Monday, 27 March 2017

Made in Sample

A visit to MadeinSample’s studio is like time travelling gone wrong: you’re first transported back in time through an antiquated lift, before you’re introduced to the social enterprise’s visionary and passionate founder and co-owners, who prove the possibility of founding a company that is both environmentally and financially sustainable, not least with their socially inclusive business model as solid proof. 

It all started in late 2014, when Clive Sit, then owner of an interior design firm, contemplated a change in business direction down a less commercial path. It was a time when the concepts ‘social enterprise’ and ‘sustainable development’ finally reached the greater mass in Hong Kong, and Clive jumped on the bandwagon, determined to do something with the plentiful of sample fabrics that did nothing but lying around in sample rooms, looking pretty and expensive. Among those impressed with Clive’s idea was Terry Law, who, to research for his graduation project, happened to be one of the audience when Clive did his business pitch at Good Lab in late 2015. The two clicked, in spite of the 13 years between them, and soon they were joined by Sam Fu, a friend of Terry’s who also read graphic design at Polytechnic University. 

With sustainable development and sharing economy in mind, they decided that MadeinSample would be a financially viable and environmentally conscious social enterprise that promotes social inclusion, not least through the interdependency they establish with their employees - retirees as seamstresses and tailors, and people with mental disabilities as fabric trimmers. MadeinSample’s is not your conventional business model, for they believe in interdependence and collaboration to make our community whole. 

When and why was MadeinSample founded? 

Clive: About two years ago, I was looking for a change of business model for my interior design firm, something slightly off the commercial track was what I had in mind. It happened to be a time in Hong Kong when social enterprise became a ‘thing’. I wasn’t very clued up about the concept of social enterprise. Naturally I went to Google, and learnt about the largest social enterprise convention yet, to be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in two days’ time. What I took away from the convention was the initial idea of founding a social enterprise, utilising my expertise in design. That was in late 2014.

I thought about the sample room at my interior design firm. The sample room is basically a space used to store fabric samples, and I know some designers - myself included - like to create handicrafts with these fabric samples. Two weeks later, I rang up my designer friends who were working in big interior design firms, talked them into donating their fabric samples, and soon my office was packed to the brim with these samples. It was then that I started contemplating about a social enterprise that would utilise these fabric samples. 

I signed myself up for a course run by Dr K K Tse’s Education for Good to learn more about social enterprise. At a pitching session held at Good Lab, my business pitch received positive response from my peers, and among them was a young man, who was waiting for me at the door after the crowd has dispersed. Terry Lam was not only enthusiastic about my idea, but he also offered valuable input. I’ve spoken about my business model with many people, but it was with Terry that I clicked. We agreed that our business has to be a sustainable social enterprise, whose services and products are widely available to and accessible by the public. Our business is not only financially sustainable, but also environmentally sustainable through repurposing fabric samples - we try to avoid the term ‘upcycling’ for the simple reason that the fabrics we use have never been used as a part of a product before, they were just high-quality fabrics costing up to the thousands, left idling in the sample room. 

Terry: I was at Good Lab for a reason: I had to research for my graduation project. What Clive spoke about his social enterprise model got my attention, and we soon found out that we both live in the Shatin area - the half-year after that saw us taking the same commute home together, and exchange of ideas through WhatsApp. We decided that we wanted to produce consumer goods that are environmentally conscious while financially sustainable. 

Tell us about the first large-scale project MadeinSample was involved in, in early 2016?

Clive: Our office was at St. James’ Settlement’s upcycling centre in Wanchai then. I learnt about an event to be launched by the Swire Group on social inclusion. Now that I think about it, that event was probably the largest-ever upcycling event in Hong Kong. It was a three-day carnival called ‘Love’s Team’, which was held in partnership with 15 NGOs, featuring stalls selling handicrafts, experiential workshops, and live performances. Our main role was consultation with the NGOs on their products and services, so as to come up with the event concept and set-up. In the end, we also devised the branding, logo and relevant graphic work for the event. The prominent artwork was around 300 patchwork pieces hanging down from the ceiling, so that the event also looked like an exhibition decorated with upcycled denim from Chevignon, a client of the Swire Group. 

Sam: One reason we decided to use denim fabric is that it doesn’t matter if you’re poor or rich, you’re bound to have at least one pair of jeans at home. Additionally, since the level of contamination resulting from the manufacture of denim products is relatively high, we thought it would make more environmental sense to upcycle denim. 

