Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Get Packing For the Pecking Order

Prior to your next Ironman or 70.3 race, here are some packing considerations:

1)    Get a ‘what-to-bring’ list drawn up first.
2)    Place your race-kit aside (racing attire, helmet, race-belt, shoes, heart-rate monitor, speedometer, Bento-box, sun-shades, wetsuit, Ziploc bags, and nutrition).
3)    Check the condition of your race-kit for potential wardrobe malfunction or mechanical malfunction.
4)    Bring extra socks, energy gels, goggles, and salt-tablets.
5)    Pack your bike into bike-case (dismantle/loosen cockpit, saddle/seat-post, pedals).
6)    Nutritional package for your Special Needs bag (including solid/comfort food to be purchased from the supermarket).
7)    Prepare both wet-weather/cold-day attire and nutritional support.
8)    Pack your tools in the bike-case (Allan-keys, spare-tubes/tyres, duct-tape/masking tape, foldable scissors, and old water-bottles to discard at aid-stations).
9)    Re-check your list (see if you left out anything).
10) Buy your CO2 canisters at the race-fair (anything else, bring from home. Bring enough money for the pre-race and post-race merchandise shopping. If you are an iPod person, bring your digital music along.

While we are on the subject of preparation, here are some splendid short articles worth your attention.

What is like to complete a Deca-Ironman? Results of this year’s races here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pre-Race, Stress-Free, Thoughts

Pete Jacobs tweeted this a few days ago: Good 23k run. 21k under 4min pace. Am running faster than before Hawaii, but is the endurance going to be there for ironman WA?

For a sub-1:24 for the 21K during training, Jacobs will be a force to be reckoned with; he will be racing at IMWA this Sunday. He is an excellent swimmer and very strong runner. If the recent wins by Crowie, Macca and Rinnie are an indication the Australian professionals seem to be dominating the marathon and swims at Kona, Hawaii.

I was fortunate to have attended running and swim session with Jacobs. He taught me to lean more forward and run on my forefoot, to which I have enhanced my cadence and speed.

Massimo Cygana and Belinda Granger won the 2010 Laguna Phuket Tri Championships yesterday! There will be the 70.3 format this coming weekend in Phuket, as there will be the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. I wish my friends a good race on Sunday morning!

Thank you to those who send me tweets, text messages and e-mails to wish me well for Ironman Western Australia. I appreciate them very much.

Here, courtesy of John Cooke of Perth, an article on tapering by the irreverent but relevant Chucky V. I enjoyed reading John’s weekly blogs on his journey leading up to IMWA. If you would like to start a blog, consider this article.

Meanwhile, taper well, and have a great week ahead. 
The article on peeing on the ride and run generated significant comments, including from seasoned racers. It is interesting that on this side of the pond, that minimizing down time in the most natural and uncomplicated way can be viewed as unpleasant. I merely shared my experience, and reiterated this practice with Chrissy Wellington’s latest blog post. It was not meant to repulse. Necessity dictates creating options. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Onward!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pre-Race Tapering Time: Keep It Simple!

Editor: This is a contribution I requested my Coach, Craig ‘Fox’ Holland to share with fellow participants to Ironman Western Australia. The race is a week from now, on 5 December, in Busselton, Perth. Fox – who finished the World Championships in Kona in 2005 - will be racing with us. He is an international management consultant, and online triathlon coach. We interviewed him last year.
Much has been written about taper time. However, all athletes respond differently. As with coaching individual athletes, I believe there is no one solution that will suit all. Every one reacts differently depending on your genetics, athletic ability, recovery time, work/life priorities, and the way you handle stress.

However if you are in doubt, don’t do it! REST UP…!

Tapering allows the body and mind to recover and freshen up, replenish glycogen and motivation levels. Enjoy the moment and start visualising yourself succeeding on race day.

I do not recommend doing nothing. Past experience indicates most athletes will benefit from a reduction in training volume in the last week by around 50 to 75%. You may feel frustrated but, realistically, you don't need to do much except keep the system alive and sharp. Some short sharp intervals will be sufficient. Cramming in extra sessions now will be detrimental.

If you can, have a sports massage and stretch as often as you can. Stay relaxed.

Maintain normal sleeping patterns, and get quality sleep. In the morning before race day, take your bike for a last short spin/check out incorporating a few surges to lift the heart rate.

