a c t o r, .d i r e c t o r, .p r o d u c e r. . .

Zero Budget Films

Zero-Budget Films (Z-BF) is an independent film production company dedicated to offering acting and production opportunities to Shanghai locals and sharing profits (if any) according to each individual’s input in each film project. Z-BF aims to produce 2-4 feature-length films (including musicals) per year.

Google Groups
Zero-Budget Films


To view my Mercedes-Benz ad click on this link:

BENZ Commercial

[See 2nd article below for full story.]


1) My first Chinese TV Commercial ...
(photos by Iris Bi)

On 22 December 2007, I joined the Shanghai Real People Modelling Agency run by Iris Bi. It’s something I’d always thought about doing but didn’t feel confident with until I met the East West Theatre actors when we were performing our play, Our Country’s Good, in November, 2007. Many of them were with a modelling agency and getting lots of work for photo shoots, TV commercials and even acting roles for TV and films.

in bowler hat

As one of the actors told me, “I’m an actress, but I can’t get any work in New York because there’s just too much competition. But here in Shanghai they’re short of westerners so I’m getting acting and modelling work all the time!”

Anyway, after rejecting a few offers for roles as a movie extra (because they clashed with my normal English-teaching working hours) I finally auditioned for a local TV commercial … and got the job!

They were looking for someone who looked like an artist. Someone who would be dressed in a tuxedo and play an imaginary piano. Someone with a Beethoven look about him. And I guess that my long, grey hair was something they just couldn’t refuse!

Of course, immediately I began to imagine that once the commercial was released on TV I’d become instantly recognisable in the streets of Shanghai and be hounded for autographs from that moment on. It was so nice to fantasise. But at the very worst it was going to be one more thing I could add to my list of achievements. And what’s more, who would've thought I'd become a model at 53? It was such a buzz!

The 30-second TV Commercial (for a flooring board company) was shot on March 28. It was a full day's production, shot in a huge movie warehouse, with about 100 people involved.

There were 2 characters in the commercial: me, as an artist playing an imaginary piano; and a leading Chinese male model, playing an ordinary guy who's mesmerised by my music.

According to my agent, the commercial is still being edited and isn't expected to be released until October, 2008, when it will be screened on TVs throughout China.

Apart from taking about 100 photos of me during the day of filming my agent also said she'd give me a copy of the commercial once it was released. She also confided in me that the director had mentioned that the commercial would make me famous in China because my character was so unique.

So maybe my fantasy wasn’t so fanciful after all!


2) Benz Internet Commercial ...
(photos by Landy)

Midnight: half-way into my conducting role.

My second Chinese commercial came about when I was discovered by a talent agent on Facebook! On June 18, Landy sent me a text message at 11am asking me if I could go for an audition at 1pm that day. Luckily I'd just finished teaching my morning classes and wasn't due to teach again until 2.35pm. "Dress up in a suit", she suggested. I'd be auditioning for the role of an orchestra conductor.

with red flowers

So I went home first (just a 10-minute walk from school), showered, changed into my cool black suit and black shirt, and made my way to the address she'd texted me. It was just one stop from my home by metro, then a short taxi ride to the studio. Actually, I could've walked there in 10 minutes, but at that time I wasn't too sure of the exact location.

Landy was already there when I arrived: always a good sign of a professional and reliable talent agent. Amazingly, so was Ben, the Hong Kong Director from my first TV commercial!

As soon as he saw me he started immitating me playing the air piano, just as I'd done 3 months earlier for his TV commercial. I didn't recognise him, of course, because on the day of the shoot he was wearing a mask all day to keep the dust out of his lungs. Could he be directing this commercial too? Not so, was the short answer.

Soon I was in front of a photographer having photos taken according the the shots that matched the commercial's story board. The movie camera came out shortly afterwards and I was asked to give a short self-introduction so the (absent) director could know something more about me. This is exactly what I'd done for the first TV commercial audition too, so I was a little more prepared this time.

11.30am: waiting in the dressing room, "au natural".

I knew that my appeal to them was primarily the visual image I presented, namely my long, grey hair. It was the same feature that got me my first TV commercial. I mean, how many mature Western actors can you find in Shanghai that have that seasoned artist look ... or rather, the Beethoven look?

But I knew that wouldn't be enough to guarantee me the job. They'd have to know that I was truly an entertainer with a feel for music ... a critical requirement for both my commercials.