The people at Swire were amazing. They were willing to listen and adopt our ideas, at meetings that often lasted half a day. It was through the countless rounds of discussions that it dawned on them that ‘upcycling’ doesn’t have to mean repurposing trash, that it could be adopted into upmarket designs as well. One of the greatest things about the event is that we were able to upcycle or recycle up to 80% of the materials used - some were given to the participating NGOs, some we took back to the studio with us for future design work.

Clive: This event actually marked the joining of Sam to our team, through recommendation of Terry, as they both studied graphic design at Polytechnic University. 

What are the challenges for a producer/designer of durable and environmentally sustainable consumer goods in Hong Kong? 

Terry: The majority of Hongkongers are inclined towards fast consumption while compromising on the durability and sustainability of products - this is evident in the continual positive sales in IKEA. The small size of the average home is a reason as well, as you would need to get rid of some old things to bring the news things in, and people always want new things. So naturally, people tend to buy things that are cheap, and that which they won’t grow too emotionally attached to. The problem is that the market share for good-quality, durable products is relatively small. What we’re trying to do here at MadeinSampel is to produce products with unique designs and premium fabrics, which can’t be copied by fast consumption brands. 

Clive: Anyone familiar with the eco-friendly and responsible restaurant Mana! will have heard of the concept called ‘fast slow food’, and the consumer goods version of that is what we’re trying to achieve. We want our brand and products to be available to the mass as well, just not the mass production adopted by H&M, but the maximum level that we can reach while maintaining our principles of environmental sustainability and real artisanship. 

Terry: We try to avoid calling ourselves ‘craftsmen’, even though the majority of our products are made by hand, because we would also like to engage in consignment projects - for hotels and restaurants, for instance - as long as they fit our business model and principles. 

Explain to us the production model here at MadeinSample? 

Sam: Once we’ve received previously unused fabrics from our suppliers, architect firms and design firms, we will sort the fabrics according to their colours, further down to their subtle colour tones, and the presence or absence of patterns. When turning these fabrics into cushions, currently our prominent product, we need to draw sketches to ensure the fabrics will be trimmed to their respective sizes for the patchwork that will be made into a cushion cover. We will then take the fabrics and sketches to a psychiatric rehabilitation centre in Ma On Shan, where recovering individuals at the sheltered workshop will help us cut the fabric into desirable sizes - a tedious and time-consuming task that people with certain mental disabilities excel in, and which they seem to enjoy. I was particularly impressed when I was at their centre once, and they could spot a disproportionately trimmed fabric from afar! Not only do they have stringent standards on fabric vetting, they also make sure all trimmed fabrics are delivered back to us meticulously bundled in batches.

Terry: Back at our office at St. James’ Settlement, we found that many people with mental disabilities possess specialised skills, and we realised that we could enlist their help on repetitive tasks that require utmost precision. Along with fabric trimming, we also hire them for sewing, though that is a task mostly done by retirees, such as a couple of tailor husband and his seamstress wife. Through them we have been introduced to a network of retired tailors and seamstresses, whose skills and expertise are indispensable to us, especially in times when deadline is tight. 

Sam: Their efficiency is remarkable! Whatever task we entrust them with, they deliver, despite it being an eleventh-hour request. For the Swire event, we needed almost 300 patchwork fabrics measuring 2.5m x 1m. They gathered together a team of three, and had the 300 pieces done within a month. I’ve seen this couple work, their division of labour is amazing, and I’ve never heard them voicing their doubts, it’s probably down to the rich experience they have accumulated since their factory workers days. 

Memorable experiences? 

Terry: For me it would be the Swire event. I’d only just graduated from Polytechnic University, after all, and it absolutely was a great experience to add to my portfolio. We were lucky to have Clive, who has quite some years of working experience under his belt. It was actually Clive whom Swire trusted, not fresh graduates like myself. The event was a great experience also because I learnt the importance of communication. There was always a lot of communication going on - with the client, the countless vendors, the 15 NGOs. We literally transformed the event from two-dimensional to three-dimensional and later digital, for social media. It drained our energy, but it also offered itself as a rare opportunity to learn and grow. And it definitely helped that Swire, our client, respected us as humans while giving us the creative freedom.

