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community talk:
White Faces

Being Western in Shanghai has its benefits, of that there can be no doubt. But also there are some slightly less pleasant things that us laowais have to put with on a daily basis. From having to concede defeat and call the taxi helpline when trying our level best to tell the driver where we want to go to being stared at while innocently riding the metro – it can at times all get a little too much. But a wise man once said that when life gives you lemons…make lemonade.

The role of the token white guy is one that regular TALK columnist Jonathan ‘Cao Cao’ Kos-Read knows all too well, but before reaching those dizzy heights of movie stardom, you have to take your first tentative steps in front of the camera.

A good way to get started is to look on the job boards. These are great places to find work for any aspiring screen icon, but if you don’t fancy trawling through the personals and ‘casual encounter threads’ that you find on the Internet then you could do a lot worse then getting in touch with the G&W Constellation Talent Agency, who have provided actors for McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Yamaha and Visa to name a few.

Operations Director Landy Lee gave us the inside track on how it all works. “For an advert you can get paid about RMB 1,500, and ‘extra’ work pays around RMB 800.” But why are Westerners so attracted to part-time screen work? “Most of the time it’s because they have an interest in the industry and want to see what it’s like,” explains Landy. “That along with the flexibility of many expats makes the job perfect for lots of people.”

One such person on their books is local English teacher Cal Widdall. “The money is good for an afternoon’s work, and it’s an opportunity to get some funny stories to take home.” During one job for a Chinese clothing brand, Cal remembers being slightly out of his depth, “Before I arrived on set I had no idea what I would be doing. I turned up and was told that I would be playing four different people. I had to dance and sing in a box with a famous location, like the Eiffel Tower, behind me. The director kept on saying ‘more crazy, more crazy!’ After we finished the first box, I had to act like a Brazilian hip-hop DJ.”

Fellow expat Kyle Hayes has been doing adverts for a while. “Initially I started doing it in Taiwan. I did an advert for Chevrolet and a crazy dating show that hooks up foreigners with local girls.” His reasons are two-fold: ego and money. “For the commercial we were paid about 1,500 bucks for a couple of hours work. There is also the fact that you get to be on TV and that sort of thing doesn’t happen to everyone.”

The life of a TV ‘star’ is rarely a boring affair. Kyle recalls one of his most awkward moments: “I was seeing this girl who asked whether I could help a friend out and appear on a TV show. I was like okay, but then the show got cancelled and turned into this crazy dating show. They told everyone that I earned RMB 400,000 a year and got loads of calls from girls wanting to see me. But I couldn’t take them out because I was still seeing the girl who got me the gig.”

Ultimately working as a part-time actor, or as an extra in a Chinese TV show or advert, is an opportunity for expats to make some quick money and experience something that very few people get the chance to do. And who knows, you might be the next ‘Cao-Cao’.


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