Music Video – Minio Class – “City Kids”

Towards the end of the year (Dec 2011), worked on this music video for Minio Class’s “City Kids” – directed by Ruth Orellana, and starring Minio Class, Jason “El Monstruo” Escalera, Juan “The Beast” Rodriguez Jr., Vanessa Coelho. I was an extra in the boxing gym – hanging out with the main protagonist, and hitting the punching bags.

The finished music video just came out – here it is:

I thought it came out great! There were definitely things I could nitpick about the way I moved – oh well.

Especially when you look at the other REAL boxers from the Union City Boxing Club. They are real pros, Golden Gloves, etc. Just watching them work out is impressive – on the speed bags, heavy bags, and sparring. Fast, sharp, powerful, good footwork. Respect.


The Rhythm of a Fight

We’re shooting a cool music video, and there’s a fight scene smack dab in the middle. The scene calls for the lead actress to beat up two guys – me and another stunt guy.

I get there a little early, and get a quick low-down from the director as to what he’s envisioning for the scene. While they start shooting, the other stunt guy arrives. We introduce ourselves, trade our backgrounds (karate/aikido/krav maga for me, jeet kune do/kali/escrima for him, we’d even worked together unknowingly on Dark Knight Rising), and then start putting the fight scene together.

We both know that the we’d have to adjust to whatever the lead actress is comfortable doing. I talk to her briefly, and she’s a dancer, and has a little stage combat training. The fight scene is pretty short, and someone with good body control should be able to pick it up with a little practice and do just fine.

He’s obviously put a little thought into a few sequences he’d like, and same for me. We work on them – making sure we understand what the moves were – and here’s the important thing – from both sides – meaning both as attacker and defender. It has to be that way, because we have to first teach each other the sequence, and then switch so that we can practice the role he’ll play when we match up with the lead actress.

After we get it down, we start walking the lead actress through it. Here, our previous practice to learn both sides of the fight pays off. One of us can mirror for her, and the other can play the appropriate role for when we’ll shoot. She picks it up, we make tweaks and adjustments along the way, it’s all good. Then the director takes a look at what we’ve got, a few more tweaks, and then we’re ready to shoot.

The shoot itself goes fairly smoothly – we know what we were doing. As they’re doing some pickups, I chat with the producer. She asks, “Is it hard to put together a fight scene like that?”

I say, “Well, you watched us do it.” I go on to explain that there’s a rhythm to a fight scene. There’s a particular vocabulary – of kicks and punches, movements and shifts – like a dance. Just like a director would put a shot together – taking into account everything from the space to the lighting to the actors, a fight choreographer puts a fight together the same way. It’s a pleasure to show what we can do.


Special Skills: Ping Pong Madness

On an acting resume, the “Special Skills” section is generally where people put those skills that might be useful on the stage or on set. I have a special place in my heart for them, because, let’s face it, the vast majority of on-camera work I’ve done has been more “special skills” than “acting”. I booked my first gig (as a ninja on a national TV commercial) because of hobbies I’d pursued for years – and in the logic of commercial casting, Asian + Martial Arts + Gymnastics = Ninja.

One special skill I’ve been training in is ping pong. Purists might refer to it as “table tennis” – I guess because it makes it sounds less like some rinky-dink game, and more like a “sport”. In Chinese, the characters are literally a transliteration of “ping pong”, so it doesn’t bother me to call it that. When I lived in San Francisco, I trained with Masaaki Tajima at the Sunset Table Tennis Club, and even competed in a few tournaments (my last USATT rating was 988, dating from May 2001 – which makes me a good beginner). Then I stopped playing for a long time, and picked it back up in the last couple of years.

After leaving my latest ping pong training session (tired but happy), I thought of how ping pong related to acting. As I’ve mentioned before, you have to build up your foundation of training – the basic core skills of any pursuit. But then, once you’re “performing” in a game or on camera, you have to let your “muscle memory” take over. Overthinking is what will destroy your rhythm and take you out of the moment. In a sport as fast as ping pong, you do your strategy beforehand – once the point starts and the ping-ponging gets crazy, you can only react to what your opponent and the situation is giving you. When the point is over, you have to put it behind you, and move on to the next point. You retain some awareness of what has gone on before, and the general arc of how the game is going, but the important thing is to be present in what’s happening now. Hmm… sounds a lot like the way you’re supposed to approach auditions, or takes, doesn’t it?

Like everything else – eventually the robots will take over. Here’s a video clip of Chinese robots playing ping pong:

Of course, the robots are not quite at this level yet:

Look especially at 2:30, when Timo Boll of Germany switched the paddle to his other hand in mid-point, hit a stroke, switched it back to this original hand, and won the point. Ridiculous.


Situation Normal: All Made Up

I got onto the subway train with my face and hands smudged, looking like I rolled around in the dirt all day. Of course, this being NYC, no one gave me a second look. Maybe they thought I still haven’t recovered from Halloween. More likely though, they didn’t think about it at all – once they decided that I didn’t look or smell like a homeless person. It takes a lot to make a New Yorker give up their hard-won seat on the subway.

It was actually makeup from Hollywood’s version of Occupy Wall Street – shooting on the set of The Dark Knight Rises – the latest Batman movie from director Chris Nolan, starring Christian Bale (Batman), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Anne Hathaway (Catwoman), Tom Hardy (Bane), and others.

Here’s a taste of one of the mass fight scenes, filmed by someone who lives above Wall Street, where we were shooting. I was one of over 1000 extras, which apparently breaks the record for the number of paid extras used for shooting a movie in NYC.

Showbiz is often surreal. One moment you’re running down Wall Street, screaming your head off with a thousand other people in full costume. Next thing you know, you’re stepping beyond the barricades surrounding the set, back to the “real world” of paying taxes, hanging out with friends, and having fun the normal way, like going to the movies… oh wait. Is the real world actually that different?

Wardrobe? Business clothes – check.
Hair & makeup? You have to look the right way every day – check.
Script? “To be or not to be, that is the question” vs. “let’s get on the same page about the synergies from pooling these value-added services with your portfolio” – check.
Credit? You get a title to play a role on the company org chart – check.
Resume? Listing your professional training, experience and skills – check!

Of course – there are differences, if you want to nitpick. Perhaps showbiz is a little more upfront about the fact that you’re putting on a show. And the same applies in reverse – show business is just that – a business. However, that doesn’t take away the creativity – just as there are showbiz people who are great on the business side, there are designers and engineers and managers in the corporate world who are just as creative as anybody in showbiz. Just specific skills applied in different contexts. And I will always admire and respect professional behavior and spectacular work, wherever I encounter it.