Clive: Founding and running a social enterprise has its challenges in Hong Kong, one being that people tend to think you’re just ‘running a business’, often not understanding the rationale behind. It’s not news anymore that many social enterprises in Hong Kong will fold after their funding has depleted after three years. Right now, we’re only going to focus on what we do best. 

What can Hong Kong do more in terms of sustainable development? 

Terry: There needs to be an intermediary platform for people to seek takers of used items, as well as to learn about items to be given away. This platform could store the items for a certain period of time, and only dispose of them when there really isn’t any taker. For instance, when Clive was devising his social enterprise business model, a great deal of sample fabrics were being discarded by suppliers and interior design firms. Had there been an intermediary storage platform for those fabrics, Clive would have had access to even more unwanted fabrics. 

Sam: Many people aren't aware that there’s a place called EcoPark in Hong Kong, because it’s located far away from the city centre. In a city with 18 districts, there’s only one EcoPark, and the application and administration procedures are unbelievably complicated for someone who may want to research on eco-friendly solutions. When it comes to sustainable solutions, the government is hesitant, especially with things that haven’t been done in Hong Kong before. 

Terry: It would be great if the government could offer support and subsidies in terms of funding and space provision. An upcycling designer normally won’t have the space it requires to store a great amount of materials, not to mention that it takes time for a designer to come up with a practical design, and yet in the time it took the designer to consolidate a design, many reusable materials have already been dumped to the landfills. 

Clive: I wouldn’t count on the government. I think collaborating with businesses and corporations might be a good start - the combination of corporations’ funding and designers’ creative ideas could lead to something good. In fact, such collaboration has seen success overseas. 

What’s the best thing about being the founders of MadeinSample right now? 

Terry: Essentially, we are running our social enterprise with an ordinary product design standard and an extraordinary business model. Unlike conventional businesses, we aren’t going to boot our competitors out of the market so that we can monopolise it. There is a sense of interdependence here, between us and the many individuals and organisations that we work with. Without our friends in the architecture industry, we won’t have the generous donation of fabric samples; without our seamstresses, we won’t have the end product. And in return, we give back to our environment and our community. Put simply, MadeinSample is an intermediary and a social enterprise that encourages social inclusion. 

Clive: With conventional business, the main goal is to make profits. But all over the world, people are increasingly running businesses that result in mutual and greater benefits to the community, with principles based on the ‘sharing economy’ concept, it’s sort of like how the ecosystem is, and I think this is a much healthier economic model. 

Terry: Back in the old days, getting rid of old stuff at home was a hassle. People would have to phone and arrange for movers. Now, though, people don’t actually have to dispose of unwanted furniture - they can put it up for sale of free giveaway on social media platforms, so that the item can be passed on to people who need it. Sharing is the trend right now, and it would be great if this trend could stay. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Jack Shirley

When he decided he had had enough of waiting tables at a hotel in cold England, Jack Shirley took off to the French Alps, where he discovered his new passion in filmmaking, which brought him back to London where he studied video editing. But it wasn’t long before he was on the move again, this time to Hong Kong. “In 2013 three friends and I came to Hong Kong (my second time). We stayed a week and I fell in love with the vibes and could easily see myself living here. I told my friends at the time: ‘I'm gonna move to Hong Kong.’ I doubt they believed me, that’s what everyone says whilst on holiday, after all. But I was determined, when I got home I researched how I could work in Hong Kong. Being an English teacher seemed like the most viable way, I liked the idea of being at the front of a class and entertaining people despite my parents both being teachers and giving me one major piece of advice of my life: ‘Don't become a teacher!’ I thought I'd love it and I do. So for now I teach weekdays and make films in my spare time.”

Making short films, he does, and not just your average videos. Using his drone device, Jack made a stunning video of the lesser-known sides of Hong Kong, something that was born out of his initial serendipity journey to the greener corners of the city, which ends up surprising many who thought Hong Kong was ‘just a concrete jungle’. But just as much as he likes Sai Kung, Cheung Chau, and Tung Ping Chau, Jack is also a a fan of the oft-claustrophobia-inducing Sham Shui Po, not least for its extensive offerings of food and reasonably priced meals. 