So this was my quick and simple introduction:

My name is James Taris.
I'm 53.
I was born in Greece but grew up in Australia.
I'm an actor.
I wrote and performed a one-man play in 10 countries around the world.
And recently I was in a Chinese TV commercial.
I also sing and write songs.
... (and with a flourish and a big smile, I finished with...)
Ta da!

The Casting Director told Landy that he believed I had the perfect image the Director was looking for, so with that positive comment in mind, I returned to school still wearing my black suit ... which was quite amusing, really, because I was teaching at a kindergarten!

10.10pm: nearly 11 hours later, I'm excited to finally get on stage!

The next day, June 19, at about 1pm, I got another message from Landy asking if I could go for a second audition. She wouldn't be able to make it this time, but the Casting Director would be there and she was sure I'd be well looked after by him.

I changed into my black shirt and suit again, but when I got there I was told I shouldn't have gone to the trouble of doing that because they wanted to photograph me in the outfit they proposed for the commercial. Moments later, I could hardly believe it when they handed me a tuxedo, shirt and vest almost exactly the same as what I'd worn in my first commercial! Could it be possible to be so obviously typecast after just one role?

After the second audition it was just a matter of waiting for a final confirmation that I'd got the job. That confirmation came on Wednesday, 25 June. Landy texted me and asked for my measurements. It was urgent, she said, because I'd have to go for a fitting on Friday. The commercial would then be shot on Sunday!

Well, I'd never measured myself before, so I went to a streetside sewer and got her to measure me. It wan't something she normally offered, but I tipped her 10rmb for her help anyway.

10.30pm: making adjustments for my first shot.

So here are the measurements I sent her:

Height: 180cm
Weight: 78.0kgs
Neck: 52cm
Shoulders: 46cm
Chest: 110cm
Waist: 94cm
Hip: 102cm
Bum: 111cm
Sleeve length: 63cm
Trouser length: 107cm
Shoe size: 46

(I guess professional actors and models know their measurements off by heart.)

On Friday, 27 June, it was a very wet day, yet I still managed to make it to the fitting by 4.25pm (school hours finished at 4pm). The streets were flooded and even though I had an umbrella, I arrived at the studio soaked from the knees down. They'd hired a genuine orchestra conductor to teach me how to hold the baton and make convincing conductor motions. In fact, later they filmed him using 8 different conducting techniques and gave me a copy of the CD to study at home.

Soon after that, I got my hair styled and changed into my tuxedo. The shoes proved to be a challenge, probably due to my thick socks being soaked (I was wearing Nikes which were not waterproof!). However, my dresser (yeah, we have a dresser!) just suggested I take my socks off. That worked fine and because my pants hung over my shoes, no-one could tell I was wearing shoes without socks.

The suit and shirt fitted perfectly. The only adjustment required would be for the vest, which needed to be taken in a bit at the back.

10.45pm: getting into the music mood

Landy handed me a contract to sign. It was in Chinese so she gave me a quick verbal translation which I was happy with. There was no mention of money. As with my first TV commercial, the finer details would be negotiated afterwards. (Yes, I know ... but it all worked out well in the end.)

Up until then, I still didn't know exactly what I'd be advertising. "It's a car", Landy had said. It wasn't until that day that I was told I'd be acting in an advertisement for Benz, promoting their S-class Mercedes. Wow! How cool, I thought. Then Landy added, "By the way, it's not a TV commercial, it's an internet commercial that'll go on their web site." The ad, she said, would go online in September. So I'd get to see it before I saw my first commercial job. The other benefit was that once I got the link to their web site, I could send it to all my family and friends! (I can't help it ... I'm still excited.)

No-one could give me a concrete time for turning up for the shoot on Sunday. "Probably about 8am", Landy had said. But then on Saturday she said, "Meet me at LianHua Rd subway station at 11am".

So at 10.10am I set off from home, knowing I'd get at our meeting place about 15 minutes early. At about 11am I was met at the station and driven to the film studio, arriving at 11.30am. The ballet dancers had arrived at 6am and were still being filmed. The opera singer and orchestra players (violin/flute, trumpet and double-base) had arrived at 8am and were still waiting to be filmed. And I wasn't due to be filmed until after all of them had finished.

1.30am: 14 hours later, taking the final shot.

