Behind the scenes in Yangonywood

Have you recently seen a Myanmar TV ad for body oil, spotted an impossibly handsome background extra, and launched a Cinderella-style citywide search to find him?

By JARED DOWNING | FRONTIER

WELL YOU’RE in luck: Strand Restaurant Diner #6 was played by none other than Frontier’s own hard-hitting investigative reporter. (Snapchat him at White_Rider82376.)

Full disclosure: I was paid to be in the commercial, and I’ll admit, I have done worse things for K40,000 than sit at a table, pretend to eat salad and watch a Speedo-clad bodybuilder scoop oil off the face of an A-list actor and rub it over his chest.

Let me back up. About a month ago I responded to a general Facebook call for extras. (I was upfront about being a writer, and although the studio forgot to make me sign a non-disclosure agreement, I later agreed not to mention the specific brand via pinky-swear.)

As Frontier’s cartoonist I’ve seen my fair share of glitz and glamour, but this was a whole other league. The agency flew in a dashing young director from New York. The on-set refreshments ranged from cheese crackers to oatmeal cookies. There were camera people, grips, fancy movie lights and, of course, A-list Myanmar stars.

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I will not mention the name of the female star, first because of my non-disclosure pinky-swear, and also because I don’t remember. But she was very fancy. And the first lesson our American director learned about the Yangon film scene is that the key to a Myanmar starlet’s heart is through her manager/mother, who just might, say, decide that her daughter’s hair should be more curly, but you can’t curl a woman’s hair without straightening it first, and her special straightener is back at Myanmar Plaza, and, no, we absolutely can’t begin filming until someone drives there and gets it.

The director’s doubtlessly enriching cultural experiences left us extras quite a bit of downtime, which I filled chatting with the makeup artist and watching the body builder do push-ups on the restaurant floor so his muscles stayed puffy.

When shooting began, they placed me at a table with the other foreign extra. Being true thespians (in high school I once played a witch in a gender-swapped version of Macbeth), we tried to flesh out our characters: He suggested forbidden lovers enjoying a night out in an unforgiving world, and I had more of a spy/espionage plotline in mind. In the end we went with both, but just as Captain John Steel and his husband Tom “Machete” Livingstone were finalising their plans to break into the Saudi ambassador’s suite and steal the blueprints for the Leprosy Bomb, the crew decided they needed a white guy in the medium shot and I got moved to the back table.  

At least from there I had a clear view of the half-naked man marching into the restaurant and spooning body oil from the face of a guy on a date – a scene that was performed over and over, like He-Man meets Groundhog Day.

I would love to provide further synopsis, but I’m worried I’ve already violated the terms of my pinky-swear, and I don’t want to blow my reputation on the Yangon red carpet now that I’ve finally had my big break.

By Jared Downing

By Jared Downing

Jared Downing is an American journalist from Colorado and Alabama. He likes podcasts, radio theatre and hitchhiking and collects cans of sardines from around the world.
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