Posts filed under Television

娛樂直播 Interview now online!

Filed in Events, Press, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), WorkTags:

I'm back ;-)

I apologise for being away so long. A lot has happened in the last two months (not London though; more on that later) and it can take me a while to 'recover' after a period of serious mind work (such as writing the new Blog Comment code).

My gift to you today is the 娛樂直播 interview that TVB graciously gave me on 19 March 2007. I hope you like the interview as much as I do. For one short time, I truly felt like a star. Thank you TVB.

娛樂直播 Interview Part 1   娛樂直播 Interview Part 2


Filed in Events, Life, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), WorkTags:

Dreams don't come cheap. They require sacrifices. It's up to you whether your dream justifies the sacrifices.

"They're Playing Our Song" is definitely a big part of my evolving dream. Stage musicals, although a very small part of my early school life where I was invariably a chorus member, were never part of my goal in life. Singing was first, and acting came second, although more accidentally than intentionally; TVB was an accident, a happy lucky one.

Through the years, my preferences for acting and music have changed, and now I find myself yearning for the satisfaction that can come from a well crafted stage musical, such as "They're Playing Our Song". In recent years, I've participated in three stage productions. I danced in 「上海之夜」 (Magic is the Moonlight) and sang in 「鄧麗君,但願人長久」 (Teresa Tang Forever), but except for Perfume 香水 (2005), I was always a rather large extra in the story. Perfume was my first role as a co-star, working with three other respected professionals, none of whom thought of themselves as better than any other. In fact, in this respect, I have again been fortunate. In none of the stage productions that I have worked with have there been any actors or actresses who thought they were above everyone else, including Cass 彭羚, a world class singer who because of the Teresa Tang musical became a personal friend of mine.

And now I get a starring role. It only took 20 years to get here.

The automatic presumption of most people who hear that I'm starring in a stage production is that I'll be making a good deal of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. None of the three primary participants in this production are going to make very much money, if any at all. It's a production of love.

"They're Playing Our Song" will be performed in the McAulay Studio theatre which seats less than 100 people (the front rows are just a few feet from the stage). There will be ten shows. Do the math and you'll quickly realise that the potential income from this show is very limited. Then remember that we also have to pay the creators of the play for the right to perform it. And there are props to buy, composers to pay, sound studios to rent, and other employees and technicians to pay.

I drive to rehearsals. If I were to take public transport to the rehearsal location, it would be one hour there and around an hour-and-a-half back. That's a lot of time to spend standing in a crowded compartment, and no fun at all after rehearsals have drained all of your energy. With petrol, parking and food costs, I'll be surprised if I come out of this adventure with any financial profit at all.

Then there's the time involved. For more than two months, we will have rehearsed practically every day, anything from three to seven hours a day with acting, dancing and singing. And predictably, we also work on the play in our own time, when we're not running companies, or writing master-degree mid-term papers and theses, or filming at TVB.

One outsider who has benefitted from my involvement in this production is a Cantonese-speaking Caucasian actor by the name of Brian who after following my advice, was accepted into TVB as a contract artist. A few weeks ago while I was at TVB filming, I bumped into an Administrative Assistant (commonly referred to as an A.A. in TVB lingo) who cheerfully and sincerely informed me that I had been assigned a very significant role in their new TVB series, perhaps one of the biggest roles of my TVB career. Unfortunately, the demanding inflexible schedule of the new series collided directly with the equally demanding schedule of "They're Playing Our Song" and I suddenly had to choose between a major TVB role with a nice income attached to it and a stage musical with possibly no income benefits at all. For me, it wasn't a choice (yes June, you were right. I'm an idealist, albeit a complicated one). "They're Playing Our Song" was my first priority. Since I now have the contractual right to say 'no' to any TVB series I choose, the role was reassigned to Brian who is now happily thinking about how he's going to get enough sleep while filming the busy series side by side with a very attractive actress.

So why do the play? (this is true also for Henry and Sompor) Because it's a golden opportunity to work together with other enthusiastic hard working people and produce something great. Because I get the opportunity with the director and costar's participation to develop the character line by line, step by step, day by day. Because I get to act in a manner and at a level not possible at TVB because of TVB's script and time constraints. Because I get to sing and dance on stage with expression and exuberance. Because I get to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. Because I get to prove to myself and others what I am capable of and have oodles of fun while doing so.

