If your kid dreams of seeing their name in lights, read on. To find out how to make it big in Hollywood, we speak to PoPing AuYeung, a Vancouver-based casting director who worked on Karate Kid, Man of Tai Chi, and other big-budget Sino-foreign productions. AuYeung started her career in casting in Hong Kong over 25 years ago, and has since worked with major studios such as Universal, DreamWorks, Warner Bros.,and Sony Pictures. We also speak to young actor Luke Carberry (pictured) and his mom Ellen about the casting process for his role in The Karate Kid. Luke played Harry, a boy who befriends Jayden Smith’s character after he moves to Beijing. Luke’s younger sister Chloe also appeared in Karate Kid as an extra.
Supply and Demand
The good news is that there is a growing market for foreign and English-speaking child actors in China. “There will be more co-productions in China and more English-language films happening in the next couple of years,” says AuYeung.
AuYeung outlines the methods she uses to find talent in Beijing: “When I have a casting call, I contact all the schools. The drama teacher can tell you who would be the right fit for that particular role, so they [essentially]do the pre-screening. When [the recommendation]comes through a teacher, it legitimizes the whole process.” Case in point: Luke Carberry first heard about the casting call for The Karate Kid through his drama teacher at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB).
AuYeung also makes anonymous scouting trips to Christmas performances at schools around Beijing and attends Beijing Playhouse performances when she’s in town. She also takes referrals from parents she has worked with before, who can vouch for her services.
AuYeung also posts open calls on the Beijinger and beijingkids. “I just finished [working on]Outcast and cast a kid from Beijing to play a young Hayden Christensen opposite Nicolas Cage.”
However, the simplest way to get AuYeung’s attention is to contact her. If your kids would like to be in the movies, you can make a direct submission by emailing her at email@example.com. “Anyone who’s interested in acting, even adults, can email me, and we’ll send them a submission form to fill out. For foreign actors, I have my own database.”
Should I Use an Agent?
AuYeung does not recommend using an agent. “I don’t go to agents,” she says. “I don’t think there are any professional agents in China who represent foreigners – just a lot of middle men.”
“I’m sure there are some good agents,” she adds, “But I have a pretty good network and don’t rely on [them]so much in China for casting. A lot of agents ask for money for head shots or say you need to take classes from [them]and then they’ll get you work. I don’t do any of that.”
She makes an exception for Beijing Playhouse, however. “Beijing Playhouse is legit. They tell you how much commission they’re going to take. With other agents in China, you just don’t know. You never get the full payment. That’s why sometimes I insist on paying the actors myself, and I say ‘Whatever your commission is, I’ll pay you separately, but I want to pay the actors myself.’”
Take Candid Photos at Home
“I don’t like professional [head shots],” says AuYeung. “I don’t like it to be photoshopped and I don’t want it posed. I want it very natural so I can see what you’re like. Also, kids change so fast.They could be very different in six months, so I just say ‘Snap a picture so I know what you look like right now, not four months ago.’ That’s all I need. Don’t waste money on head shots.”
Be a Performer
AuYeung says acting ability is something that every child has instinctively. “The minute you talk to the kids, you know who is good and who is not. You recognize it fast with kids.”
Ellen Carberry agrees that the child’s personality is more important than their acting experience, at least in China. “[It] was one of those lucky, random things that happens when you live in Beijing,” she says. “If we were living in Los Angeles, Luke would never have been able to compete because he would’ve been [up against]all kinds of trained actors. [On The Karate Kid], it wasn’t so much about acting as just being yourself.”
“The directors were just trying to see if the kids had a level of confidence, maturity and comfort in their skin. [They wanted] kids who could meet an adult who’s just flown in from LA, and look them in the eye and talk to them comfortably and naturally. [In other words, kids who were] not afraid to engage with people in a totally different context than they’re normally used to. Luke got into the movie because of those things; it wasn’t about trained acting.”
One skill that can make your child stand out is the ability to speak Chinese. “I said a few lines in Chinese to the camera, which I think in hindsight really helped,” says Luke. “We’ve been in China since 2001 and I’ve been learning Chinese since Grade 1.” As the movie progressed, the writers kept adding in more lines for him. Initially, his character only had a dozen lines in the movie. The writers expanded their vision of his role because he could speak Chinese.
Fit the Profile
No “look” is more in demand than others when it comes to foreign child actors in China. “On The Karate Kid, we wanted American-Chinese, Caucasian and African-American – but it really depends on the story,” says AuYeung. “You can’t foresee what will be in demand.” When kids are rejected, it’s very often not because of their acting ability, but because they’re not the right type. When casting for Outcast, she needed to match a young actor to Hayden Christensen, which meant looking at hair, skin color, and personality (among other factors).
Never Spend Your Own Money
On the subject of “hidden extras,” AuYeung’s advice for parents is unequivocal. “Anytime someone asks you for money, that’s when you should stay away. As a casting director, I don’t take a penny. I’m paid by the production [company]and the studio. If any casting director asks you for money, say no.”
She also advises parents to get informed. “When parents get a call from an agent, they should ask lots of questions; there are a lot of scams out there. Ask [the names of]the casting director, director, and production company. It’s a very small industry; we all know each other. Parents can ask me or Chris [Verill] at Beijing Playhouse if [the project]is legit.”
