Oblivious to the fallout within Silver Wing, Fang Zhao, situated in faraway Teasandsea, had already reached Shen Wei.
Shen Wei still hadn't found his composure by the time he boarded his flying transport. He had gotten a call from Duan Qianji.
He had thought he was going to be asked to train a few of the company's priority list actors. Duan Qianji hadn't prefaced her remarks, simply asking him if he could spare some time right now. When she had gotten an answer in the affirmative, she'd had him sign a confidentiality agreement.
Chills had gone down Shen Wei's spine once he had realized the severity of the situation. He didn't dare let down his guard, but he also realized this was an opportunity for him. He was as tight lipped as he had ever been lest he squander such a rare career move. Once he completed the handoff at Silver Wing, he headed straight for Tessandsea in the flying transport Duan Qianji had prepared for him.
Only when the flying transport had left Yanzhou airspace did Duan Qianji reveal who he was going to see in Teasandsea.
"Who would have guessed?" Shen Wei marveled silently at this, knowing that all the folks at Silver Wing would get a kick out of the fact that his mystery assignment was Fang Zhao, someone who had nothing to do with acting.
Unlike Duan Qianji, who was a results-oriented boss looking out for the company's interests, Shen Wei had started out as an actor. He knew full well how hard it was to land an audition for this film project, and for a key part, no less. He wanted to know how Fang Zhao had managed to secure the opportunity. That was what he was wondering about during the journey to Teasandsea.
More often than not, actors were pawns. They had no authority. All they could do was wait to be chosen. So what was had prompted Director Roman to give Fang Zhao this precious opportunity?
Was a backroom deal involved?
Shen Wei got a sense of the answer on the first day he worked with Fang Zhao after arriving at Teasandsea.
After analyzing Fang Zhao's personality and Fang Zhao the character as described in the script, he realized they were a perfect match.
Fang Zhao had won by simply going with the flow.
That is an advantage too , Shen Wei thought to himself. If there was a huge discrepancy between Fang Zhao's personality and Fang Zhao the character, or if he wasn't already an entertainment industry insider, he couldn't possibly have landed the audition without the proper backing and connections.
But acting in keeping with your personality didn't mean behaving the same way you did in real life when you acted. You still had to depict traits assigned to the character in the script, building from your own personality in order to craft a complete portrait.
As far as Fang Zhao was concerned, apart from mastering some basic acting techniques, he also had to learn how to be himself in the movie, how to deliver a performance that moved audiences. That was Shen Wei's job.
Duan Qianji had asked for Shen Wei, which meant he was highly skilled and the most suitable coach for Fang Zhao. Shen Wei knew how to help Fang Zhao master the skills that were necessary for his audition in the shortest time frame. As for everything else, Shen Wei would simplify. He didn't have enough time to go into detail anyway.
Fang Zhao holed up in his room after Shen Wei arrived in Teasandsea. The cruise ship was still in motion. He didn't need to head back to Teasandsea just yet. He instructed Yan Biao, who had remained on Teasandsea, to help Shen Wei settle down. He would then communicate with Shen Wei via videoconference and receive coaching online.
Fang Zhao rented a seaside villa for Shen Wei. There were plenty of similar options for tourists. They were private enough and conducive to his online coaching sessions.
Meanwhile, in the latest online gossip.
A video had caused quite the stir.
One of the passengers on the cruise ship had uploaded a hastily shot rock climbing video while sharing his pictures from the trip.
The residents of Teasandsea, who prided themselves on being worldly, were blown away. The video was reposted countless times, becoming a top headline in all the local news outlets.
The passenger who had shot the video might have been in a hurry and had only captured the latter stages of the climb, and the climber had been in a hurry. Rock-climbing professionals and non-professionals alike gave their two cents.
"That kind of speed—it's gotta be fake, no? Post-production?"
"How did he do it?"
"On first glance, he seems to be climbing with his bare hands, but maybe he's carrying some secret equipment in his palms."
"But he doesn't look like he came prepared. He looks like he's coming from a banquet or something."
"I know. It's gotta be a publicity stunt. When all the hype dies down, we'll find out that some rock-climbing athlete is making his debut in the entertainment industry."
"Word has it that several quite-good-looking extreme athletes are contemplating new careers."
"It's not them. They were still broadcasting live from their climb up a snow mountain in Muzhou yesterday."
"Let's stop guessing. We'll wait and see. The publicity team behind this will follow up for sure."
"True. Let's let things play out."
So the folks fixated on the video waited for the incident to percolate—except it didn't.
The rock climbing incident on the cruise ship was soon eclipsed by other events. It barely got a mention after a while. It just dropped off the radar.
Folks who thought they had seen through the act were bewildered.
This didn't make sense.
What about the hype?
The athletes switching careers?
Where did they go?
Yan Biao watched the video online while he conferred with Zuo Yu by phone.
Others would have missed it, but as Fang Zhao's bodyguard, Yan Biao had no trouble recognizing the silhouette. He just wasn't sure and wanted Zuo Yu to confirm. It was also a chance to ask what had happened on the cruise ship.
