Jon Aspin sucks down a Hahn Super Dry, in his quest for the ultimate expat experience
Being a foreigner in this country affords you a bunch of opportunities. The list of things you probably wouldn’t do at home is huge if you live here.
Admittedly, some of these opportunities are best rain-checked — one last beer at 5am anyone? However, there are still a few you can’t refuse.
For those familiar with these pages, you might remember my stellar turn as an American military captain in the Vietnamese jungle last year (shout out to my Madagui soldier boys). As amazing as that was, I’ve just done something to top it. It’s something I definitely didn’t think I’d ever do, and no it’s not acro-yoga.
I’ve just been part of a multi-million dollar Australian beer commercial. Scenes were filmed in Hanoi and Sapa last month, and I’m in them.
I don’t necessarily seek out these opportunities. However, as a writer for your favourite free expat read, I feel duty-bound to accept these gifts when they come.
Meeting the Crew
Flown up to Hanoi by 116 Pictures the day after returning from Tet, I could see that the cast and crew had developed a strong bond already. They had a rhythm. So my first role was to meet everyone, wait for an instruction and try not to be a tool.
Before reaching ‘Nam they’d already been to six countries in 15 days — this was no low-budget mini-series — racking up shark diving in South Africa, condor flying in the deserts of Dubai and snowmobiling in Poland as part of their day’s work. These all formed what the director would later tell me was the ‘experience collecting’ theme of the ad, tracking the journey through manhood of the commercials’ hero, a 28-to-35-year-old dude played by Kiwi actor Ashley Hawkes.
The experience of being part of his journey was incredible. In summary, I got paid to hang out in spectacular locations, ride a beat-up Yamaha over bridges, through rivers and down a mountain, share some banter with a great bunch of guys, then sit around a campfire to tell jokes and drink beer.
I wasn’t alone in this assignment, though. Playing next to me was fellow Saigonite Zacharie, a handsome Frenchman with a beard, and the perfect look for this gig. Zach had the exact same attitude as me from day one. “Two nights in Hanoi, two nights in Sapa, sounds like a paid vacation to me — I’m in.”
After four days of filming and bunking on trains together, I asked Zach if he thought my acting skills were as good as I thought they were. Our local producer Gordon Westman was sitting next to him when he replied, so he might have been talking me up. “Jon’s perfect for the ‘big laughs’,”
he said — referring to the cue we were repeatedly given by the director. “He doesn’t even look like an actor, he’s just so natural. It’s been a pleasure making him look better all shoot.”
False modesty and beard envy aside, Australians attach a lot of importance to their beer ads. As I said, this production was traversing the globe in search of beer ad nirvana, and on set there was a veritable who’s who of the Australian film and television industry.
These guys were complemented on the ground by a Vietnamese team of location managers, caterers and production assistant from 116. These were the people getting things done when you needed it, and included 21-year-old costume department volunteer Sabo Thu Ạnh, a film student in Hanoi and future Viet-noir director to watch. On this job I’d say mine, Zach’s and Ashley’s look was mostly ‘shabby-biker-chic’, so I took it upon myself to lose everything I owned at least once a day, making her life hell.
All in all there were about 25 people making the machine tick, a multinational travelling circus that all needed to be fed, accommodated, transported and paid.
At breakfast one morning, I caught up with the brand manager from the brewery Malcolm Eadie, a Scotsman with the company money to make this all happen. I asked him about the insight behind the ad, and he told me it took about two years to deliver.
“Blokes of a certain age feel like they’re living on autopilot,” he said. “They’ve all got this desire to pick up all these different experiences, but it’s hard because at that age they might be stuck in a rut — the same friends, the same places, the same jobs. They won’t do something big with their lives without some kind of inspiration. This ad is about giving them that.”
Copywriter Josh Parmenter was also there, part of the agency creative team responsible for the idea. I wondered whether he’d written it just so he could go on holiday.
Laughing, Josh was really happy with the way it was going — giving credit to pros like DOP Jeremy Rouse and director Patrick Hughes for bringing it all together.
A big ball of Australian creative energy, Patrick’s been directing commercials and films all over the world for the last 15 years. Before getting this gig he’d done stuff like ride a tank into the Cannes film festival to promote The Expendables 3, a film he also directed. Riding next to him were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone. This level of kicking ass is truly beyond my vocabulary.
I tried to remain calm in my chat with him, but I was more than a little intimidated by this level of awesome. But then I found out he was just a normal guy, inspired by a bike trip he’d made in Vietnam 10 years ago with his best mate. I wanted to know how Patrick hoped people would feel when we saw this thing on TV.
“It’s going to be f****** epic. It’s gonna be one of those ads that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. One that makes you think, ‘Yeah, I gotta go out and I gotta live life.’ Because that’s what life is about, it’s about passion — passion for life, passion for love. And it’s also about what you do with your failures. Do you take it lying down or do you just say f*** that, wipe the slate clean and start again?
“That’s what people should feel. Then they should go suck a Hahn Super Dry!”
For more behind the scenes footage of the big beer ad, go to hahn.com.au