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
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