Like many expats in Hong Kong, Jack finds settling in Hong Kong relatively easy: “The people of Hong Kong are very welcoming and that made moving here very easy. I love that Hong Kong feels so safe. I actually feel safer in Hong Kong than England. I don't think it's often people can say they feel safer in a foreign country, but I do. For instance, you just don't see gangs or groups of teens smashing up bus stops or vandalising things here. I don't have any personal experiences but my car on The Isle of Wight was broken into and my sound system and CDs were all stolen. I can't imagine it happening here so often, but you'd often see car windows smashed back in the UK. I don't think I've seen any here…”
Watch Jack's video of Hong Kong's greener corners here: 
  1. How was Jack Shirley like as a child?
    I was brought up on the Isle of Wight, a small island in the south of England. I was a happy child despite getting beat up a lot by my three older brothers. I loved playing football and dreamt of becoming professional... like most boys in England.
  2. What brought you to Hong Kong in the first place?
    When I was 20 I decided I'd had enough of working as a waiter in a hotel in cold England and thought I could do that job nearly anywhere in the world, so why stay? I got a waiting job in a hotel in Les Menuires, a ski resort in the French Alps. I bought a handycam for the adventure and decided I was going to film all the snowboarding we were going to do. It was whilst making these videos that I discovered my passion for filmmaking and video editing specifically. So when the ski season ended I moved to London where I studied video editing at Ravensbourne, a university specialised in digital media and design. After uni I got a job as an editor for a small production company in London and although I loved the job, I thought there was something missing in my personal life. I found I was happier at work than at home, and that didn't seem right to me.

    In 2013 three friends and I came to Hong Kong (my second time). We stayed a week and I fell in love with the vibes and could easily see myself living here. I told my friends at the time: "I'm gonna move to Hong Kong." I doubt they believed me, that’s what everyone says whilst on holiday, after all. But I was determined, when I got home I researched how I could work in Hong Kong. Being an English teacher seemed like the most viable way, I liked the idea of being at the front of a class and entertaining people despite my parents both being teachers and giving me one major piece of advice of my life: "Don't become a teacher!" I thought I'd love it and I do. So for now I teach weekdays and make films in my spare time.
  3. Your first impression of Hong Kong?
    I first came in 2010 with a friend. We only had four days here as a stop-over on our way to Australia. We stayed in TST and didn't venture outside of the city. So my first impression was simply skyscrapers and heat!
  4. Your favourite aspects of Hong Kong - places, food, people etc?
    After coming back here to live, I discovered Hong Kong is MUCH more than just another city. It has amazing countryside and some spectacular views. My favourite places include Sai Kung, which has my favourite beach as well as great hikes. Cheung Chau is an Island I love. I like that there are no cars and many people ride bicycles around, it has a chilled out atmosphere, not to mention beaches, great views and hikes. I also really like Tung Ping Chau as it is just so different from the other islands here. Cool rock formations and exotic life are thriving there. That is actually where my girlfriend and I made our favourite video:

    I live in Sham Shui Po and can't cook, so I eat out every day. Luckily I am surrounded by great restaurants and I love the local food. I can't single out one restaurant, but I'm rarely disappointed with a meal in Sham Shui Po. My favourite Hong Kong-style food are Char Siu Fan and Dim Sum, but I eat food from all over the world here as there is so much choice in Sham Shui Po and Hong Kong!

    The people of Hong Kong are very welcoming and that made moving here very easy. I love that Hong Kong feels so safe. I actually feel safer in Hong Kong than England. I don't think it's often people can say they feel safer in a foreign country, but I do. For instance, you just don't see gangs or groups of teens smashing up bus stops or vandalising things here. I don't have any personal experiences but my car on The Isle of Wight was broken into and my sound system and CDs were all stolen. I can't imagine it happening here so often, but you'd often see car windows smashed back in the UK. I don't think I've seen any here...
  5. Tell us a bit about your video - why did you make that video, where did you go to produce that video, interesting things that happened during the production of the video?
    I made the video just to show my friends back home that Hong Kong is more than just an urban jungle. It is something that surprised me when I moved here and I'm sure surprised many others when they saw the video. I think this is something the Hong Kong Tourism Board should be telling the world... I'm sure it would bring more tourists. My girlfriend and I went hiking almost every week for a year in order to make the film. I work a full-time job as a kindergarten teacher here so I can't fly the drone as much as I'd like.
  6. What are the most memorable experiences in your life in Hong Kong so far?
    My football team have had many nights out, but I suppose they aren't so memorable. The nightlife here is great and my most memorable experience would have to be when I saw my now-girlfriend for the first time in a bar. She was sat on a stool with her friends and I didn't have the courage to say 'Hi' until her friends left her alone to go for a cigarette break. After stumbling over my words for a few agonising minutes, I finally got her number. Another memorable moment is one of my first hikes here - Sharp Peak. The moment we first saw the beaches of Tai Long Wan from the sharp peak trail I was amazed. I couldn't believe I was seeing this in Hong Kong!
  7. What’s the best thing about being Jack Shirley right now?
    Having a great girlfriend to come home to every night (she's not even making me write this!) and simply having the opportunity to live in a city as cool as Hong Kong. I am very happy that my videos are getting out there and people are seeing my work, I'm excited for what the future holds and hope to start my own film business.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Craig Miller: The Scottish Epitome of the Finest Chinese Man

