So about two weeks ago, on Wednesday, October 17, I “starred” in a television commercial for Dai Viet beer. (The post about how this originated is here: Call My Limo.)
I thought I would have a copy of the edited commercial and some photos by now, but I still haven’t received them. As soon as I receive them, I will get the photos up on this blog – and hopefully I’ll be able to get the video of the commercial itself up as well.
Before I note my specific observations, here is my overall prediction for how the commercial will turn out: cheesy and completely over the top. I may seem gay in the commercial. I will probably seem mentally diminished in some indeterminate manner. Or maybe in some deteminate manner. I will definitely seem high. This is not how I would have chosen to “act” in the commercial, but rather a function of the “direction” I received, which I will explain in more detail below. But let me be the first to say – having not seen the finished commercial myself yet – that I think it’s going to be incredibly cheesy and over the top. That being said, here are my specific observations:
1. The Vietnamese are not afraid to get up at the crack of dawn.
My contact with the film crew, Vinh Phuc, told me he’d pick me up at Tim’s office at 5:00am, which meant that I had to get up at 4:00am. I don’t know about those of you reading this, but it is never really my choice to get up at 4:00am. Largely because it’s just 4:00am. But also because I am one of those people who, when they know they have to get up early, can’t sleep worth a damn. I kept waking up over and over again, looking at the clock, wondering if it was 4:00am yet. I probably got about three hours of sleep that night.
2. I should not shave when I am half-asleep.
I got up at 4:00am, took a shower, and was in the process of shaving when I somehow – and I’ve been shaving since I was about 15, and I’m 36 now, and have never done this before that I can remember – pinned my earlobe to my neck with the razor blade and nearly cut my earlobe off. I’m notkidding – I shave with a Gillette Sensor three-bladed razor over here (only because I can’t buy replacement blades for my five-bladed Gillette Fusion – thank God I wasn’t using a five-bladed razor or I’d probably be earlobe-less right now) and two of the three blades “bit” or “took” or “dug in” or however you want to say it. The end result was my earlobe was gushing blood from two long, deep slices. The only upside is I was pretty much wide awake after that happened.
3. While I try to be respectful of Vietnamese culture, there are some “customs” I have quickly learned to despise.
So once I got my bleeding earlobe under control, I headed to the office and changed into my suit. (It was actually pretty neat to be driving around at 4:30am as there was basically no traffic and it was kind of peaceful to drive the streets of HCMC at that hour without all of the normal traffic jams, noise, insanity, etc.) Anyway, Vinh Phuc picked me up at 5:00am and we drove to his office, which was about 10 minutes away. Why we had to get up so early and be there so early I have no idea. We got there and basically sat around until 7:30am or so – me thinking the whole time “I could have slept another two hours.” At one point, Vinh Phuc and his crew walked next door to have coffee and invited me to go with them. I was bored just sitting there, and also needed something to wake me up again – the shock and pain from my cheese-grated earlobe having nearly subsided by this point – so even though I’ve been really good lately about not drinking my old nemesis the ca phe sua nong, I had one with Vinh Phuc and his friends. While we were having coffee, Vinh Phuc said to me: “We have a custom here in Vietnam. If one person has coffee, everyone must have coffee!” I wanted to say, “Yeah, well we have a ‘custom’ back in America too: If there’s no reason to wake someone up at the ass crack of dawn, we generally let them sleep a little longer,” but I didn’t say it.
4. There is at least one Vietnamese woman alive who is taller than me, and of course I was cast as her husband in this commercial.
So about 7:30am, we all got on a bus and headed to Tan Son Nhat International Airport, where the first few scenes would be filmed. The other “actors” and “actresses” – all Vietnamese except for me – were on the bus, and I started talking with one of the “actresses” on the bus ride to the airport. The whole time we were talking, I could see her eyes repeatedly darting down toward the bloody mess that was my left earlobe, so I had that going for me. She never said anything about it – just kept looking down at it thinking – I’m sure – “Damn that had to hurt. This guy must be a real jackass to do that to himself.”
