Wednesday night, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee invited an audience of 300 international businessmen, film fans, and the Consulate General of China to the premiere of SHANGHAI CALLING at Lucasfilm. Thanks to everyone in the Mayor’s office for hosting the San Francisco premiere! Exclusive engagement begins at the Presidio Theater TODAY!
For this installment of my blog, I’d like to introduce you to one of the first expats I met while researching the film in Shanghai: JIM RICE, an “old China hand” who has been in Shanghai for a couple of decades now, has headed up a number of American and European corporate offices in China, is highly involved with the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), and a good friend who I fondly call “the real Mayor of Americatown.”
I posed a few questions to Jim over email; below are his responses.
DANIEL HSIA: Hey Jim! Why don’t you tell everybody how we first met?
JIM RICE: I met Writer/Director Daniel Hsia many years ago when he started writing the screenplay for SHANGHAI CALLING. He was exploring China and meeting real live expats to hear their stories of work and play in Shanghai. We spent an afternoon together where I spun yarns about my time in China. I have been living in China continuously since 1991 and, therefore, have collected a lot of war stories. More than a year later I met with Daniel again, when he told me the screenplay was finished, going to production soon, and oh yeah… there is a character based on me played by Bill Paxton!
I’ve since followed Daniel through the process of making the movie, read the script, and learned a lot about the long and arduous process of making a movie. I participated in what’s called a table reading where all the actors sit around a table and read the script out loud as if they were in the movie; this is actually shown in one scene of the movie “Argo” where their characters are even dressed in costume.
DH: American companies frequently reach out to you before they send people to China to negotiate business deals or open joint ventures. What kind of advice do you offer them?
JR: American impressions of China are always wrong, especially if they have never been here. That’s why I encourage friends and colleagues to come to China to discover what a fabulous and dynamic place it is! When I have visitors coming to see me in China for the first time, I always give them a list of movies to see in preparation for their visit including Empire of the Sun, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, and now SHANGHAI CALLING. This is a good introduction to the history, culture, and business environment that make up today’s Shanghai.
SHANGHAI CALLING is fun, entertaining, and shows off our city well, but there are good business lessons in the movie too: the art of listening, paying attention to culture differences, the value of a business contract, and that everything is negotiable. And then there are the business networks of us “Old China Hands” like the character played by BILL PAXTON. People like us have lived and worked in China for years, and we have a wealth of knowledge that often readily available to newbie’s that are always arriving in China!
DH: When we premiered in Shanghai, the American audience applauded when you appeared on the screen. What was it like to do a “cameo” role in the movie?
JR: I had no idea the amount of work or professionalism that goes into production of a feature film. Of course, I have no acting experience and would never have imagined playing anything more than a dead person on “CSI”… let alone having a speaking part in a feature film!
I arrived on set around 2:00 in the afternoon for the shooting of a scene that would be four minutes in the movie, and we didn’t finish until midnight! That’s because every scene is shot from different angles and each angle shot many times, each of these shots requiring a complete re-set of lighting, sound, camera, and people which takes more time than the actually filming. I learned a day in the life of an actor is really long periods of waiting interrupted by total panic when the camera is on you! And, that looking so natural and being the character is a hundred times harder than you would imagine. I learned a new respect for acting, which is truly an art form; great actors really do work hard to be great at what they do.
DH: What would you like to say to American movie audiences who have never been to China but are thinking about watching SHANGHAI CALLING?
JR: The best part of SHANGHAI CALLING is that it’s real. Expats in China pretty much lead this life. We encounter construction noise, tough Chinese competition, unclear rules, conference calls to headquarters, and invalid contracts. On the other hand, we have hard working and loyal Chinese co-workers, networks of friends who can help, and a good sense of humor that helps us enjoy living life in the center of the world and working in the new land of opportunity!
SHANGHAI CALLING opens TODAY at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco. I will answer audience questions after the 6:20PM show.
The film opens February 15 in LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK, and will be available On Demand beginning February 12.americatown, bill paxton, business, china, ed lee, expat, jim rice, mayor, san francisco, shanghai