He hails from Greenock, a small fishing village just off the west coast of Glasgow, Scotland. Growing up in an environment where everyone was obsessed with football, he became fascinated with martial arts. In fact, he was so enthralled by the behind-the-scenes of Hong Kong cinema and martial arts films that he quit university, packed his bags, and came to Asia - his mother called him crazy. And a crazy life he has begun since. 

Craig Miller is a professional stuntman who has made Hong Kong his home for 13 years now. If asked about his daily routine, he is likely to tell you that there really isn’t one, except rising when birds start chirping at 5am every morning and going to the gym an hour and a half later; otherwise, he could be receiving a work call later this afternoon that would see him flying to the UK or the US or China the next day, like that Sunday afternoon when he came out of the cinema and received an email, asking if he could be in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s house in two hours’ time. “Any kind of normal life is really difficult. It’s hard to have a girlfriend and then be gone for work for six months. It’s equally hard to buy a house, for instance. Now I’ve got gym membership in Scotland, London, and here in Hong Kong. Mobile contracts too. It’s crazy, paying rent here, paying rent there.”

But despite the madness, it won’t be an overstatement to say that Miller loves his job. Coaching and working with the extremely humble Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth, who insisted on doing most of his stunts in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and being awe-struck by the swift changes and construction of massive sets at the neighbouring Warner Brothers Studio stage where The Jungle Book was filmed, are only a few of the perks of Miller’s life as a sought-after stuntman. In fact, he showed up for this interview with his hands covered in fake tan. “It’s always fun. Like last night, I was dressed as an Indian. Crazy costumes, fake tan.” Fake tan that would take a week to come off, but the Scotsman would not let the orangeness get in the way of his regimented martial arts training.

Following a topsy-turvy year flying around the globe for various silver screen and martial arts work, the year 2017, for a change, is looking a comparatively slower one for Miller, bar a motion capture project for Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 back home in Scotland. His plan? To finish his book on personal development. Now that’s an epitome of the finest man by traditional Chinese definition: to be well-versed in both martial arts and literature. 

1. Tell us a bit about Craig Miller as a child? 
I come from Greenock, a small fishing village, just off the west coast of Glasgow, Scotland. At school, I would say that I was slightly different to most of the people. I was a good student, it’s just that I wanted to do things that interested me, I wanted to do things on my own terms. For instance, we had to learn French in school, and I was adamant, I wanted to learn Chinese. 

Growing up, I was always fascinated by martial arts, especially the stuff I saw in Hong Kong cinema - you know, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, the iconic ones. My father would be playing Bruce Lee movies when I was small, of course on VCR way back then. There were actually a few documentaries that came on the BBC. I remember watching these documentaries about the behind-the-scenes of Hong Kong cinema and martial arts, which fascinated me. I recorded one of those documentaries on VCR and I would watch it many times over! It’s strange, because everyone in western Scotland, where I come from, plays football. My brothers and my friends are passionate about football - it’s all they do. Even at school, I didn’t want to learn any other languages but Chinese, I want to learn kung fu. The teacher thought I was crazy! 

And then I went to college. I was doing sports science and sports management, but I thought, these aren’t really for me. I just wanted to be in Hong Kong, I just wanted to see the Hong Kong cinema scene, and learn martial arts in Hong Kong. So I dropped out of college and came to Hong Kong! I was like, I can’t do university, I need to experience life in Southeast Asia. My mum was not happy, as you can imagine. She was disappointed because she wanted me to go to uni, and it was the normal thing to do. She asked what I planned on doing in Asia, I said I didn’t have a clue, and she said, “Are you crazy?” But my mother and father are very supportive of what I do, and they appreciated that I was a little bit different. When I said that I wanted to abandon university, they didn’t understand it, but they supported it. 