So we got to the airport and continued sitting around waiting for everything to get set up, etc. We had our makeup put on (see point number 5, below), and then the director and Vinh Phuc and some other guys started telling all of us “actors” and “actresses” what scenes we were going to shoot, how they wanted us to act the scenes out, etc. Well during that process, I met my Vietnamese “wife” for the purposes of the commercial. I am not a super tall guy – I’m about 5’10” if I’m measuring (or 5’9” if the doctor’s measuring) – but I am generally taller than most of the Vietnamese men and almost all of the Vietnamese women I come across. Well, wouldn’t you know that my “wife” was about 5’9” or maybe even 5’10” – plus she was wearing high heels. So now in addition to my general feelings of insecurity about not knowing what the hell I was doing, not being able to understand 99% of the instructions being given to us in Vietnamese, walking around with what looked like a piece of raw bacon for an earlobe, etc., I have this Amazonian Vietnamese woman looming over me in every scene, making me look like a short twerp instead of the big strapping American I am sure I was supposed to be.
5. I look very weird in makeup.
I don’t think I need to belabor this one. I just look very weird in makeup. Kind of dead looking. Maybe it will look okay on film, but my impression from looking in the mirror is that it is going to look like they cast a short, dead American in the role of the visiting husband.
6. The Vietnamese love them some excitement and surprises.
Okay, so here is the basic storyline. (I think I had it wrong in my last post.) I am an American married to a Vietnamese woman and I am visiting Vietnam for the first time. We are walking out of the airport pushing our luggage on a cart when we see my “wife’s” sister and her husband (and sometimes their kids – see point 10, below) waiting for us in the crowd.
When we see them in the crowd, we are to act EXTREMELY SURPRISED!!! Then we are to actually join up with them, handshakes and hugs all around, including sometimes with their kids, and during all of this we are to act VERRRRY EXCITED!!!
We then get into a car (supposedly – this did not happen in real life – they just filmed the car – and head straight to the supermarket so I can buy a gift for my wife’s parents. Why I would buy them a gift at the supermarket I have no idea, but that’s the story. Anyway, I walk around the supermarket looking VERRRRY CONFUSED AND PUZZLED ABOUT WHAT TO BUY!!! until I see a stack of cases of Dai Viet beer, at which point I act VERRRY EXCITED AND WITH A GROWING CERTAINTY THAT, SURELY, THE PERFECT GIFT FOR MY IN-LAWS (WHOM I HAVE NEVER MET) IS A CASE OF SHITTY VIETNAMESE BEER!!! [Note: I didn't film this scene in the supermarket. I filmed it in front of a green screen and they were going to edit in the supermarket and stack of beer cases, etc., later. Why we didn't just go to a supermarket I don't know. More about this below.]
We then drive to my in-laws’ house where, when my “wife” and I, along with her sister and her husband, come through the door, we act VERRRY EXCITED AND SURPRISED!!! to see her parents and the other family members present, one of whom – my “wife’s” other sister – looked like a prostitute. I don’t know why, if you’re writing the script for the commercial, you would write in a prostitute as the wife’s other sister, but she sure looked like a prostitute to me. God love her.
Anyway, we filmed that scene about 40 times because we were apparently NOT EXCITED AND SURPRISED ENOUGH!!!, so I got to hug some old Vietnamese man – let’s call him “Dad” – about 40 times. I think I’ve just about washed the scent of his cologne – which I am confident was either Old Spice, Jovan Musk, or “Tussy,” – off of my skin now, two-and-a-half weeks later, but I still detect a hint of it from time to time.
The whole commercial is supposed to be occurring during the Tet holiday – which is like all of our American holidays rolled into one, apparently, so they had a huge meal cooked up and on the table. It looked like Thanksgiving dinner or something. So the next scene (I think – we shot a lot of scenes out of order and I’m not sure how they’re going to edit it together) is of me standing at the table with a wrapped present in front of me. I open the wrapping paper and, low and behold, someone has given me a case of Dai Viet beer! At which point I am told to hold up the case of beer as if I’m showing it off to everyone at the table and to act VERRRY EXCITED AND SURPRISED!!!
Then there are a couple of scenes where we’re sitting at the table making toasts of one form or another. We had to keep filming those scenes over and over again, because apparently some people weren’t complying with our “direction”, which was in Vietnamese so I’m not 100% sure, but judging by the way everyone was acting was something like: I WANT TO SEE HUGE, SHIT-EATING, CHESHIRE CAT GRINS ON EVERYONE’S FACES!!! I WANT TO SEE EVERYONE SO VERRRY EXCITED AND SURPRISED (why surprised during the toasts, I’m not sure but that’s what it seemed like – maybe just surprised that any of us ever let ourselves get roped into filming this lame commercial) THAT IT LITERALLY SEEMS UNREAL. NOT JUST SURREAL (which it also seemed), UNREAL!!!