If we were making a lot of money from this production, we'd obviously work hard to produce a wonderful show. Is it therefore logical that because we're not making a lot of money, that we work less? No. On the contrary, we work even harder because what we stand to gain from this production become all the more important, and they are learning, experience, satisfaction, and the proof of what we are capable of.

If you miss this show, you will indeed have missed a very special production.

A couple of 'post' notes.

1. At the time I bumped into the A.A.,
"They're Playing Our Song" had already been planned for close to eight months,
we had already taken several lessons with our vocal coach for the play,
the venue had already been booked,
we had already had two solid weeks of rehearsals.

As such, if I had chosen to take the TVB role, it would have caused harm to everyone involved in the play, not something I would easily agree to.

2. Working on a play improves your acting skills. Some Hollywood actors go back to the stage at least once every two years to keep their acting skills honed. It's very difficult to improve your skills while working at TVB. The whole as-quick-as-you-can atmosphere doesn't foster it.

3. I'm getting interviews with various magazines (and perhaps even a Canada-based Cantonese radio station) about my involvement in this play. I never get interviewed about my TVB work.

There will be other TVB series. There will never be another "They're Playing Our Song". The benefits of doing the play are many and significant. They're just not obvious.

On vacation?

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Music, Travel, TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags: , , , ,

It's been a while since I've posted any articles here, but you can be sure that I'm still here, and you can be absolutely sure that I've read every one of your comments, even if I haven't responded. And I appreciate the comments. Even if it's not obvious, your comments are important to me and provide an important source of support.

In the time I've 'been away', I've filmed a new series at TVB. The name of the series is 寫意人生 and I'll talk more about that in a later article. It was a pretty busy part, including two sessions of five nights of continuous studio filming involving nine to eleven hours of filming each night.

Strange and interesting things have happened in the least few months. Perhaps the most important event is my decision to go back to Hollywood for more training, this time for singing ;-)

From September 21 until October 15, I'll be in Hollywood, taking daily singing lessons with a teacher who I have come to know by chance. I'm nervous, apprehensive and excited all at the same time. Daily lessons will be tough. It's also difficult to know how much I'll learn during my stay there, but it's possible that I'll make a break-through in my singing technique (two break-throughs would be better) and that would make me the happiest guy alive, if only for just a short while until I begin fighting for the next break-through.

In my lifetime, I've known a few singing teachers. I had two teachers in Australia when I was small but those teachers did nothing for me. I had another teacher here in Hong Kong and she did nothing for me either. I even had a few lessons with the incredible Roman 羅文 but learned very little even though I enjoyed my time with him.

Not every teacher is right for every student and finding the right teacher for you is normally hit-and-miss. I was lucky. After having had so many not-so-helpful teachers, I finally met one who helped me a lot. 鮑老師 took me on as a student after I was introduced to her by another of her students/fans. She took me on even though she was retired. After teaching for more than 20 years, she just wanted to relax and enjoy herself, but she took me on anyway, and I learnt more from her than from any other teacher I'd had. I only had the occasional lesson with her but every lesson was full of information and techniques which required time to absorb, understand and practise and over the three years or so that I studied with her, my singing improved immensely. I'll never be able to thank her enough.

But you can't learn everything from one teacher and a few months ago, I decided it was time to take the next step and find my next teacher.

It was difficult. Finding the right teacher is a case of chance. Only one of my friends has ever had singing lessons and she wasn't enthusiastic about the teachers she knew. Historically, I feel that there are many 'self-qualified' teachers in Hong Kong who either developed their techniques themselves or became singing teachers because they themselves were successful singers. Neither qualifies these people as real teachers and I felt that it would be difficult to find what I needed here in Hong Kong.

I should emphasise though that this situation of 'self-qualified' teachers exists all over the world, ironically possibly more in Hollywood than anywhere else.

In any case, I was considering finding a new singing teacher; possibly in the U.S.A.; when out of the blue, I received a phone call. A director in Hong Kong wants to stage an English musical here next year, and he wants me to star in it!!! As far as I was concerned, that was the sign that my decision to go to the U.S.A. to study singing was the right one. If I was going to do well in the musical, my singing would need a lot of work.