Well, to cut a long story short, after spending all day reading a magazine in the dressing room and stuffing myself on their take-away Chinese meals (neatly packed in plastic trays and cardboard boxes that looked like bricks) I waited until 10.10pm to start my shoot ... and finished at 1.30am ... TOTAL: 14-hour day! ... and I was being paid by the hour!

Needless to say, a few more jobs like that would be a lovely way earn a living in Shanghai!


3) Konka "Black Diamond" Cell Phone Infommercial ...
(photos by Landy)

This commercial was first televised on January 4, 2009. Since then it's been shown on many channels, including; XingJiang TV, DongNan TV and GuanXi TV, TV 030-067. As it's a 5-minute infomercial, it's mostly screened on late night TV, but I've also seen it screened during lunchtime.

No, it's not my real hair!

At last I got an assignment where I didn't have to wear a tuxedo!

Ughh! Orange pants!

But as you can see from the photos, maybe a tuxedo would've been a nice alternative!

Camera zooms in for a close-up of the cell phone.

I got this job through Landy (Benz ad).

Studying the Black Diamond cell phone.


4) Pilsner Beer TV Commercial
(photos by Julie, my make-up artist and hair stylist)

Photo on set.

This was another assignment I got from Real People Modelling Agency (Iris Bee). The quality of this production was superb! Everything from the set design to the make-up. All first class!

I played the role of the founder of Pilsner Beer, back in the mid 1800s. The set was a replica of the Pilsner Beer factory back in the old days, and I was filmed while inspecting the quality of the beer being produced.

As the shots took a while to set up (I was on the set for about 4 hours) the glass of beer I was inspecting had to be replaced dozens of times because the bubbles stopped fizzing and the "head" of the beer kept going flat while we waited for each shot to be set up to perfection. I don't know if they were throwing the beer out, but there may have been some lucky beer-pouring assistants who couldn't bear to see all those glasses of beer going to waste!

My contract stated that the commercial would run on TV for 2 years, so I'm sure that I'll eventually become quite a familiar face on Chinese TV.

The best make-up and hair style yet! (by Julie)

And great costume!

With the rest of the cast. All Russians!

5) TV Commercial for Furniture Plaza in Hangzhou (Hangzhou) ... 19 Dec '09
(photos by me and Rafael)

Landy got me this job.
This TV commercial will feature many (about 10?) different snippets of historical events.
It was all filmed in the shops within the Plaza it was promoting.

I was playing a French Noble Gentleman. My Noble Lady was played by Elena, a Russian girl. And the butler was played by Rafael, from Brazil. When TV commercials are shot you get to meet people from lots of countries.

We met at the Agent's Shanghai office at 3.30am. After a quick Chinese breakfast, we departed by mini-bus at 4am.
By 7am we were at the Plaza in Hangzhou.

Luckily the producers agreed to shoot my scene early so I could catch my plane to Beijing that night.

Hair and make-up started at about 9.30am ... and the filming finished at about 12.30pm.


7) TV Commercial for Skyworth TV (Beijing) ... 20 Dec '09
(photos by Laura)

Iris got me this job. I was promoting Skyworth (chuang wei) LED TV ... a large flat-screen TV.
Fortunately I cut 5 inches (12 cms) off my hair a week before auditioning for this role.
Luckily it matched the look they were looking for and I got the job.

On my 55th birthday (January 26, 2010) I found this "lantern advertisement" at the elevator entrance of a friend's building.

I finished the Hangzhou TVC in the afternoon, then I caught a plane from Hangzhou to Beijing at 7pm.

I was met at the airport by WeiDa, my hair and make-up artist, who took me directly to a studio for a dress rehearsal.
I tried on 3 outfits, and was photographed in each one.
My measurements were noted and adjustments to be made were noted.

I was in my hotel by 11pm. All my expenses - airfare, hotel, meals - were covered by the client.

The next morning, Sunday, I was picked up by the WeiDa and the crew, and we headed off for the film studio about an hour away.

Hair and make-up started at 9.40am ... 8 hours later, at 5.40pm, the job was over.

Apart from the TV commercial, a photographer also took about 200-300 photos of me
... probably to use in brochures or magazine ads.

I had a plane to catch at 9.30pm so there was no time for dinner.

P.S. Beijing was FREEZING!


