star maker

If you've got the tal­ent, An­drew Ooi can rocket you to fame as he's done with some of Asia's best-known ac­tors. Gemma Soames catches up with him in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Tatler - - Spotlight -

An­drew Ooi is in the busi­ness of fame. The pres­i­dent of Vancouver-based Ech­e­lon Tal­ent Man­age­ment, he’s re­spon­si­ble for plac­ing ac­tors of Asian de­scent in some of the big­gest Hol­ly­wood films of the past few years. His client list in­cludes the likes of Celina Jade, Cheng Pei Pei, Zhang Jingchu, By­ron Mann and Archie Kao. In town for Filmaid Asia’s Power of Film Gala, we caught up with the glo­be­trot­ting fixer to talk tal­ent and tantrums, and to find out if that Ari Gold-in­spired stereo­type of the scream­ing movie agent re­ally ex­ists.

What ex­actly do you do and how did you get into it?

I got into this be­cause I love watch­ing films. I have four peo­ple work­ing for me in Vancouver. It’s not a big of­fice, but you don’t have to be mas­sive to be ef­fec­tive. At Ech­e­lon, we man­age teams, putting the right pub­li­cists, agents and lawyers to­gether for our tal­ent—we spe­cialise in tran­si­tion­ing Asian ac­tors to North Amer­ica. We put Mag­gie Q into Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble 3 and Nikita, Chin Han into The Dark Knight and the upcoming In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence; and most re­cently, Ludi Lin into the new Power

Rangers movie as the black Power Ranger. When we first started, we were a lit­tle ahead of the curve. But now, things have picked up— to put it lightly!

What sort of skills does it take to be a man­ager?

At times, I al­most feel like I’m a politi­cian. You cer­tainly have to un­der­stand peo­ple man­age­ment, but the busi­ness part is what I re­ally en­joy. One of the best com­pli­ments some­one paid me was when they said, “I love ne­go­ti­at­ing with you, but I’d hate to be do­ing it against you.” I didn’t know I had that rep­u­ta­tion.

How do you get what you want? Does the Ari Gold stereo­type ac­tu­ally ex­ist?

I’m not a screamer. There’s al­ways this im­age you see on TV of agents scream­ing into their phones, but I can hon­estly say I have never done that. I’ve got­ten close! But I be­lieve in ask­ing for it nicely and be­ing fair. In good ne­go­ti­a­tions, ev­ery­body should feel they’ve won.

How much travel do you do?

Well, I do my laun­dry in Vancouver, but re­ally, I’m al­ways on a plane. Re­cently, I woke up in a ho­tel room to go to the wash­room and re­alised I was walk­ing into the cur­tain—i was so con­fused by where I was. I was just in Bei­jing for some meet­ings be­cause it re­ally is the film cap­i­tal of Main­land China. And now I’m in Hong Kong for the Filmaid gala, which is great be­cause it al­lows me to see my clients here and spend qual­ity time with them for a good cause. Then I am go­ing to Toronto, pos­si­bly Cannes and def­i­nitely Shanghai. As much as I would like to, I can’t go to all the film fes­ti­vals. When I started out, I used to watch 14 films in a week­end; now, if I’m lucky, I catch one or two. It’s dif­fer­ent now that I’m in the busi­ness of film. Some­times I wish I could en­joy it more.

How do you pre­pare your clients for the ups and downs of life as an ac­tor?

I ba­si­cally tell peo­ple that you work as hard as you can and if it’s meant to hap­pen, it will hap­pen. Ac­tors have to cope with a lot of re­jec­tion, but they need to un­der­stand that some­times de­ci­sions are made for rea­sons en­tirely out of their con­trol. An ac­tor might not get a role be­cause she looked too much like the pro­ducer’s ex-girl­friend. You win some, you lose some. It’s okay—you’ve just got to take it and let it slide off.

What do you look for in the ac­tors you work with?

I make sure that the clients I work with, I like. If not, life be­comes too dif­fi­cult. I’m sure that stereo­type of the dif­fi­cult star ex­ists, but they’re not in my sta­ble. You can nor­mally tell straight away when some­one’s got the X-fac­tor. It’s just a sense you get that they’re the right one. Some peo­ple just walk into a room and all eyes grav­i­tate to­wards them.

How should peo­ple deal with fame and for­tune?

This busi­ness can be life-chang­ing and my ad­vice is al­ways this: save your money and in­vest wisely. Fame is fleet­ing, looks are rented, and get­ting a lead role in a ma­jor mo­tion pic­ture is like light­ning in a bot­tle. Ap­pre­ci­ate it if it hap­pens and take care of your fu­ture, be­cause you never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen next.

Where does all your power broking take place?

Re­ally, a lot of my busi­ness is done on the phone. With tech­nol­ogy to­day, you can be any­where and do this. I re­mem­ber do­ing one ne­go­ti­a­tion as I was on va­ca­tion and walk­ing around the For­bid­den City, and an­other big one when I was ac­tu­ally by my pool at a villa in Bali. Then there are those count­less oc­ca­sions when I’m on a red car­pet with a client.

What have been some of your best moments as a tal­ent agent? And what have been some of your worst?

When peo­ple say no, that’s when I re­ally get ex­cited. When I have to fight for a client to get a job and they do, I find that very sat­is­fy­ing. The ugli­est moments tend to be when egos and pride get in­volved. Then it’s not even re­ally about the busi­ness any­more.

Is the movie in­dus­try as glam­orous as we all think it is?

No! At the end of the day, it’s still a busi­ness. Yes, there’s the glitz and the glam­our, the lights, suits and jew­els—but the galas and red car­pets are only about 5 per cent of what we do.

Red Car­pet Pose From left: Ac­tors Chin Han and Archie Kao, film pro­ducer Su­kee Chew, and An­drew Ooi

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