My grandfather was in the ship-building industry, and so is my father and brothers. It’s the same thing across generations, and I thought that wasn’t quite the thing for me. There has to be more to life than that. It didn’t make sense to me. 

2. Your first impression of Asia and Hong Kong?  
The first time I came to Asia, I toured around Thailand in 1999. I came to Hong Kong for the first time in 2001. My aunt has lived here for 30 years; she’s an architect. Back then we didn’t have emails, so I wrote her a letter, told her what I wanted to do, and she invited me to stay with her for six months. Mostly I was just training martial arts and exploring Hong Kong, spent the whole time lost. I had no GPS, all I had was an old map. It was a complete culture shock for me, but that was part of the fun, to be able to get off at any MTR station and get lost. The experience was new and fresh to me, everything was just incredible. 

3. What surprised you the most about Hong Kong?
When I first arrived, my aunt picked up me at the airport. She was driving and we went straight up to the Peak. It must have been about 9pm. I was mind-blown, looking at the beautiful skyline. Because where I am from, I don’t think there are any buildings more than five- or six-storey high. I was looking at this concrete jungle with all the lights on. It was fascinating, even the buildings that were sticking out of the mountains. It got me wondering, how did they manage to stay on the mountains without getting blown over? But about half-way, I realised it was quite hot, and humid - Scotland is always freezing cold. 

The scale of the buildings, the architecture, the smells, the atmosphere, it was incredible. The smells range from the absolutely horrible stinky tofu, char siu (one of my favourite Hong Kong food), and the smell you get at the harbour front, at the coast, which reminds me of home - without all the concrete and madness, of course. I love the sea smell, especially when I’m taking the Star Ferry. 

I still enjoy going back home, visiting my three nephews, trying to inspire them into doing what they want to do, not what they have to do. Compared to Hong Kong, everything back home seems like slow-motion. It’s nice to be home, with all the space, and when I come back to Hong Kong it’s madness 24/7 - the pace, the work! The moment I get off the aeroplane it’s like going from zero to 100. My mother and father came to Hong Kong once, and I told them, “You have to just go with the flow, otherwise you’ll be left behind." My father would be caught up with something, and we’d be gone, and I’d have to look for him! I remember telling him, “I told you, you have to keep up, otherwise you’ll get lost!” I like being back home, it’s nice to see my family, but after a week or so I’d find it too quiet, that there’s too much space, and I knew I had to come back to Hong Kong.

4. What happened after spending six months in Hong Kong? 
I went back home. I found a stunt school, and I met some people who put me in movies so I got the first experience in my life doing fight scenes and stunts. But I really wanted to work in Hong Kong, in Hong Kong cinematic actions and things like that. I met a stunt coordinator in the UK. He is an English guy who was trained in Hong Kong when he was 18. The funny thing is that he was actually on the martial arts documentary that I watched when I was young! His name sounded familiar but I didn’t have a clue, but I sent an email to him anyway. I got a reply, and he said, “I actually need guys for a movie right now, if you’re interested?” I thought that was awesome, I’d never worked in the UK before, so I went to London. The movie involved some kung fu mix, and the experience was completely different. The UK way of doing martial arts movies the western way…I don’t know how they get anything done! Say, if we’re shooting a movie here in Hong Kong, we’ve got 10 days for the whole movie. In that movie in the UK, we spent three months just designing the choreography and stunts, and teaching the actors and actresses the fight scenes for a three-minute scene. They have so much time and money and particulars. People back there (in the UK) were saying movie life in Hong Kong is crazy, but I feel it’s a breeze, it’s so easy I tell them that they should try movies in Hong Kong!

It wasn’t until around 2007 or 2008 when I first started training at a stunt school in Hong Kong, but I was going back and forth from Hong Kong to the UK in between for training. Over the past five years I’ve been going back and forth non-stop, but it’s in Hong Kong where I’m based. Last year was crazy. I was all over Thailand, here, the UK, China. It was good fun, but I need to get myself in shape all the time. After doing years of stair falls, getting hit by cars, I’m not doing stuff quite as fast as I used to be able to do. I can still do what a 19-year-old can do, but I can’t do it every day. 