Rest and get off your legs for most of the day. Do not stand around all day at the expo or do a tourist adventure, mountain climb, etc. with your loved ones. Save it for post-race activities.

Do not do anything in taper week in terms of diet and fluid intake that you do not do normally. There are no special supplements or drinks that are going to increase your performance, except for a little increase of carbohydrates.

Stick with what your body already knows. Race-week is not the time to be experimenting.

Essay & Photo-credit: Craig Holland

Saturday, November 27, 2010

If You Got To Go, You Got To Go!

I posted this link to Chrissy Wellington’s blog on the Triathlon Family Forum. I enjoyed the honesty and realism behind her race preparation and racing psychology. Most of all, I wanted to highlight the fact about the dilemma that professional triathletes have when racing, and needing to relieve themselves, tactically.

In the past, some of my triathlon buddies scoffed at my practice of, occasionally, relieving myself on the ride. My Coach, the Fox, instructed me to learn how to do it. He had asked me if I noticed if professionals take a pee break. I have not. I discovered that they do it on the ride; female pros included. In Chrissy’s recent blog, she confessed that she relieved herself six times! At least she was adequately hydrated. My friend, Hui Koon remarked in his forum posting today, that he could have been dehydrated during races. I actually rode to a PB in Ironman Malaysia in 2008 when I kept to my bike throughout. Roadies have told me about their one-handed technique for relieving themselves on long rides – I was impressed.

If you don’t pee often during the race, you may be dehydrated. Dehydration may cost you your race. Your body’s ability to process oxygen may be impeded when your blood is thick due to inadequate fluid intake. Dehydration leads to loss of power on the ride and reduced stamina on the run. Urine is sterile. When you drink enough, your urine is clear and odourless.

Why do you choose to be sickened by bodily discharge? Let’s be clear: nobody is attractive and glamorous as they cross the finishing line. Sweat-stained, attire blended with nasal and oral discharge, are not particularly attractive even to your embracing family members. Hey – we stink! And that’s the truth. Showers and baths will do the trick of smelling good.

If you want to save precious time for your PB, and wish to relieve yourself on the swim, ride and run then consider the following:

1)    Practise in training. Many people cannot pee on command. You got to train for it.
2)    Pee in your wetsuit – not a major issue. Pee on your ride and run, rinse immediately with water. Use your bidon to squirt the residue away by aiming at your groin. Some of it will run into one shoe, and you can wash it after the race.
3)    See before you pee: watch if there is anyone behind you. It is not courteous to leave your trail without warning.
4)    Do it as you cruise downhill, or have a freewheeling moment.
5)    If modesty or habit does not allow, then head for a porta-loo. Aim for an empty one, or the shortest queue. From experience, I’d head for an all-guy queue. Don’t take it personally.
6)    After the race, give your bike a wipe through. Degrease and clean. Salt water does the most damage to metallic parts of your bike.
7)    I am not selling bike, and my seat can be replaced through time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Your Customers’ Experiences Matter

‘The customer can fire anybody, including me.’ ~ SAM WALTON, Founder, Wal-Mart.

Upset a customer, and you lose a customer. Upset many customers, and risk losing your business.

Read about Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson blog about customer service here. By the way, the 60-year-old Chairman ran his first marathon this year in 5:02, mentored and accompanied by world-record holder, Tegla LaRoupe.
Internal customers are your colleagues. Your infernal customers can also be your colleagues. Most staff are skillful at playing dysfunctional dynamics – Blamer, Victim and Rescuers – the basis of office politics. This is an annoying and vicious cycle that propagates and perpetrates unhealthy propositions, wasteful energies, and negative emotional responses. These downfallen relationships sap us of our earthy goodness and humanity.

In the past year, you read it here about Branded Customer Experiences (BCE), a term suggested by Reeves Lim Leong of INGENS. About 16 years ago, Gary Yardley and Jan Kelly (co-creators of the Experience Orientated Management technology) predicted that in the future three things will truly matter: Relationships, Potential and Experiences. This also strongly applies to managers who wish to lead into a future of successful business, loyalty at work, and worthwhile employee experiences.