TV Serial ... 16&23 Dec '09

Rami got me this job.
I played the role of CEO of Deisel Theme Parks.
It'll be screened on CCTV1 in April. Once I know the name of the program I'll post it here.

It was filmed over 2 days.
Day 1 was filmed in a board room in Pudong.
Day 2 we went West Lake (Hangzhou) and shot the entire scene on a boat on the famous lake.
I had the only speaking role of all the foreigners (in English), but I guess they may dub it for the TV show ... we'll see.


"Credit to Choose" Short Film ...
(photos by my son, John)

Rehearsing my lines with Susie.

Acting in Credit to Choose (a film by Robert Rapoport) was my first speaking role on film. Robert found me through the SAA (Shanghai Actors Association) web site (http://saa.planetkarl.com).

My son, John, was visiting me for 2 weeks in January. He was happy to assist with the clapper-board.
This toddler was so approachable that we got him in most of our riverside shots.

Short films are usually non-commercial, low budget films which are often made by film-makers, crew members and actors who are looking to try new ideas or simply hone their skills to a much higher level. This being the case, nobody gets paid for their participation. Let's just say that we all like to help each other out. In my case, I was just happy to finally get a speaking role on film. Once I get a copy of the film I'll then be able to use it to promote myself for paid speaking roles.

These are just a few more shots taken during the filming, which was done in and around Moganshan Rd, the art gallery centre of Shanghai, near Shanghai Railway Station.

Filming always draws a crowd. They also tend to cooperate whenever asked, whether it be
participating in the film as extras, or just being quiet when we're shooting the scene.

Robert Rapoport (director) and Isabella (producer) discussing the Chinese shop scene.

Susie and I played the roles of Petra and Jones.

We had a fun kite scene for a flashback segment. Luckily the wind was up.

Sitting on the riverbank eating oranges.

A lucky find, and irresistable addition to the film, was this guy smoking a cigarette bong!

The beach scene was taken inside the Island 6 Shack gallery.

Reading the voice-over for Petra's beach scene.


Playwright / Stage Actor

1) The Glory Of Athens
(stage production)

Performing my play in a London theatre

While I was in Shanghai in June, 2003, I wrote a play, The Glory of Athens: an 80-minute, funny and inspirational one-man show (true to form!), where I had to memorise 10,000 words of monologue for the 7 roles I was performing. It's one of the highlights of my life, and my career, and I performed it in 10 countries while I was on a 400-day public-speaking tour through 13 countries on 5 continents. The highlights of that tour were my theatre performances in London and Hollywood (The Lee Strasberg Theater). Anyway, the play is really all about my life motto:

... Everything is possible if you truly believe!

Solo acting performances of my play, The Glory of Athens
(29 performances in 10 countries and 19 cities)

Mth/Day ... City/Country ... Venue/Type

2 0 0 3
Jul 17 ... Athens, GREECE Out-door Reading
Jul 24 ... Helsinki, FINLAND Lounge-room Reading
Jul 28 ... Stockholm, SWEDEN Lounge-room Reading
Jul 30 ... Gothenburg, SWEDEN Lounge-room Reading
Aug 26 ... Sisteron, FRANCE Lounge-room Show
Sep 12 ... Bressuire, FRANCE Hall Show
Sep 30 ... Amsterdam, HOLLAND Theatre Show
Nov 9 ... Kingsbridge, ENGLAND Hall Show
Nov 21 ... Bridgend, WALES Lounge-room Show
Nov 24-25 ... London, ENGLAND Theatre Show
Dec 14 ... Utrecht, HOLLAND Lounge-room Show

2 0 0 4
Jan 9 ... Welland, CANADA School Show
Jan 10 ... Welland, CANADA Lounge-room Show
Jan 22 ... Kitchener, CANADA Library Show
Jan 30 ... Welland, CANADA Church Show
Feb 2 ... Kitchener, CANADA Office Show
Mar 5-6 ... Montreal, CANADA Lounge-room Show
Mar 7 ... Granby, CANADA School Show
Apr 11-12 ... Kitchener, CANADA Lounge-room Show
Apr 15 ... Ottawa, CANADA Hall Show
Apr 30 ... Kitchener, CANADA Lounge-room Show
May1-2 ... Kitchener, CANADA Lounge-room Show
May 17 ... San Francisco, USA Lounge-room Show
May 22 ... Los Angeles, USA Theatre Show
Jun 12 ... Brisbane, AUSTRALIA Lounge-room Reading


2) Our Country's Good
(stage play)

This was my first stage performance in Shanghai.It was presented by the East West Theater and 10 actors played 20 roles, everyone taking on dual roles (a couple even taking on 3 roles) except for the lead actor who had his hands full with his one role.