Then I think at the end of the commercial there’s a 3D, animated deal involving a can of Dai iet beer. Doing what I’m not sure. But if I had to bet, I would bet that the can is supposed to somehow seem EXCITED AND SURPRISED!!! And over that will be my voiceover saying “Bia Dai Viet, bia cua moi nha!” (“Dai Viet beer is the beer of every household!”) Since I am not on camera when this is said, and since it seems like anyone in the commercial (or even just an announcer type) could have said this, I am not sure why they thought they needed to have the American – the only person involved in the whole operation who CAN’T speak Vietnamese – say this, but that’s what they wanted.
I think the commercial ends with one of the toasts we filmed earlier. Anyway, the “official” storyboard they gave me is below. I am the really good looking white guy with the goatee and the chiseled features, of course. I did have a goatee the first time I met Vinh Phuc, so maybe that’s why he drew it up that way. I had shaved it off by the time we actually shot the commercial though (see the above about my shaving experience), and I never had the chiseled features, so maybe that was just wishful thinking on Vinh Phuc’s part.
7. I may have lung cancer.
Again, this is not one that needs to be belabored, but nearly everyone on the set was chain-smoking cigarettes the entire day long.
If I remember correctly, at one point the 3 or 4 year old girl playing my “wife’s” niece asked me if she could “bum a Pall Mall.”
If it is truly possible to get lung cancer from second-hand smoke, I’ve got it for sure.
8. The Vietnamese are not afraid to form a crowd.
So while we were filming at the airport, there were about 200 people crowding around watching us film. At first it made me kind of nervous and self-conscious, but I quickly just tuned them out. Whenever we’d break from filming and I’d walk back over to have my makeup touched up or to get some water or whatever, they’d all watch me like I was some movie star and they just couldn’t figure out who I was. I kept expecting someone to ask me for my autograph, but that didn’t happen. It was kind of cool, though, and I can definitely see the allure of working in film. During one break, I spoke to Tim on the phone to tell him how it was going and I told him about the crowd, etc. I said “It’s like they think I’m Brad Pitt or something.” Tim said, and I thought this was pretty good, “I assure you they don’t think you’re Brad Pitt.”
9. The Vietnamese film industry doesn’t care much about crowd control.
So we’re filming in front of the main exit of Vietnam’s largest international airport, which you would rightly expect to be kind of a busy place, and there are thousands of people entering and exiting the airport and just generally milling around. And we’re filming these scenes right in the middle of all this – with full on cameras, lights, etc. – so you might think that someone would put up some ropes or barricades or something to keep people from wandering into the middle of our set and destroying the take, right? Not a chance. We were already having to film these scenes numerous times because of the multiple actors involved, kids, etc., and we’d be right in the middle of filming and some 80-year-old woman would walk right through our scene, completely oblivious to the cameras and lights, heavily made-up corpse looking people, etc. So we’d cut and start it all over again. This happened about – and I’m not exaggerating – 50 or 60 times.
10. Just like child actors in America, Vietnamese child “actors” are apprently also spoiled and doomed to equally Todd Bridges/Danny Bonaduce-ish fates.
So I am not sure if the two kids will even make it into the commercial – we shot a bunch of takes with them and a bunch of takes without them. But my “wife’s” sister and her husband were supposed to have two kids – one boy who looked about 5 or 6 and one girl who looked about 3 or 4. The boy was okay throughout the day – especially considering what a long day it was, but the girls – yes, girls with an s – had some issues.
The first girl shot about two takes at the airport before she decided she wasn’t going to do it anymore and had a complete, hysterical meltdown. The entire operation came to a halt for literally about an hour as we watched the girl’s mother try to get the girl to continue to “act”. The girl was screaming, crying, hyperventilating, stomping her feet, etc. The mother was getting increasingly angry – my thinking was that they obviously weren’t going to get paid if the girl didn’t finish out the day, so the mother was desperately trying to get the daughter to cooperate.
We’d start filming again, then the girl would freak out again and we’d stop. Finally, after an hour or hour-and-a-half of this, they said forget it and called in another girl to act the part. She got there about half an hour later and was much better.
Later, however, when we were filming the scenes around the dinner table, we were taking a break for some reason and my “wife” and I and the little girl and a couple of other people were sitting around the table. It was very hot in the room because they had all of the filming lights on, etc. So I happened to look over at the little girl and she was displaying the universal human signs for “I am about to throw up in my lap.” I pointed this out to my “wife”, who quickly tried to explain in Vietnamese to the other people standing around that they needed to get the little girl away from the table, etc., when all of a sudden the little girl just lost it all over herself.