Consumer experiences matter, or they will continue to consider shopping online. We know who we are! Retailers should awake from the slumber of the last decade and focus on the sunrise of the next decade. This also applies to educational institutions, banking institutions, event organizers, hospitality, and airlines. With the capabilities afforded by Social Media 2.0 and Personal Branding, both positive and negative word-of-mouth influence can impact your fanciest, cleverest, copy-written advertisement. Give it time – you will be revealed!

Do your customers return to your bicycle shop to hang out because they enjoy the atmosphere?
Do you respond to online feedback and change the format of your races?
Do you consider a wider demographic that is more family-friendly?
Is your special deal really ‘special’ or a ploy?
Do the students you coach stay as students, and extend their invitation to their friends?
Does your recommendation and critique hold weight, or it is just a superficial judgement?
Are you representing your brands well?
Do your best staff stay?

Caveat emptor! Do more good. Be better!

Photo-credit: Richard Branson, courtesy of Virgin.com

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Inform, Educate and Entertain

The above title is a minimalist mantra of major newspapers. There is a large degree of truth to that, with caveats.

KISS: An acronym for 'Keep it simple, stupid'! Or, was that ‘Keep it short and sweet’? Either way, I was being cheeky and irreverent, or was I being lazy and lackadaisical? To use big words could mean referring to a dictionary, and that would amount to education. Wishful thinking on my part, I suppose…whimsical and willful me.

A club-member of mine, asked me on Saturday how I continue to post one blog a day, everyday for the last year and a half – my answer was simple, but not easy. I have, successfully, maintained my one blog/day average, although I have gone AWOL whilst on sabbatical (aka vacation, overseas races). I assure you I have been suitably concerned about not sustaining and delivering on my journalistic duties. Meeting datelines was and is, my occupational hazard (four years in trade journals and lifestyle magazines).

I hope that this blog meets the criteria of edutainment – catchphrase of the education business: interviews with excellent people, announcements, critiques, referencing, wisdom, expert advice, cartoons, and the occasional gossip. To educate and entertain: should there be a balance? In my experience, and my educated guess would be, there should be a priority of education over entertainment. There can be entertainment value in learning; focusing on methodology that engages, excites and integrates the enhancement of skills and acquisition of experiences. The learning needs and approach for Gen-X and Gen-Y are narrowing in its perceived margin. Adults want to learn, provided it impacts them positively and with direct relevance. Still, whenever they can, they appreciate a good time while learning. 
11 Days Out to the Big Roll at the Finish Line: Recent weather report for Busselton, Perth: It was 37 degrees Celcius in Western Australia today. Winds are expected to hit Force 5: about 29-38 kilometre per hour next week. If it does descend upon us participants of Ironman Western Australia 2010 next Sunday, I hope it will be erratic instead of ‘head-on’. I intend to brave and embrace the day ‘full on’.

John Cooke posts on his blog some major considerations for Ironman Race Day. I urge you to read it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leadership Raw and Unbridled!

I was watching K.F. Seetoh host Makansutra Raw – where he pops in unannounced to the best eateries in Singapore and gives his informed commentaries and critique. Raw is being prepared for the camera-crew, and being measured by a paying customer. I observed that more than half of the hawkers and restaurateurs were extremely camera-shy and averse to being filmed. Here was a golden opportunity to be filmed and assessed by a fair and friendly food critic and yet, they vehemently refused to consider the opportunity for publicity. I call this is the Star Trek ‘teleportation’ moment – Beam me down, Scotty! It is real, raw and unscripted. One can only be as genuine as one can be; it cannot be contrived, rehearsed and pretend.
I wonder if the level of fear was equated with a lack of education about business tools? Retailers enjoy walk-in, sell-by-itself status; fine when you enjoy popularity, and positive word-of-mouth marketing status. It is when customers stop coming to your stall that incurs their deepest worries. Are they worried that a critic might call their bluff? Stop serving bad food and raise the bar of quality. Not every business is designed to last; that is why fly-by-night businesses have short live-spans. It is deliberate, tactical and deadly. Long-term business requires strategies, deep thought, living by a credo of values that attract and attach customers to us.

