A report on TVB artists’ situation in Mainland China: Interview with Sheren Tang (on location in Hengdian) --- PART 2
Thursday, May 12, 2011
6 Years in the Mainland, Sheren Tang reveals her life experiencesBefore the whole ‘leaving the nest’ phenomenon occurred, Nan Dou Daily’s reporter had researched in depth the situation that TVB’s artists face on a consistent basis. In order to fight for opportunities to perform, to earn money and make a living, or to realize their dreams, the artists must compromise with a company that requires them to work 24 hours a day for years on end, yet with a salary that is only a quarter of what Mainland artists make. There is no competition in the HK television industry and with TVB being the ‘main player’ in the entire region, the artists have no other choice. To this day, this miserable plight has not seen any improvement.
With the rapid expansion of the Mainland television industry, many HK television artists have flocked to the country in hopes of earning more money. With an almost guaranteed rise in social status, attractive wages and working conditions, and seemingly easily attainable fame and fortune, it would be hard for someone not to long for this type of life. With an increasing number of TVB artists ‘leaving the nest’ in favor of a career in Mainland China, the phenomenon shows no signs of subsiding. But is life in Mainland China as easy as some believe? How about the different environments and cultures that exist and the necessity of working with entirely different production teams? The competition in the Mainland brings with it a whole different set of pressures.
Sheren Tang has always been one who is not afraid to speak her mind. In a candid interview, Sheren reveals her experiences working in Mainland China, which has brought with it much pain and countless tears, yet at the same time, she enjoys the happiness that freedom brings. As for fellow TVB fa dan Charmaine Sheh, Sheren has some words from the heart that she would like to share with her.
R = Nan Dou Daily’s Reporter
S = Sheren Tang
How big is the salary gap between Hong Kong and the Mainland?
R: There are reports that TVB asked you to film a costume drama in May with actor Moses Chan, but because you had already accepted Mainland drama <<Qing Cheng Xue>>, you declined TVB. Between the two, why did you choose the Mainland drama?
S: First of all, I have to clarify one thing – I have never ‘declined’ a TVB drama. To me, ‘decline’ means that you agree to film the drama at first, then go back on your word later. I never agreed to film that drama in the first place, so it is not considered ‘declining’. Producer Nelson Cheung had asked me whether I had any room in my schedule for him, but at that time, he did not have a script available to give me – in fact, there wasn’t even a story synopsis available, so I had no clue whether the character would be suitable for me or not. If you talk about ‘declining’ series, I actually ‘decline’ [Mainland] producer Yu Zheng’s series more than I do TVB’s, yet he still continues to seek me out for his productions. In fact, he was the first one who asked me to film a series for him in the March to May timeslot.
R: So is it like what the HK Media reported, that producer Yu Zheng offered you three times your salary at TVB – a price of 100,000 yuan per episode – that attracted you to accept?
S: Salary rumors that you hear in the Media are oftentimes not true.
R: But producer Yu Zheng told me earlier that for a Hong Kong artist to make 100,000 yuan per episode in the Mainland is already the best rate in the field and that your salary already exceeds this amount.
S: I am not the type to reveal these types of personal details, so how do they (the Media) know how much money TVB gives me?
R: I once interviewed TVB’s labor union chairman Lau Shun On, who stated that for first-line siu sangs and fa dans such as Charmaine Sheh, Moses Chan, to be able to earn 20,000 to 30,000 HKD per episode is already pretty good. Do you agree?
S: Sure, if one is able to earn that amount, of course it’s good! But it’s very hard!
R: For a first-line siu sang and fa dan, they can’t even get 20,000 to 30,000 HKD per episode?
S (laughing grimly): Hahaha…I don’t want to talk about money. If you use money to measure the two regions, there is a huge difference!
R: Do you feel that TVB generally offers salaries on the low side?
R: Then why do so many siu sangs and fa dans – including yourself – accept this?
S: Well, that’s why a lot of artists won’t film TVB series now and decide to leave! In HK, there aren’t any other TV stations that actively produce TV series, so if you want to keep your career in HK, there is no choice. It is a market issue.
R: Throughout all these years, TVB never increases the salaries of its artists? How about in your case, even after 2 TV Queen awards, you still never got an increase?
S: TV Queen is an award given by TVB, so they may even require that I reduce my salary! I once jokingly said: ‘Ha? TVB gives you an award and you still increase your rate? Are you crazy?’ Why do people leave? I believe it’s because in every industry, people want to have the freedom to choose – whether it’s a sense of satisfaction, salary, work environment, etc. – they want to be able to choose the best option for themselves. I hope that people don’t readily believe all the rumors about prices, salaries, and such – it’s inappropriate for the Media to portray the prices in the 2 regions as Heaven versus Hell.
