decisions about alternate methods of acting the scene.
Luckily for TVB, they have a lot of talented people working for them including directors and assistant directors who have to work out what people and props they need for each scene with only just a little more time than we the actors have available to study the scripts. TVB also has capable actors and actresses who have learnt to deal with the stressful schedule and produce extremely good performances under the circumstances. The result is television series which are acceptable and occasionally exceptional.
The truth though is that many of us; actors, actresses, directors and the script writers; would like to be producing higher quality content. We are limited in our efforts though by a corporation whose goal is to make as much money as possible, producing audience-acceptable content for as little money as possible. TVB can afford to do this because in the world that we live in, TVB is pretty much the only mass producer of Cantonese-language television content. For all I know, they might even be the only mass producer of Chinese-language content for audiences outside of China. That makes them a powerful corporation and so far, no other corporation has been able to compete with them.
In Hong Kong, piracy and monopolies have almost killed the film and television industry. There are loads of talented people who could produce quality content but there are limited options for the distribution and sale of that content. I truly believe though that there is still hope for the industry.
The key is to loosen the stranglehold that the monopolists have on the distribution of video content. When there are more places to buy and view Hong Kong-made video content, there will be a higher demand for that content and there will be more opportunities and work for the people in the industry. The internet is the key.
We need one or more (preferably more) internet companies similar to NetFlix, iTunes and Amazon that allow people to purchase, download and view television and movie content. We need internet companies that accept content from independent producers, who fairly compensate the producers for their work, and most importantly allow access to that content from anywhere in the world; i.e., no virtual geographical boundaries to protect the old regime of distributors.
iTunes is already selling Hollywood-made television content in the U.S.A. It can be done. Unfortunately, iTunes is not available in any Asian country except Japan because the markets are relatively small and because Apple cannot establish reasonable terms with the record companies and distributors in these countries. Without access to audio content, Apple is not likely to open up iTunes stores in Asia simply to provide video content.
You might ask why we need iTunes to distribute our television content. Part of the answer is protection of the content. Let's be frank. If we in the industry work hard to produce a great television series only to sell one copy and see it get pirated throughout China and Asia, what's the point? The content would definitely have to be protected. For the moment, that means either Apple's FairPlay DRM system or Microsoft's Windows Media DRM system. Apple's FairPlay is the only one that runs on Apple's iPods. Apple's FairPlay also runs on all Apple Mac computers and most of today's Windows computers. In contrast, the Windows Media system only runs on Windows computers and non-iPod portable devices designed specifically to be compatible with the Windows Media system. It doesn't run on Mac computers or iPods. FairPlay would therefore be the logical and ideal choice of DRM systems. The problem is that Apple doesn't license its FairPlay system to anyone else to use. If you want to produce anything in FairPlay format, you have to sell it through Apple's iTunes stores, but since iTunes is not available in much of Asia, there's no point in using the FairPlay system. Sigh!
For the moment then, it would be very difficult to find or set up an ideal online store for television and movie content available to anyone in Asia or the rest of the world interested in Asian video content.
However, let's assume just for the moment that it is indeed possible to set up such an online store and somebody actually does it. What might happen as a result?
First, there would be incentive to write and produce quality content because presumably, the better the quality, the larger the audience. You would also be competing with other content producers so you'd try to make your content better than theirs to compete for the audience's money.
Second, because the market would no longer be controlled by big corporations like TVB and the film distributors, all content producers would have an opportunity to sell their content. It would be a fair and open market (although the larger corporations would assuredly have much more marketing money to spend). Consequently, there'd be more work for everyone in the industry.
Furthermore, I'd like to others in the industry to consider this for a moment. What does it take to record television content in terms of equipment? Today, filming and editing in DV video is relatively inexpensive.
I'd therefore suggest to enthusiastic members of the film and television industry that they work together to produce the new content and reward themselves accordingly with dividends similar to those used in Hollywood. Currently, people who work on Hollywood television series get paid when the series goes to air, get paid again when it gets re-aired, get dividends when the series gets released on VCD and DVD and so on and so on. If the series is a good one, people involved in the production of that series can expect a decent income from that series for years to come. In Hong Kong, it's a completely different story. There are no unions and no dividend systems. We as actors get a small payment for our work in the television or movie production and then never see another dime even if the product sells a million DVD copies and gets re-aired on cable and satellite television 100 times.
With guaranteed access to one or more online content distribution stores, a group of like-minded enthusiastic people could work together and produce a television series with very little immediate budget. In exchange for their "work now, earn later" agreement, they could establish a dividend system similar to the one used in the states where they each get a piece of the online sales of the television series. With such incentive and the promise of unlimited markets, these people would work hard to produce the best content they can and over time create a reliable source of income for them as they do the work they love.
In time, established leaders in the industry including well-paid actors, actresses, directors and writers, would see the incomes being made by the people using these dividend systems and insist on getting the same treatment in their own productions. Given a few more years, the whole industry would finally be in a situation where the quality of most video production is high and the profits of those productions are fairly distributed among the people involved in making them. (Noting of course that there will always be the low quality cheap productions and there will always be actors and actresses willing to trade their dividend rights for what might be their lucky break.)