How ready are we for the incessant assaults of the world? How fully prepared are we for the next challenge that is flung our way? How do you anticipate the changes in your career and business? How do we stay raw and ready as leaders within our teams?
Last night, I decided to run a half-marathon (with nutritional support) instead of a fast ride. I made a good decision, as I tested out my race pace on my K-Swiss training shoes. I ran about 4:50 min/K for the first 11K and then 5:10 for the next 10K. My target pace would be 5:45 min/K for that would be within my prescribed race-day, running heart rate. As it was humid, I had to ensure adequate hydration and I made my necessary but time-consuming, drinking-from-the-tap stops. It was not my best pace for a stand-alone marathon, however it was the pace for my dream Ironman marathon. I am aiming for four hours, and less for this flat course. If my riding legs hold and I pace myself well, I should be able to make a crack for it. Time to decide which running shoes to put into my Run bag…

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Time to Rethink Time Management

Have you ever attended a workshop on time management?

What did you learn from it? Did you consider why you attended that session? Are time management workshops for people who cannot manage their time?

Time management is more than scheduling and prioritizing. Are we expected to do more in a day? Time is a finite measure. There are only 24 hours in a day, and how we utilize each moment is dependent on what we decide as important. I have always been concerned that some trainers of time management workshops do not adequately demonstrate their teaching. If your trainer did not make time to exercise, or decide to eat and sleep properly then I would question their ability to optimize their waking hours.

The reality is: we can make time for whatever we want to accommodate into our day, and our lifestyle. The quality of life corresponds to our quality of time invested into our tasks, relationships and thinking. There is a value attached to our time.

According to recent research, the concept of managing time is about managing your energy. Managing energy means being fit, well rested and focused in our use of energy. Without adequate energy, we cannot lead as effectively as we intend to. Energy is the fuel for sustained motivation, passion and enthusiasm.

When we are energetic, we are capable of doing more things. We can more effectively shift our perspectives and positions. Recall when you are sick, how did you feel about your energy? Did you experience lethargy and a general disinterest in unimportant things? Movement took a colossal effort, and it left you spent and over-extended; energy was siphoned from your resources.

Motivation is about movement, motility and motive. It engages us to do things we like, or dislike. We are motivated by pain or pleasure. Humans tend to move away from our prejudices and move towards our preferences.

Energy comes from our food. Nutrients from our food give us our source of bio-chemicals to create energy. Vitamins, minerals, water, carbohydrates, fats and protein are what our body needs to repair, fuel and grow itself. Rest and recuperation allows our body to heal, get stronger through a process of adaptation.

Having been an endurance athlete for the last six years, I have learnt to appreciate what it has been like to train for marathons (42km) and Ironman triathlons (226km). I have also applied this mindset and lifestyle of an amateur triathlete into my profession. Working longer hours and training about 15-20 hours per week parallels each other. You have to decide on how you use your time, have adequate rest/sleep, and recover fully from each day. You put out what you put into your body. By becoming fit, we can:

1.    Sleep less, and function at a high level
2.    Do more things per unit time (be productive)
3.    Stay alert (at the most critical moments)
4.    Lead others to more purposeful things
5.    Become more “centred” and “focused”
6.    Be less prone to panic during crisis
7.    Make sense of the confusing, and consider multiple perspectives

If you lack the energy, strength and fitness you will be limited in your actions. So, manage your time by managing your energy. It is our source of sustenance and motivation, and our continued interests in others, and ourselves.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Watch this new film, starring Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Chris Pine (Star Trek, 2009). Two railway operators – one a veteran engineer and one a rookie conductor – decide to stop a runaway train from colliding into a town by chasing it in another locomotive -driven in reverse. The train is armed with carriages that are filled with phenol, or some toxic and volatile material. It is a race against time, odds, information delivery, and poor leadership (under crisis situation).

Once again, Denzel is Da Man! His acting is A1. Watching him is bliss. Pine complements him very well. They could have played up the role of rail controller, Rosario Dawson. Tony Scott directs effectively this fast-paced film; rarely a dull moment. My easy scale ranking is 4/5 stars. Watch it!
Less than two weeks to Busselton – and distractions from new Cairns Challenge is emerging. The last two weeks during tapering is critical and crucial to triathlon success. I suspect my sprained wrist includes a hairline fracture; it is manageable for now. Time to prepare more intensively my race-gear. More biking and run/swim speed work. Thinking about the ultra-marathon three weeks after Busso. Decisions, decisions!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Tabloids Tales