So they carted her off and brought in another girl – who was actually just the daughter of the people whose house we happened to be filming in – to sit in for her during the dinner scene. Again, I don’t know if you will even see any of these kids in the finished product or if they’ll be edited out, but that’s your “behind the scenes scoop” about what really went down.
11. The Vietnamese like bright colors.
This is just generally true – they like really bright colored clothing, furniture, etc. We were picking out furniture for our office and the choice would be between just normal, modern looking furniture with wood tones and metal fixtures or some crazy looking furniture with bright yellow laminated wood and bright green fixtures and if we asked the staff what they liked they’d go with the yellow and green every time.
So when Vinh Phuc and his buddy came over to our office a few days before filming to check out the suit I was planning on wearing to make sure it was okay, he also looked through my shirts and selected a shirt for me to wear in the more casual scenes. So of all of the shirts I had, he picked this crazy bright orange shirt that I had handmade in Bangkok back in 2004.
I said “Are you sure you want me to wear that one? How about just a blue shirt or something?” but he insisted that I wear the Halloween shirt. On the day of filming, I even took along some extra, more muted shirts and asked him again if he wanted me to wear one of them. But he again said I should wear the orange shirt – so when you see me sporting this crazy bright orange shirt you’ll know why.
And, true to form, when I came downstairs wearing the orange shirt, my Vietnamese “wife” and a couple of other people on the set told me that my shirt was “dep”, which means handsome. So there you go.
12. You will work for your $100 per day in Vietnam.
So Vinh Phuc picked me up at 5:00am and I didn’t get home from filming until 8:30pm that night. And all of that was for what will end up being a 50-second commercial. I can almost sympathize with real actors and actresses when they complain about the long shooting days, etc. The difference is, however, that I made $100 and they are making millions. Also, they get all of the fringe benefits that come along with being a Hollywood actor or actress – I got to go back home to my shitty $250 per month guesthouse. Alone.
Anyway, when we were finally finished – or so everyone thought – about 7:30pm, we were all clapping and were in the process of walking to the restaurant across the street together when the director said they weren’t done with me. So then we filmed the green screen scenes.
The first scene was supposed to me on my ride into HCMC for the first time. They sat me in the back of a Ford Escape with my window rolled halfway down. I was on the passenger side and the camera filming me was on the driver side. The green screen was behind me. So my “direction” was to look forward as if I was AMAZED AT SEEING HCMC FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME!!!, then to turn my head and look out the side window toward the green screen, continuing to be SO EXCITED THAT IT APPEARED I MIGHT BUST A BLOOD VESSEL IN MY HEAD/NECK/FACE/CHEST/BACK AREA!!! So we start shooting this scene, and the director keeps telling me MORE EXCITEMENT!!! MORE SURPRISE!!! So I keep getting more and more over the top. He finally told me that when I turn back to look out the side window, I should be – and I swear this is true – SO EXCITED THAT I AM LITERALLY STICKING MY HEAD OUT OF THE WINDOW TO GET A BETTER VIEW!!! So that’s what I did. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what I did.
The second green screen scene was the scene where I am in the supermarket searching for an appropriate gift for my in-laws and stumble upon a stack of cases of Dai Viet beer. Again, he kept making me reshoot this scene over and over again – each time telling me MORE EXCITEMENT!!! MORE SURPRISE!!! So this should be ridiculous as well.
13. Vietnamese kids are apparently EXCITED AND SURPRISED!!! by beer as well.
So at some point during that interminable day, I was sitting in the living room of the house we were filming the dinner table scenes in and watching them film some scene I was not involved in in the kitchen. From what I could tell, the scene involved my “wife’s” sister taking a case of Dai Viet beer off of the kitchen counter and putting it down on the table in front of her 5 or 6 year old son, at which point the kid had apparently been “directed” to GO COMPLETELY APESHIT!!! She’d put it down and the kid would start clapping and cheering for the beer.
They reshot the scene about 30 times. I couldn’t understand the “direction” they were getting, but I can only assume it involved the kid being told to be MORE EXCITED AND SURPRISED!!! Why a 5 or 6 year old kid was supposed to be all excited about this case of beer – and why the kid’s mom was presenting a case of beer to her child in the first place – I really have no idea.
So those are my observations. According to Vinh Phuc, everyone thought I did really well and he’s already asked me if I would be in another commercial for him – this time it’s a milk commercial. I’ll keep you posted as to how that goes. I am sure it will be VERRRY EXCITING AND SURPRISING!!!