How much time would this take? I'd guess approximately ten years would be required before almost all essential people in the industry demand shared profits. There would be hiccups along the way, and there would probably also be pressure; both legal and illegal; from the large corporations to limit the progress of such an industry trend. Marketing costs would also make it difficult for new companies to make their productions known and successful. That said, the overall result would be well worth it for everyone involved including the audience who gets a much larger selection of content to choose from, and a much higher quality of content.
Everything depends on the availability of online stores able and willing to resell the video content, and on the availability of one or more DRM protection systems, able to produce protected content that can be played by most people. For my money, that's Apple's FairPlay; playable on Apple Mac computers, Microsoft Windows computers and iPods.
(By the way, if France succeeds in forcing the legalising of reverse engineering DRM systems like FairPlay, many content producers are going to reconsider selling their content on the internet. It will eventually be a big loss to television and movie audiences the world over.)
I wonder what Apple has planned for the future? Licensing FairPlay would be nice ;-)
iTunes changed the music landscape around the world, even in places where people were unable to purchase music from the iTunes store because their address was not within an authorised country. Before iTunes, people only had two choices for music; buy it at a music store, or download it from an unauthorised source on the internet. Once iTunes proved to the world that people would legally buy digitised (and medium rip quality at that) music if given the chance, other companies began working out how they could join the bandwagon and divert some of that new money into their own bank accounts.
iTunes allowed people to buy music from a corporately condoned online source. It allowed people to easily search for and sample music before buying it, and in the process allowed consumers to expand their music horizons, discovering new musicians and new genres of music, including those not affiliated with the big record labels. Most significantly perhaps, iTunes has also had a permanent affect on the music business itself.
The strongest controller of any market is the distributor. Distributors are dictators. They are the filters and the bottle necks of any market. If the distributor doesn't make a product available, you won't be able to buy it. If the distributor doesn't advertise a product, you probably won't know about it. For the most part, the big record companies were the distributors of the music we heard and bought. As such, they controlled who became successful musicians, and were even powerful enough to be able to turn singers with no music sense into successful money-making objects. They controlled whose work was marketed, whose work was broadcast over the radio how often, and since air time is a limited commodity, they also indirectly restricted non-affiliated musicians from getting their work heard.
Aspiring musicians for many years looked to the big record labels as the key and singular hope to becoming world renown musicians, to becoming stars and for many, to becoming rich. All of this has now changed; significantly. No longer do musicians need to sort out the big record companies. They can join a growing number of internet sites whose sole purpose is to expose the public to as many musicians and music as possible. Smaller record companies are popping up everywhere except that they're no longer record companies per se; i.e., they no longer need to make records, just record and sell the music directly over the internet without the extraneous manufacturing costs of printing physical product. Consequently, there are now more musicians getting their work heard than ever before.
Since musicians no longer need the big record companies to succeed, distribution is no longer their biggest obstacle. The biggest obstacle for today's musicians has become one of exposure and marketing. If people haven't heard your work, why will they buy it?
Just a few minutes ago, I stated that people can search for and listen to any music they like on the iTunes store. It therefore probably sounds contradictory to first say that and then say that musicians will continue to have problems with exposure and marketing but it's true. The underlying problem is numbers.
When the iTunes store first began, there were only a few hundred musicians available from the store. This meant that people browsing the store had a fair chance of finding and sampling an unknown musician's work. Today though, the store probably has thousands of musicians. That being the case, new musicians may never get noticed.
Marketing is extremely important and despite the power of the internet, traditional advertising methods are still essential today. For most musicians not signed up with the big record labels, radio, TV, outdoor, magazine, newspaper and other print media advertisements will be unaffordable. Consequently, the music market is still skewed in favour of the big record labels and will continue to be so for the near future. On the positive side though, the internet is a very big place, big enough that the big record labels will never control all of its available marketing space. Independent musicians will therefore still have a chance to get their music heard, if they can find the right places on the internet to exhibit their work.
Just as the music world has changed forever, the year 2006 will perhaps witness similar changes in the world of television and video. During January, you will hear multiple announcements relating to the selling and renting of video and television over the internet. At least four big companies have already announced IPTV plans including Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Intel. Additionally, many expect Apple Computer to announce their own new IPTV products early this week when Steve Jobs gives the keynote at this year's MacWorld. IPTV is about to explode.
There's just one downside. For the moment, those of us in smaller countries don't have access to the iTunes store. We probably won't have access to the upcoming video stores either. Unfortunately, the big companies are still trying to control what and where music and video is available. They're setting up virtual boundaries to protect their traditional distribution partners, and for the moment at least, those of us in smaller countries will consequently continue to be second class citizens in the world of online music and video.
Hopefully, the content producers will soon begin to skip the middle man and lose their traditional distribution partners, instead distributing their content directly to the consumer over the internet. Without the middle man, they'll no longer have a reason to use virtual boundaries and we the consumer will finally step into a world where we have almost complete freedom to watch what we like, when we like, no matter where that contents comes from. No longer will we in Hong Kong be forced to watch the first season of LOST while people in the U.S.A. are watching the second season.
Much sooner than previously anticipated, the television and video markets will soon begin to change in a big way, and as long as manufacturers don't begin implanting pin cameras into their television sets and video monitors (i.e., 1984's "big brother"), I'll accept those changes gladly.
iTunes began the revolution in how we get our music, and iTunes was also one of major factors in making IPTV a reality, but can you guess the true precursor of internet music and internet video, the real reason the big corporations are scrambling to make music and video content available over the internet? Two letters: BT. Think about it.