Rode my last long ride this morning. I intended to do 120K however my wrist was still unstable, so I rode about four hours with a new triathlon partner, Andy. I followed that up with another hour of run intervals in the pool. In effect after five minutes of jogging in the pool, I did one, two-and three-minute intervals with 2-minute rest between sets. Towards the end of my workout, I hit four minutes. To increase the intensity, I focused on increasing my cadence and lifted my knees. This raises your heart rate and involves your arms and legs as you push against water. The relevance of this exercise was that it part of my ride-run brick, and works arms and core muscles. You will also, naturally, run on your forefoot (or balls of your feet); it is also easier on your knees and ankles, as the buoyancy afforded by water reduces the weight-bearing load on your joints. Attempt it and discover the benefits!
In response to enquiries about the Vincero-Design magnetic-mounted water bottle, here is an independent review by Bike Diva. There are pros and cons to using such a system for training (you don’t want to toss this during a race at the aid-station!), and with practice and observance of safety considerations, it can be a complementary accessory for your bike.

When uber-Ironman world champion, Chrissy Wellington won at Kona in 2009 again, she rolled on her belly Jon ‘Blazeman’ Blais style across the finishing line. Help support the War on ALS! Just yesterday, there were 5,000 downloads of the Blazeman song on iTunes.

A friend from our local magic club asked me last night: Is leadership nature or nurture? My sense and response is that in the corporate world, it is learnt and nurtured. For global leaders, there is a strong element of nature backing the nurturing. Most team-leaders can enhance aspect of their natural and unnatural leadership. There are several distinct qualities that define a leader, and you will need to refine these through time to gain the attention, attraction and attainment by others. As leadership is about influence, you have to sell it before they buy it; sell-in before buy-in.

The Double Deca-Ironman triathlon is currently on. My friend, Wayne Kurtz is now 5th in the Deca-Ironman race. We wish him all the best in his quest! Thanks, Harn Wei for your updates, too.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So You Want To Attempt A 100K Run?

It is almost the end of the year. I usually finish the year with an ultra-marathon, which in recent years has been the MR25 Ultra-marathon. To earn your t-shirt (thus, bragging rights when you go shopping at the mall), you would have to run five loops of 10.5K each over fairly rugged, cross country terrain. The slopes are not that menacing, but after your third loop it would be wise to walk it up. I learnt a few years back from veteran ultra-runners that it would be more useful (in saving your running legs) to walk up slopes, and then go faster downhill.

Training is one of the two major keys to completing an ultra-distance race. There is no escaping the fact that ‘you have to do the time, if you want to do the crime’. The rough guide to completion nirvana is to do regular runs, with varying intensities and distances, totaling about 70-100K per week. Certainly, if your rest and recuperative powers are good, you can indulge in longer or more frequent runs.

Note to over-40 runners: The research and practice indicates that it would be better to split a long run into two shorter ones – one in the morning, the other in the evening. Focus on intensity: intervals, tempo, hills and cross-country/trail running.

Your fitness training should include race-day simulations, and a Long Slow Distance (LSD) run should be factored in, about three-quarters of the actual distance run. For example, for my quest for the Adidas Sundown 84K medal and t-shirt, I did a 60K run on the actual race-route during training. Unfortunately, boredom overwhelmed me and I did 54K instead (and took a cab for the remaining distance back). That is a marathon-plus in training! That was a PB for me in training!

Nutrition is the other key if you want to complete an ultra-distance run. My friends laughed at me when I wore a race/fuel belt filled with Power-Gels. Little did they realize that my need for energy is higher than most; I calculated my energy expenditure during training. My coach also worked out that I need about a packet of gel every 20 minutes, and two water-bottles of water/sports drink an hour. What I loaded up early in the first marathon helped me finish my second one. The same approach goes for an Ironman-distance race: eat and drink well on your riding leg. Otherwise, you’ll hit Bonksville on the marathon. That’s when many of us walk the marathon. Although I missed the podium by a slim margin, I was happy I completed in 9:30 and learnt invaluable lessons on running long.

Now here’s the bad news: Over-distance running, or running more than you are racing may be hard on your joints. Of the dozens of ultra-runners I interviewed, about 70 percent of them claimed to experience joint-related injuries one month AFTER the race! Many of them continue to use glucosamine supplements. Although research on this nutrient is inconclusive, there is no harm in using it as a food supplement. I, too, fell prey to knee and ankle injuries. These have healed with a systematic approach of rehabilitative intervention, deep tissue massage and core-muscles training. Talk to seasoned and sustained runners on how they keep healthy when running far.

