With Dragonball being my first Hollywood production, I was not entirely prepared for the calibre of the crew. They were quite extraordinary.
James Wong was the director. I watched him carefully. I wanted to see how Hollywood directors interacted with their cast. At TVB, our directors had (past tense because I'm no longer there ;-) very little time to discuss our scenes in detail with us. There was virtually no sharing or exchange of ideas. We simply arrived on set whereupon the director would glance at the set, decide where and how we would move during the scene (what we refer to as "blocking") and then run us through the scene. At TVB, most scenes were 'rehearsed' in mere minutes.
On the Dragonball set, I was surprised to find that rehearsals and interaction between the director and actors were very similar to that at TVB. I think time or rather the significant lack of it had something to do with it. Dragonball's schedule was extremely rushed. Rehearsals were quick, and involved more blocking and less acting which didn't really happen until the cameras were turned on. Furthermore, there appeared to be little discussion between the director and the actors. Most of the discussion that I heard on set seemed to be 'I should do this' and 'I should go there'; i.e., strong recommendations from the cast rather than sincere suggestions and then discussions thereof with the director.
A startling incident occurred to me personally early on in filming, and this incident explained to me to some extent a possible reason for the lack of interaction between the director and the actors. In Hollywood, it is apparently not uncommon for celebrity actors to think of themselves as bigger and better than the directors. They view suggestions as personal criticism and can react violently to such. James was obviously aware of this reality and therefore tread carefully. As his relationship with the actors became more familiar and more stable, as the trust and solidarity between them increased, so did their interaction and James' willingness to give direction.
While preparing for last year's "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" stage musical, the director Henry and I experimented, shared and exchanged ideas constantly until we found the perfect formula for the play and for my character. I learned much from Henry, and together, we produced a great show, something that was only possible because of our interaction.
James was a remarkable director. Quiet, patient and tolerant, he was aware of the casts' abilities and limitations, and also very aware of what the story itself could offer. If the cast neglected the chance to consult with him or learn from him, then they missed out big time! On more than one occasion, James reminded me of Henry; they share similar admirable qualities. Given the chance, I would definitely make the most of being able to work with such a director.
It is true of course that I only saw some of what happened on-set, and I didn't see anything of what happened off-set. Perhaps James discussed the story with the cast behind closed doors, or over the phone. Perhaps the cast asked him for direction when they encountered difficult scenes within the story. I hope so, because nothing could be so wrong as a talented artist who ignores their director, or believes that they no longer need to improve their craft.
Regardless, I think the movie will be very good.
Other crew members
During my time in Durango, I met and talked with many of the Dragonball crew. While Chinese people tend to be very guarded about their personal lives and distrustful of anyone they haven't known personally for more than a few years, the Dragonball crew had almost no reservations and I learnt quite a lot about them.
Helga, the script supervisor, has a photographic memory. She can remember just about everything she sees, even groceries on the shelves of the local supermarkets! Her memory is vitally important during filming because she endeavors to ensure that personal props and clothing are consistent from one shot to the next.
Colin, the prop master, has a life very similar to my own. He migrated to a foreign country, married a local girl, learnt the local language and now lives and works there. He has a very sharp eye when it comes to sets and props, and a very keen sense of observation. Colin also has a rather interesting history and a large collection of wonderful stories if you have time to listen.
Janet, the lady who attained a degree in music and then proceeded to study sound engineering, the lady who is now a visual effects producer and had the most wonderful smile almost every time I saw her on set.
Valerie, the lady living up the corridor from us in the hotel, who could bake just about anything in her rice cooker and loved to share the chocolate cakes she baked.
Charlene, who has a huge heart, who rescued a young lame dog from the film set and took her home to Canada.
So many incredible people in one place. I've only described a handful.
Some of the local Mexican crew included; Huan (Spanish for John), the big man with a wonderful English accent; Jaime who owns a glass-blowing factory and worked as a stand-in for Chow just for fun; and a young lady who owns two local cake bakeries (pasterias) and worked as an assistant in the movie, again just for fun!
Other people I remember fondly include Martin the official still photographer who took great photos of the movie and arranged excellent hotel accommodation for me in his hometown Mazatlan after the movie; Dan Fraga the storyboard artist who has numerous Chinese tattoos; Luís the Mexico publicist for the movie who talked to me frequently, knows everything there is to know about John Wayne, and helped arrange local transportation for a one-day sight-seeing trip when my wife came to visit; Lalu who was Chow's makeup artist with his own interesting history; and our drivers and bodyguard who became our friends.
If you were to ask me to identify the single most valuable thing gained from my trip to Durango, I'd have to say that it was the opportunity to meet and work with so many extraordinary and wonderful people.