Coach Assists Chinese Actress' Hollywood Debut

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For the past four months, American and All Things Considered commentator Alison Klayman has been living in Hengdian, China. She works as the personal assistant and English coach to a top Chinese actress shooting her first Hollywood movie.


For the last four months, commentator Alison Klayman has been working on the movie that NPR's Louisa Lim was just telling us about in Hengdian. Klayman is an American, and she's the personal assistant to one of China's hottest actresses. She never expected that her first big job after college would have her interacting with Jackie Chan.

ALISON KLAYMAN: American viewers will be meeting the actress I work for the first time, but in China, she's already hit it big - a hit TV series, a pop album, Pantene commercials. We drink boxed yogurts with her photo on it. And she's not even 20.

As her personal assistant, my job requires vigilance of an unusual kind - part assistant, part cell phone camera spotter. Is that extra taking a photo right now? Are there any mosquitoes in this trailer? No, we will give you an autograph after dinner. We haven't even ordered yet. Perhaps also because I'm a foreigner, who speaks Chinese, I myself am easily recognized in Hengdian. I've even been asked for my autograph.

Hengdian is a magnet for tourists. So we thought it would be the hardest place to keep the set and the actors secure during shooting, but then we went on locations to places like the bamboo forest of Anji, think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In China, you can't block tourist access to public parkland for a movie shoot. In anticipation of the crowds, we hired extra guards. Of course, these 30 young men in fatigues just meant we had 30 more onlookers with camera phones. These ones just happen to be in uniform.

This is a typical Chinese response to a problem - throw bodies at it. The biggest resource on the Chinese movie set is not money but manpower. This philosophy often goes against typical Hollywood practice. When the camera rolls in Hollywood, only essential personnel are on set - the actors, the camera operators, maybe the director. The Chinese are not sensitive to the silence of a set because their TV shows often have the dialogue added later.

The first Chinese word many of our American crewmembers mastered was the call for silence, an jing(ph). The sound department even made T-shirts. My own Chinese film vocabulary has grown. I know how to say things like (Chinese spoken) - our call time is too early, (Chinese spoken) - hair and make-up will take an hour, (Chinese spoken) - and the next shot is the horse riding stunt doubles. I want to use these skills to keep working on foreign movie shooting in China.

Next week, our film wraps and my stint as a personal assistant ends. I'm excited to get a break from living in a Hengdian hotel across the hall from my boss, but working on movies in China means I will always be coming back to Hengdian, which might not be so bad. They already know me here.

NORRIS: That was Alison Klayman. She's the personal assistant and English coach to a Chinese actress.

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