Hope this helps you. See you on the last Sunday of December at MacRitchie Reservoir! It will be a useful confidence booster for the Sundown 100K Challenge in June 2011. I hope to do six loops this year, with my trail running shoes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Motivational Tactics Before A Race

"Decision Must Be Instant...Commitment Must Be Total." - Blazeman

For close shave finishes, I enjoyed the 2006 Ironman World Championships when Norman Stadler won his second world title by a narrow margin of about 71 seconds before Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack. The 2007 DVD showed new winners through Chrissy Wellington and Macca. The 2009 DVD with Craig and Chrissy repeat is definitely worth watching for their repeat wins (second for Crowie; third for Wellington). I am most inspired by the late-finishers, where their struggles (towards the midnight cutoff) make it painful yet exciting to watch. I am still inspired by the late-Jon Blais ‘Blazeman’ and saddened by our loss.

‘Every man’s death saddens me for it diminishes mankind.’
For non-Ironman DVDs, I’d watch Hollywood films like Breaking Away, The Rookie, The Flying Scotsman, American Flyers, Tin Cup, Bagger Vance, Miracle, Rocky (1,2,3, 4 & 6), and Invincible. I adore and support the Underdog, rising from the ashes of despair into a reborn, fiery phoenix. 
This evening, still nursing a tender right wrist (Day 9 of sprain), I rode for two hours followed by about an hour of running in the pool. I was reassured that my wrist felt comfortable on my aero-bars. I must say that Elite Bicycles did a thorough job of fitting my bike to my severely imbalanced body. The directors of Elite continue to remind me to do my core exercises – a bonus for clients they provide customised fitting.

I have found that by running in chest-high water, I can train my cadence for running. By lifting my knees higher and maintaining the lean, I can run on forefoot whilst still in place – it works your core muscles as you have to stay balanced on the slippery tiled floor. The water helps cool your body when you do hard intervals – I warm up with one minute moderate to hard pace, followed by two-minute and three-minute intervals. You can raise your heart-rate while reducing impact on your barefoot. It is like running unshod, without the Vibram Five Fingers. By focusing on the moving water in front of me, I can visualize myself running on the marathon course.

I look forward to my wetsuit swim at the lagoon tomorrow morning. I may integrate a fast 10K run before that. Time to rest my weary bones.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Power of Three in Planning & Preparation

In triathlons, we have the three disciplines: swim, ride and run. Triathlon training includes pre-race, racing, and post-race – that is part of periodisation.

Three is a tidy number. Three can be a crowd. It is an odd number – literally. Fairy tales and fables read well with the trio: Three Little Pigs, Three Bears, and Wicked Stepmother and Two Sisters. A trilogy is a serial of film chapters: Matrix, Star Wars (2X3), and Lord of The Rings. Prequel and sequel makes three. Superlatives come in three: good, better and best. Fast, faster and fastest!

The Triple Threat on Broadway is the one performer who can sing, act and dance. A Broadway or West End musical includes the first-half, intermission, and second-half. Traffic lights come in three colours: start, stop, and continue. Three has a nice ring to it. It sounds good, for it has a rhythm when you recite in sequence.

When preparing for a talk, think in threes: Beginning, Middle and End. The triad includes the Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

Do you approach your week with a trio of priorities? Which three questions do you tend to ask? Do you build up to a heightened conclusion for your presentation?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Double Dare: Do You Lead From The Front or Back?

These are leaders in the entertainment industry. No, I don’t mean the directors, who are in an auteur class of their own. I am referring to the shadowy, behind-the-scenes, leaders: Stunt-people, crew, and publicists. According to reports, a studio makes about 55% of the gross box-office takings; and it must exceed the production cost or it is considered a box-office flop. That’s the business side that producers have to be mindful of, and manage well. Filmmaking, including those of animated films, is a major undertaking that is not for the weak-of-wallet. Likewise, the recording industry for musical artistes is dwindling at 5-7 percent per year; EMI has been hemorrhaging heavily in recent years compared to Warner, BMG and Sony.