Prepare Kids for Rejection
AuYeung stresses how important it is to set expectations for your child before the audition and explain that the competition will be tough. “If you don’t get the job, it’s not [necessarily]because you’re not good. There are many other things that are taken into consideration,” she says. “For example, if we’re casting a family, the kid has to look like he fits with the family. When we decide which actor to go with, we put all the pictures together to decide if they look good. It’s really important to tell kids there are a lot of other factors that have nothing to do with [them].”
“We talked about it a fair amount before the first audition,” says Ellen Carberry. “Luke asked me if he should do it, and I was like ‘Go for it, why not?’ But I said: ‘Hey, don’t expect anything is going to come from it.’ So if you approach it with that mindset, you have nothing to lose.”
“I liked drama,” says Luke. “[Mom] also told me how she had auditioned for a cereal commercial when she was 13 and it was just a really cool thing to do. So from the beginning my mindset was it [would be]good experience. A month later, I had forgotten about the audition. My mom called me and said ‘Guess what, I have really great news!’ and for the life of me I couldn’t guess what it would be.”
Question the Terms and Conditions
“In China, there are no unions or union rates,” says AuYeung. “Payment depends on how desperate the production [company]is. If I’m looking for a certain look that’s difficult to find, I have to pay more money to get it. Most of the kids don’t get into to it to make money. They do it for fun and for the experience. It’s different for every production and it depends on the budget.”
Ellen Carberry signed the contract for The Karate Kid without having a lawyer look it over, partly for simplicity, partly because of their trust in AuYeung and other production staff, and partly because they saw it as a fun experience rather than a professional opportunity. “PoPing [AuYeung] was a class act, very professional,” she says. “We knew it was Sony and Will Smith, so it was a high-caliber Hollywood thing. We weren’t worried about anything. And we had no to low expectations. It was about the fun and not the money.”
“My first jobs were babysitting, dog walking and scooping ice cream. His first job was being in a movie with Jayden Smith,” jokes Carberry.
The terms and conditions were slightly different for Jayden Smith, who had a teacher, two security guards, and even a social worker on set to make sure he didn’t work more than eight hours per day and took proper breaks.
Luke, by comparison, experienced long days on set. “He was there regularly ten hours a day and there were a couple of days when he was gone for [even]longer, closer to 12-15 hours,” she says. “We were comfortable about the people he was with, however. There was always staff onsite, he had food available all the time, and he was around other kids. But if you are doing something where you have less visibility [over]the quality of what’s going on, I would pay attention. There certainly is the potential for kids to be working quite long days.”
What Not to Do
“Don’t coach your kids,” warns AuYeung. “I send the script out and often parents teach kids how to do the wrong things for the audition. The less they rehearse the better.” In addition, do not dress them up. “Dress very comfortably and casually. Sometimes adults bring them in all dressed up and I tell them go and take their makeup off. Kids need to be very natural.”
Arrange Homework with Teachers
If you are going to be on set for days [at a time]like Luke Carberry, it would be a good idea to arrange for school work to stay abreast of what is going on in the classroom. On The Karate Kid, filming was scheduled during the summer so the kids wouldn’t miss school. But production ran into October, so Luke was out of school for two or three days in a row on three occasions. Luke’s teachers at WAB gave him homework and he worked on a computer. He did written math and Chinese homework, and didn’t have any trouble rejoining his classmates once filming was over.
Enjoy the Experience
Luke got the full Hollywood treatment when he walked the red carpet for the world premiere of Karate Kid at Fox Westwood Village in Los Angeles. “It was my first time in LA and we were staying in the Venice Beach area, which was very cool,” says Luke.” They sent a driver to pick us up in a really nice SUV and took us to the red carpet. There were a lot of cameras and reporters asking questions like: ‘What was it like to work with Jayden Smith and Jackie Chan?’” The entire Carberry family was stunned to see Luke and Chloe meters high on the silver screen. “It’s a cliche, but it was unbelievable,” Luke recalls.
Ellen Carberry remembers watching the movie for the first time. “Nobody had seen the movie until that moment. Very quickly into the movie, they [main characters]are in Beijing, arriving in a taxi in front of their apartment building. As they’re pulling up, there’s this blond boy coming over to help get the luggage out of the trunk. I suddenly realized ‘Oh my God! It’s Luke!’ A couple of minutes into the movie, there’s our son on the screen, larger than life, and our jaws hit the floor. Chloe’s also in the movie, in the school, in the cafeteria, among the extras. She was three or four times onscreen. It was amazing to see them both up there.”
“One of the best outcomes of the movie is that it captured Beijing at a particular point in time,” says Carberry. “Will Smith’s [film]captured some of the transitions going on in Beijing: that a black American family [would move there], that there would be a school where Western and Chinese families would [come]together. [It’s] actually much more sophisticated than we expected. For Luke, for his contemporaries, for all of our friends and family, that part of their lives will always be captured in that movie. They’ll always have a souvenir of what was their life was like in Beijing.”
Photo Courtesy of Ellen Carberry
This article originally appeared on p70-73 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com