William Feng is the host of ICS Shanghai‘s travel show Getaway. New shows go out on Thursdays and are repeated across the week.
Was the Getaway gig a random Shanghai opportunity or did you come here with a plan to break into this industry?
I came to China originally as part of a three year plan to travel the world. The next stop was meant to be Brazil, and finally, Africa. When I first arrived, I knew very few people in this country and though my father was here when I first came, he left shortly after. I stayed and never left. It’s been four and a half years. When it came to media, I knew no one in this business and everyone was telling me that guanxi, guanxi was just about everything when it came to TV and entertainment. I’m by no means a superstar or a big name but my coming this far has all been about persistence, hardwork, and a little talent. It was not about being friends with this or that bigshot. Don’t listen to what everyone says, status quo can be wrong.
After resigning from SMIC International school my first year in China, I went to Shanghai Theater Academy to receive a year’s training in acting and after graduating from my one year course, I began looking for acting work. A lot of waiting was involved and I had to pay the bills so I worked as an English teacher, waiting all the time. Through an almost perfect stranger I met online, I heard word of a casting for the Film “Park Shanghai,” and auditioned for the role. I was selected and landed my first real role in an albeit, small, indie film (will probably be shown in Shanghai Film Festival 2008). The sound man for the film, Yang Yang, who was from the station, referred me to the producer of the program. The producer met me, screen tested me, saw my demo (from an online show I hosted) and gave me a shot at Getaway. I must tell you that there was another man waiting to meet the producer right after I left. I have no clue how many people were “interviewed” for the position. My first five shows were in Indonesia.
Does having the Mandarin put you ahead of the overseas crowd or into the middle of the local talent?
My Mandarin is something I need to be grateful to my grandmother for. Growing up in Australia, my grandmother (who lived with us) did not speak English, which forced me to speak Mandarin. I had a great bilingual background, Chinese in the home and English outside of it. Speaking Mandarin certainly helps me in this business. If I had a foreign face however, it would help me even more.
East/West Theatre seem to be doing alright and Da Shan has been in local productions on account of his Mandarin, are you strictly TV?
No way. I’d love to get into film but stage is something I’d consider too.
What’s the shooting schedule like?
Since Getaway has now been prolonged from 15 to 30 minutes, being on the road will be more common for me. I go out for about 6 days at a time and shoot two episodes. But it really depends. The two Shanghai programs which will be aired around Chinese New Year were 6 hours here, a day there, more haphazard.
Do you have much input into the show or are you more of a traditional frontman?
When it comes to input, I have plenty of ideas but the directors often think my suggestions are a little too crazy. On my Guam Island Getaway program, we shot this hilarious clip where I’m at the Greyhound Racetrack, the trumpet goes off, and I’m racing the dogs out of the starting box. It was super funny but the director thought it was too crazy and nixed it. I’ve had a total of six directors so far and they do influence the show a lot. So the amount of influence I have on the show will depend on how control oriented the director is, since ultimately, he or she is the boss.
CCTV International hosts get a bit of stick on the net for working for “the man”. Get any of that over at ICS?
It’s supposedly a little more lax at ICS than CCTV. There are rules and regulations concerning what I can and cannot say though. I remember doing a program where the director wished that I would abstain from talking too much about pork. I was on another program Expo Connection and I did a segment on the Chinglish in Shanghai. Since this program is directly connected to the Shanghai’s public image, they were sure not to present an overly negative image of Shanghai. That’s understandable.
Shanghaiist notices that CCTV International’s Travelogue is now advertising for a new host who must be “ethnically Chinese, male, native English speaker, 25-40”. Are the rivals feeling the Will Feng heat?
Feel my hotness CCTV9… feel me!!!!! Just kidding. I’m sure there are plenty of talented people that fit the description in Beijing.
Where does a travel show host go to relax in Shanghai?
Relax? On my bed. (lol)
You’re wired into travel and tourism right now. Can you persuade us that Pudong is not just an alien landscape populated by Martians (in Jinqiao) and forced relocation victims?
It’s populated by Martians?! Nooooooo! But wait. That would make a great Getaway program. “This week on Getaway, we go to an otherworldly place, a place populated by Martians and forced relocation victims. Is it Mars? Venus? No, right in our backyard folks, the district of Jin Qiao. This week, on Getaway.”