The biggest Asian actor in the 1970’s who did his own stunts was Bruce Lee. He paved the way for Jacky Chan, who made the successful foray into mainstream Hollywood films and paid it forward for his fellow stunt-people. Now, the biggest actor in Hong Kong was former-stunt-person, Donnie Yen. He headlined the two films depicting the biography of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s martial arts teacher; both were box-office successes. 
Now, what about their women counterparts? Debbie Evans did it in Matrix for Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss). Jeannie Epper was stuntwoman/double for Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman. The biggest name in show business is Zoe Bell, stuntwoman for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. She starred in Death Proof and her anchor film, Grindhouse.
Bell appeared along with legendary stunt woman Jeannie Epper in Amanda Micheli’s acclaimed documentary Double Dare (2004), which offers a glimpse at the lives and careers of both women, as well as the friendship. Stuntwomen still play second fiddle in an industry dominated by more testosterone-drenched professionals. In the early days of cinematography, stuntmen dressed up as women to support actresses. Today, they have to be versatile in a medley of skills including gymnastics, high falls, full body burns, martial arts, driving, equestrian, and acting.
Just this morning, Jennifer Philips – a female fight choreographer was interviewed on Primetime Morning, a local television news magazine. She talked about her big break into Hollywood's male-dominated stunt industry. She also shared insights into how action sequences are designed in films such as The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean. Actors for some action films may be too scared to do their own stunts, as Jennifer revealed the true nature of some macho-celebrities.

April Littlejohn talks about her experience as a stunt-person. Here is Carolyn Day’s showreel.

When was the last time you took a fall for a staff? Which breakthroughs did you make with your team? How did it feel to play second fiddle in a project? What was it like to be the invisible face behind your management’s success? Which was the hardest fall you endured in recent years? How active are you in smashing paradigms? 
Congratulations, Powerman finishers! Matthew reports on this chilli-hot race after a noticeable leave of absence. Welcome back, Swim Commander!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spartacus: Leader Among The Slaves

This is a slight departure, again, from hardcore corporate life and hardcore endurance sports. I watched the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand and derived viewing pleasure from it.

If you have watched the 1960 version, led by Kirk Douglas and directed (albeit in a director-for-hire only role) by the late-Stanley Kubrick (of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame; as well as Dr Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange), this is an extended version of it. Plus, this 2010 version runs 13 episodes with enough Mature-Audience material to make you blush (if you watch it with family). There is little compromise by way of artistic intentions and execution; like Kubrick in most of his work (save, ironically, of course with Spartacus, circa 1960).
So, what is all about? Circa, 70 B.C., a Thracian soldier is arrested by Romans and trained as a gladiator for the amusement in the arena. The slave-gladiator, defies odds and death, to emerge victorious and popular among the mass. Motivated by his personal mission, he, subsequently, leads the other gladiators when he stages an en masse coup that topples the gladiatorial school and its cruel master. Well, at least, up till the finale of Season One.

The acting is very good, with little-known, lead actor Andy Whitfield playing Spartacus convincingly. He ably supported by a motley cast of credible and seasoned actors including Lucy Lawless (Xena: The Warrior Princess) and John Hannah (The Mummy trilogy). Despite the CGI-enhanced scenes (recall the film, 300) the action scenes are gory, realistic and violent. In a sentence, Spartacus has elements of Caligula, 300, and Gladiator. This is definitely not a family-night-in series, although you can be fooled by the rock soundtrack accompanying the heart-stopping, action sequences. There is an ample flesh-fest and coarse language to make you feel sheepish. This is the trend (in-your-face gratuitous nudity, violence and coarse language) in mainstream television/cable TV series in the past decade, and reflects shows like Sex In the City, Californication, True Blood, Entourage and Rome.

Like most of Hollywood contract work, the series was shot in New Zealand. The thriving film industry – with springboard project, The Lord of the Rings trilogy – is held buoyant and healthy with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, among many other projects. The significant Kiwi cast of athletic actors and extras add to the authenticity and action-genre of this mega-series. This is a highly physical series, as the gladiator-actors have to stay in prime shape for the intense choreography with sword and shield. Unfortunately, Season 2 is now up in the air, as British actor Whifield may be leaving the show because of serious health issues. It will be a pity as he is a leader who is both face and front of this new series. We hope that he makes a complete recovery.