I have to be in good physical condition because my body is my product, essentially I’m selling myself as a product for movies. I have to maintain it every day. It sounds a bit sad but I wake up at 5am every morning, do my morning workout, mostly martial arts things, and then I go to the gym at 6:30am, for two hours. Then, depends if I’m working that day, if I’m not working, I’ll get some studying done, get some rest, and I’m always looking to get good nutrition and relaxation. Like today, I’ll be doing martial arts coaching as well. Mobility, flexibility, and nutrition are very important for me. I don’t follow any particular diet but I do try to stay as healthy as possible. My friends back home are used to lots of pizzas and beers but I have to follow my own diet. I have a ‘cheat day’ every Sunday though. I can’t be sticking to my routine 100% all the time, I need to cut loose every Sunday, have some ice cream and enjoy life. Life gets a bit tough sometimes. Like last night, I was working, got home by midnight, woke up at 5am and then went to the gym again. I can’t really do what everybody else is doing, I need to stay focused, but I enjoy doing it - I love it.

5. How has your career as a stuntman unfolded? 
The first big project I did as a stuntman was the movie called Beach Spike, a Cantonese movie with Charissie Chau and Jessica C. There was a mix of beach volleyball and kung fu, it was good fun. I did a few other local projects, smaller ones, and then my career started picking up. It started getting good with The White Storm, with Cheung Ka-fai, Lau Ching-wan, and Louis Koo. Working with actors like them was incredible, Cheung was such a nice guy. Fighting and playing with each other on set was a good experience, especially because I met some nice contacts and people in the industry. In Hong Kong, I find that networking is huge. Most of the jobs I’ve come across here are through the people I’ve worked with in one movie or another. In the UK, it’s a little bit different. But it’s good because now I know people who coordinate in the movies, and they bring me in, independently. 

The past four or five years in the UK, I did the Kingsman: The Secret Service movie with Colin Firth. I was on it for four months, choreographing all the fights and actions, and teaching the actors how to perform the martial arts sequences. Colin Firth was amazing. But Colin Firth in an action movie? At first I was like, “Do you mean Colin Farrell?” But Colin Firth pulled off all the actions, it was amazing to say the least. In Kingsman, he did most of all of his own stunts, not all, but most. I did Dracula Untold, Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight, big movies like that. I was really busy last year. 

As a regular job, I do motion capture for Rockstar Games. I don’t play games at all but I do all the actions for games like Grand Theft Auto, by wearing the motion capture suit, doing all the actions in a studio, and they animate it. The Rockstar Games is based in Scotland. In fact, I’m going there next Tuesday to shoot for them on a new game - I’ve been working for them for three years now. I’d do a series of action stunts for them, and then I’d come back here while they animate the actions, until they need me again. It’s good, because Rockstar Games is one of the biggest video games companies in the world. It’s nice that I’m doing Grand Theft Auto 5, it’s huge. The studio is just a big, empty space with 47 cameras all around on top. They’d tell me that they need me to do punches, they need me to fall down, or they need me to ride horses or drive cars, and I’ll perform the actions they need. The director would be watching on a screen. He can see me as the character in the video games. It’s so much fun. It’s funny when I do the motion capture, and there are these guys working on post-production. I’ve seen one of them working - he’s got four monitors and two keyboards, I could feel my brain melting, I had a headache just watching him do that! I said to that guy, “I have no idea how you do this stuff!” And he said to me, “Well, I don’t have an idea how you do your kind of stuff!”
6. How was it like training Colin Firth?
All the actors and actresses in movies need to get basic martial arts training, and then they come to us and learn specific manoeuvres they need for the movie, like shooting guns, stabbing people. At first we thought we might have to use a stunt double for Colin Firth, because he was getting older, at around 54 the time of filming, but he wanted to try it. He did his own stunt for the scene where one guy smashed a vase in his face, and we were like, “Wow, well-played, but that’s a stuntman’s job!” And he’s a leading actor, an Oscar-winning actor. 

