My First Taste of Fame
Being a foreigner in a densely populated city of Chinese people means, naturally, you are going to get a lot more attention that any normal person walking down the street. Some days you want to blink your eyes and disappear and on others you embrace the novelty of being unique. Sometimes you can even make a night out a lot cheaper by accepting the inevitable free drinks that will be bought you at one point of the night.
This though is slightly more bizarre. A friend of a friend it turns out is actively seeking foreign nationals to appear in television and billboard advertisements selling anything from winter sports clothes to what we were modelling on the 12th of November – shoes.
I was aware of this practice before as I knew a couple of teachers had been approached before to appear in a cosmetic surgery advert in the last year but I didn’t assume I would have the chance to also appear in one myself. And it was a scenario I still find strange now – something I hadn’t envisaged when coming to China six months ago. I have friends who have pursued a life in acting or TV but it had never interested me before this. But I thought, if it does go live on TV, who is going to see it!? It will be safely lost in the vastness of Chinese television never to rear its head at my fiftieth birthday party.
We arrived halfway through my fellow teacher James going through some minor acting with a girl who he was supposed to be ‘interested’ in. Predominately because of the shoes she was wearing so the advert was meant to go. We all had the crews lunch, waited for them to pack the cameras and lights up and set off to the next location. I was a little bit nervous as I didn’t expect so many people milling around.
We got to a faux Roman style building with grand columns and piled out of the taxi’s and minibuses. First things first, wardrobe! Or lack of it. They had told us to wear something suitable for the shoot but considering we didn’t know what that style was and the lack of an extensive walk-in wardrobe at home we just turned up in some semi smart clothes. It turned out these were passable. I wasn’t sure if it was because they didn’t have much of an option now that they had set everything up and we were the only option we had or not.
Walk To The Camera Looking Cool
A Chinese man resembling John Lennon then preceded to show us what he wanted us to do. He couldn’t speak much English but luckily we had a couple of experienced Mandarin speakers amongst us and we got the gist. Walk towards the camera looking cool. Now, I’m a little confused as to the general meaning of the word ‘cool’ as it is a lot like beauty – it is in the eye of the beholder, but take after take we walked here and there, waiting for the word ‘pass’ to echo through the grandiose setting. The shoes themselves were not really my cup of tea. They were very shiny and looked like they had been made of cheap plastic and I wasn’t sure if it meant that if I didn’t like them but still did the advert it was a sign I was a sell out or not? It all seemed so surreal being in the middle of this fanfare of people running here and there, shuffling between us and the camera, everyone looking at us perform. We must of spent a good amount of time doing the very first shot as it was the longest of them all and all we had to do was walk in a straight line.
After a couple more changes of clothes for Olivia who was flanking James on his left we had to perform a greeting of all four of us as if we were old friends. To explain a little bit better what they wanted us to do the director – named Mr Ling – whipped out his ipad and showed us an advert that looked like it was from Australia. They were copying another advert scene for scene! But anyway, I’m not a copyright lawyer and we feigned our way through pretending to all know each other and hadn’t seen one another for a long time. Another couple of scenes were mapped out for us and then it was home time. It wasn’t the best paid experience of my life but it was definitely something I will remember for a very long time. We were asked about our availability for future filming and you never know, we could all make a part time living out of it. May my western appearance continue to astound!