I played the parts of Major Robbie Ross and James "Ketch" Freeman.

I started learning my lines in the first week of October, 2007. Luckily it was China's National holidays so I managed to learn most of my lines. For the next 3 weeks we had our formal rehearsals. Then we performed the play for 2 weeks, from November 1-10 (Thursday - Sunday each week).

Major Robbie Ross (Lieutenant Governor and Commander of the Marines)

James "Ketch the Hangman" Freeman (a convict).

The whole cast is here, where Major Ross reprimands the Lieutenant.

There's even a fight scene between 2 convict women, which Ketch is able to break up just in time.



1) One-Act Plays Festival

This festival, produced by quality replica watches sale Zuloo Productions, took place at the British International School Shanghai (BISS) on Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25, 2009.

I directed 3 plays, wrote 2 of them, and acted in one.

1. But is is Art? (written by Liiz Carroll) ... cast Mark Edwards, Catlin Smith, Rami Abunameh

Catlin (emotional woman) and Rami (artist).

Mark (Reverend) and Rami.

Catlin (horny old lady) and Rami.

Catlin (losing control) and Rami.

Rami and Mark (cleaner).

Catlin (auctionier), Rami and Mark.

2. Pericles (written by James Taris) ... cast Dave Earl and Jubal Gallaga

Jubal (narrator) and Dave (Pericles).


Dave again.

Dave still.

3. Homer (written by James Taris) ... cast James Taris and Jubal Gallaga

Jubal (narrator) and James (Homer).

James as Homer, who is poor and blind.


Jubal and James.


2) 8 Quickies

The 3-Quickies Team at our first Cast Get-Together Party (26 May, 2008)

Directing Paul and Jenn for Lend Me A Mentor.

Currently I'm directing 3 short (10-minute) plays for the 8 Quickies stage production by Missed Opportunities.

They are:

Superhero ... (by Mark Harvey Levine, USA)
Eve and Adam: A Parody ... (by Nighthymns, CHINA)
Lend Me A Mentor ... (by E M Lewis, USA)

Paul and Jenn rehearsing Lend Me A Mentor.

This is my first attempt at directing, but I'm already enjoying the experience and look forward to seeing the plays on stage at the end of 2008.



Zero Budget Films

Founded 6th April 2009

Zero-Budget Films (Z-BF) is a film production group dedicated to offering acting and production opportunities to Shanghai residents.
Z-BF aims to produce 2-4 feature-length films per year.


Google Groups
Zero-Budget Films

Filming of Everything is Possble (based on my stage play, The Glory of Athens) began on July 16.

Terrible Tavern Trio - ODYSSEUS Scene
Fri, July 17

Odysseus threatens Mykonos: shooting a scene from Everything is Possible.
Left to right: Liese, Lola, Mario, Christian, James

James Taris directing Christian Bachini

Odysseus and the Terrble Tavern Trio
L eft to right: Odysseus (James), Mykonos (Christian), Sharky (Liese), Rufus (Mario)

The Terrble Tavern Trio - armed and ready for battle
From left to right: Mykonos (Christian), Rufus (Mario) , Sharky (Liese)

Everything is Possible

My stage play, The Glory Of Athens, attracted lots of interest when I performed it around the world in 2003-2004. But, even though it always had positive audience responses, I always felt its potential was restricted because, as a one-man show, I couldn't do the characters enough justice because there was no time between scenes to change costumes, let alone facial appearances.

So now I'm making, Everything is Possble (the movie version of The Glory Of Athens), which will give me all the freedom I need to bring my Ancient Greek characters to life. cheap replica rolex watches As an excercise - just to prove how much potential this idea had - I photographed myself (in a 3-hour period), in each of the different images I imagined for my characters (see above). Even now, I still get excited when I see how different each of them looks.

Although the stage performance of my play was filmed in Hollywood, I believe that a film version would be a more professional and entertaining way to show my story to a screen audience.

JAMES TARIS ... on the web since 7th April 2001

Copyright © 2005 James Taris - All rights reserved