He was always so humble, such a gentleman. He was nice to everyone even though he was under extreme pressure - sometimes we would do 20 to 25 takes, and the director was very strict, everything had to be perfect. Actually, that scene won a Taurus Award, which is the stunt’s version of the Oscars, for the Best Fight Scene. It was teamwork, and it was pretty cool because we spent a few months designing the choreography. For a guy like Colin Firth, he could have easily gotten agitated because of the pressure, but he was calm and nice, even when there was an accident happening at the set - the old English church where we were filming caught on fire, and we had to close for the day. It was crazy! And yet Colin was doing his role despite twisting his knee, just straight back to work. He was incredible to work with. He had no ego, just humble and nice. 

7. But Colin Firth isn’t very athletic?
Not athletic at all! But I guess that’s what added to his character. 

8. Is it difficult training people with no sports background?
It can be tough, but actually, sometimes it makes things easier. I’ve worked with some people who have done martial arts, but martial arts for real life and for the movies is completely different. Because they know some stuff already, it’s actually harder to teach them. I’ve also worked with really strict military guys. We’d be shooting guns, and they’d be telling me the proper way to shoot guns. And then I’d say, but it’s in a movie and this guy’s been paid million dollars to show his face, can we just adjust it a little bit? Colin, given that he had no background in martial arts, made life easier. He just absorbed it, but his physicality was something that we had to work on. But man, did he pull it off!

I worked with a guy who is a mixed martial arts fighter. He could not throw a punch that looks real on camera - the punch has to be bigger in movies. He couldn’t grasp the choreography. It’s really difficult to teach those trained guys. Fight scenes for movies have to be bigger, more dramatic, bolder and sharper to express the action. The rhythm is different as well, because there are always breaks for cameras to change angles before the fight continues. So a blank slate like Colin Firth would be easier to work with, because actors like him don’t have the experience and muscle memory that need to be untrained. 

9. What does it take to be a good stuntman? 
Any kind of normal life is really difficult. It’s hard to have a girlfriend and then be gone for work for six months. It’s equally hard to buy a house, for instance. Now I’ve got gym membership in Scotland, London, and here in Hong Kong. Mobile contracts too. It’s crazy, paying rent here, paying rent there. 

I worked on Wonder Woman for four months, every day was spent at the Warner Brothers Studio in London. There were four other movies going on - Harry Potter, The Jungle Book, and some other movie - with different sets. But there was only one canteen, so when I went to the canteen, all I saw were people in costumes, every day was like Halloween! It was insane. There were massive sets too. When they did Jungle Book we were already there. We were in stage 10 and they were in stage 9, so there was a big aeroplane hanging in the set, the next day, it changed into a huge forest! It made me wonder how did they build that in one day? It’s quite bizarre. 

Stunt life can be tough going sometimes. I’ve seen some serious injuries to the men and women I’ve worked with. One girl, who was doing Resident Evil, she was doubling for the leading actress, on a motorbike with no helmet, and hit the camera. Her arm came off, broken rib, she was a mess. Every day, there are always cuts and bruises, twisted ankles…thankfully, I have nothing too serious. 

10. Memorable experiences in your career so far? 
Just three weeks ago, I was invited to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s house, he wanted to teach some guys some defences. I came out of the cinema one Sunday afternoon and got an email from a friend, and he said, “Can you be here at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s house in two hours?” And I said, it’s a bit strange, but yeah, okay. So I got home to get my training gear and went to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s house. They just released the footage yesterday. So yeh, those types of things are just bonkers. 

Even with Transformers, I just happened to be in the UK, and a friend called me and he said - that was a Thursday afternoon - “We start at 9am tomorrow morning, can you be in London?” I was with my friends for a coffee, and then I said to them, “Sorry guys, I need to run!” To which my friends asked, “When will you be back?” “Hmm…three weeks?” It’s madness. You just have to be available, and be ready to go anywhere tomorrow, anytime. 

11. What’s the best thing about being Craig Miller right now? 
Right now, I’ve got no work plans other than the Rockstar shoot, which should be no more than four weeks. Last year, I was all over the world, non-stop. I’m going to do a lot of writing - I’ve been trying to write a series of books for what seems like six years now, because work just keeps being so busy that I haven’t really had the chance to finish it. 

12. What are those books about?
A series with personal development theme. I like reading, and most of the books I read are for learning - personal development, psychology, nutrition, fitness, martial arts. I prefer reading to studying on the computer. I’m a note pad-and-pen guy, I’m absolutely hopeless when it comes to technology.