Zuo Yu's face went blank. "I'm not clear either. After hanging up with Boss, I went for a cup of coffee and listened to some music. Before I knew it, Boss was in the headlines again."
Even though it was a local headline story, it was still a headline story.
After a slight distraction, Boss was in the news again.
"What good are you for?" Yan Biao thought Zuo Yu wasn't doing his job.
In contrast to the folks in Teasandsea, readers from other continents had other concerns. They wanted to distinguish fact from rumor, to figure out whether Director Roman was actually on the cruise ship and which celebrities had managed to successfully stalk him.
At times like this, the people who got the most flak were the best-known entertainment journalists on each continent.
In Yanzhou, Wang Tie was the one who came under fire.
"Godfather, should we release what we have?" Fu Rui asked Wang Tie after browsing the online chatter.
Wang Tie shook his head. "We still don't have enough stuff. Let's wait and keep at it."
Wang Tie had been sitting on the material he had shot because he felt the timing was wrong.
"We're not going to release anything at all? You haven't seen the online commentary. They're saying that your reputation as 'King of Paparazzi' is at stake."
"It's all talk. I'm not actually going to suffer. It's better than being fed to the sharks. Believe it or not, if I released what we have now, Fang Zhao would show up tonight."
Fu Rui was going to suggest they simply go into hiding after releasing their material, but he thought back to the last time Fang Zhao had paid them a visit and shut up.
"Then should we keep following? How much more can the situation evolve?" What Fu Rui was worried about was Fang Zhao being eliminated from consideration for the role of his namesake in a few days. Then their material would be less valuable. They would be ridiculed for not following credible candidates and chasing Fang Zhao instead. Even idiots had better judgment.
Did Wang Tie have a brain?
But Fu Rui didn't speak up in the end. He chose to execute Wang Tie's plan. So be it if I'm a blind follower.
Fu Rui's question gave Wang Tie pause as well. He had been reviewing his decision-making since arriving in Teasandsea. Was it the right call to come here with his team? In the end, he decided to trust his instincts, to trust the finely-tuned antenna that distinguished him as the leading entertainment journalist of Yanzhou.
I'm definitely right!
"Keep at it," Wang Tie said.
"Aye, aye! Oh, Shifu, where's Xiao Bo today? I haven't seen him all day. How's his assignment coming along?" Fu Rui was a bit puzzled and worried as to why he couldn't reach his colleague.
"He's getting a shot. He got bitten by a dog while on assignment," Wang Tie responded.
"What? Whose dog was he bitten by?"
"Fang Zhao's, the tiny one."
"Godfather, you warned us to be on the lookout for Fang Zhao, but you never mentioned his dog."
Wang Tie took the opportunity to lecture Fu Rui. "That's why I say our line of work is quite dangerous. We have to be on guard at all times. Not only do we have to on the lookout for certain people, we have to watch out for animals too. We can't let down our guard against any form of life." His underlings were getting inflated egos after a few successful assignments. They had to be beaten down.
Fang Zhao ignored all the online debate. He was fully focused on the audition. After resolving the incident on the cruise ship quietly, he never again left his room. When the cruise ship arrived at its destination, he blended in with the other passengers as they disembarked and got back online to receive coaching from Shen Wei.
Several days later, a day before Roman's deadline.
Fang Zhao arrived at the address Roman had provided. Rooms were reserved for the audition.
Before Fang Zhao had set off, Shen Wei had told him, "There are some things that you want in life that you may never get, and some you may fail to escape even if you try, so try your best, but don't force things."
Being granted the audition was enough cause for celebration. It was a rare and incredible opportunity for a movie industry outsider like Fang Zhao. He was also unusually talented and had been a hard-working student the past few days. He had done the best he could. If he was ultimately rejected for the role, there would be no shame in it.
Shen Wei had seen too many talented actors come and go. These kids were often quite fragile, failing to recover after a single stumble. As an elder, Shen Wei felt obliged to pass on his wisdom.
Roman didn't show up in person. His assistant greeted Fang Zhao's party and led Fang Zhao to the room where the audition was going to take place. Shen Wei, Zuo Yu, and Yan Biao waited in a living room.
Shen Wei was a bit disappointed that he didn't get to meet Roman in person, but soon his sense of regret was displaced by nerves. As a teacher, he was even more jittery than his student.
The room reserved for the audition was completely empty. There were no props. Certain images would be projected during the audition to help set the scene.
The audition comprised three parts: a conversation, a fight scene, and a random scene picked by Roman. The third scene was extra credit, so to speak, an opportunity for actors to show their stuff.
"I'll give you five minutes to prepare for each scene." Roman didn't bother asking Fang Zhao if five minutes was sufficient. After barking his orders, he sat down on a nearby sofa to study a document. He was very busy. He'd had to reshuffle his schedule to make time for Fang Zhao's audition.
According to Roman's schedule, there were three scenes, plus five minutes of prep time for each performance. The whole process would take no more than half an hour.
Half an hour later.
Shen Wei, who was waiting in the living room, could no longer sit still.