I have more than a few problems with my singing. My biggest problems are that I know very few songs, that I get extremely nervous in front of an audience, and that my voice gets raspy after the second or third song.

I have been working on the first two problems by going to a local karaoke three times a week. The more I sing and rehearse the songs, the easier I'll remember them, the better I'll sing them and the more confident and comfortable I'll be in front of a crowd.

My karaoke sessions are very unusual. People often ask 'how can you sing by yourself for 2 hours?'. It's easy actually. I love singing and when I find a song that entrances me, I will sing that song four, five even eight times before moving on to the next song. I do not get bored repeating the same song over and over again although I'm sure anyone else in the room would. Some of the songs on the top of my list are 你把我灌醉, 該不該, , , 愛如潮水 and 愛如刀割. One day, I'll have enough for a concert ;-)

The karaoke sessions have also helped with the raspy problem. Singing for two hours three times a week helps to strengthen the voice but I'm also looking forward to my lessons in Hollywood where my technique will be further improved and I'll be able to sing better for longer.

Anyway, you can look forward to more updates on my blog. While in Hollywood, I will probably have lots of free time, time that I'll use to learn more about the basics of music and music theory, work on a pet proposal of mine, and write more for my blog ;-)

In the meantime, I've encoded and uploaded my guest performance in the Teresa Tang 50-year Memorial concert, held at the Cultural Centre in Hong Kong in 2003. I hope you like it, and hopefully I'll have more clips for you in the future.

The Road to Acting

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

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:

Talent Department
TVB City
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.

Just finished filming: TVB’s 刑事情報科.

Filed in TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags:

I've just finished filming 刑事情報科 at TVB. My role was a police inspector in a special branch of the police force which specialises in getting information about suspects. There were several groups in our department. My group was responsible for tracking people and getting photographs of their activities. Overall, the story was pretty good.

Two months of filming, I had just one day of on-location shooting and fourteen days of studio shooting. Because the police station set is so large, it takes up the whole studio and whenever it's set up, we have to try to film as many scenes as possible. The later days of studio filming were quite challenging, more often than not shooting from 7 at night until 5 in the morning. I'd get back home at around 5.30 to 6 in the morning and then wait until my wife got up for work so that I wouldn't disturb her sleep. Staying up all night really hurts and you spend much of the next day walking around like a zombie; limbs feeling loose and numb and a brain that doesn't want to work.

Most of my parts in the TVB series are very small, just a few scenes, so it's rare that I get to spend so much time with other cast members. This time was different and it was great. We the cast spent a lot of time working and waiting together.

Some people have emailed and asked me with which other actors at TVB am I most familiar. Those would be the actors I 'grew up with' at TVB. You probably don't know most of them. They include 林家棟, 黃德斌, 麥嘉倫, 游飆 and 王維德, all dedicated people. There are many other wonderful people at TVB that I respect and enjoy working with. In fact, there are too many to list. TVB has given me a lot in the last eighteen years. The opportunity to know and work with these people is just one of the things they've given me and I'm grateful for that.

TVB’s 潮爆大狀 is on.

Filed in TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags:

TVB's 潮爆大狀 is on. From memory, it was filmed late last year. My part is very limited but if you'd like to leave a comment about the series, you can do so here ;-)

One thing of interest to those of you learning Cantonese perhaps is that most of my dialog in this series (all three scenes or so) was in Mandarin. One of my scenes where I promised work to the leading lady 唐寧 was not performed very well because I was struggling with the Mandarin dialog. Acting in a second language is quite a challenge. It took me 15 years to get accustomed to acting in Cantonese. Hopefully, it won't take long to do the same in Mandarin.

I wonder if the stock market will fall in the coming weeks? It is said that every time one of 鄭少秋's series is broadcast on television, the stock market falls. It'll be interesting to see if it happens again this time.

Apple, the tyrant of online content?

Filed in General, TechnologyTags: ,

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.

Any takers?

Hope for a better Asian film/television industry

Filed in TVB (H.K.) 香港無線電視, WorkTags: ,

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 ;-)