Is the Mainland television industry truly ‘Heaven’ for Hong Kong artists?
R: When people talk about the Mainland TV and film industries, the first thing they say is that money is especially bountiful.
S: That’s certainly true.
R: Producer Yu Zheng claims that close to 100 million yuan was invested in the series 《倾城雪》and that each episode alone costs 2 million yuan to make. In comparisons, with TVB reducing its budget for productions, what types of troubles does that bring to the artists and the series?
S: It wasn’t until I came here (to the Mainland) that I realized there is such a huge difference between the quality of the landscape (sets) between TVB and Hengdian productions. Just take a look at the sets here – the large houses and gardens that the workers painstakingly decorate and design. Every flower, every patch of grass, every piece of furniture – there’s feeling to it all. It makes me feel like I am truly living in that time period!
But as soon as you return to TVB City, the horizon is immediately narrowed. Just to use <<No Regrets>> as an example – how is it possible for people to believe that the series takes place in chaotic, war-torn Guangzhou? We are only able to film in TVB City – everything is so bright and clean there, even all the clothes look new. They believe that toppling a few chairs and sprinkling dust around represents ‘war-torn’! Whenever I watch the scenes that we filmed at the police station, it makes me angry. Why is it that we look as though we are doing a stageplay? We’re supposed to be in an external environment, but the sets have no three-dimensional feel at all – in fact, it looks like just a plain board. Sometimes, it gets very frustrating: I put all my effort into acting out a scene, but the ‘board’ behind me doesn’t cooperate, then isn’t all my effort in vain? The root of the issue is really that they [TVB’s production people] never want to invest money on sets and costumes – they believe that relying solely on the artists’ performances can cover up all the inadequacies, but they don’t realize that the audiences are a lot smarter now. Also, the production costs for <<Rosy Busines>> was more than for <<No Regrets>> -- the subject matter and content of <<No Regrets>> was larger scale and grander, yet less attention was paid to it from a production and costs standpoint, which makes the disparity even more apparent.
R: Producer Yu Zheng claims that he gave you a better script, better character to portray, a big crew, and custom-made clothing worth tens of thousands of dollars a piece. Is that truly how it works filming in the Mainland?
S: Can’t really say it like that completely. I’ve also participated in Mainland series where the production team doesn’t provide suitable costumes for the artists and we need to go out and buy them ourselves. I remember there was 1 series where I was supposed to play the daughter in a wealthy family who dresses very elegantly, but the production team only gave me 3 ‘old woman’ outfits that didn’t even fit me physically – the worse thing is that these were qi paos [Chinese-style long dress]! You know that with qi paos, it’s very hard to buy suitable fitting ones – usually they have to be custom-made. But with the series already started shooting, it’s impossible to have the outfits custom-made all over again! It’s situations like this that makes being an actor very painful and sometimes, it makes you not even want to continue with it.
R: So in reality, not all of the Mainland production teams are evenly matched?
S: Correct! To tell you the truth, not all production teams are like the ones for 《倾城雪》who are willing to spend a lot of money on costumes. If I hadn’t experienced it for myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it either. In the Mainland, there are definitely all different ‘levels’ of production teams. There were 2 teams that I collaborated with in the past that made me want to cry!
R: Why? Was it one of those ‘bad ending’ situations?
S: No, it wasn’t that. The filming process itself for the series was very painful. The production team that I mentioned earlier that couldn’t even get the costumes right – well, apparently, they can’t style hair correctly either. I had to take money out of my own pocket to hire a hairstylist from HK to come and re-do my hair for me. And in another production team, the hairstylist spent 3 ½ hours and still could not figure out how to style the hair (it normally only takes 1 ½ hours). One time, because the hairstylist was inexperienced, I figured I’d get up extra early (at 2am) and give her a little more time to do my hair so that filming can still start on-time, so I arrived at the studio at 6am. But the production team was not appreciative and didn’t care that I had to get up extra early – they started requesting that I start at 6am every day! Instead of admitting her inexperience and working on fixing it, the hairstylist told me to just get up at 2am every morning to accommodate her! Sometimes, it just gets you really angry and frustrated at how unprofessional these people are – they don’t understand at all that the most important thing for an artist is to be in a good mental state so we can be alert and perform well. You know what’s funny? The ‘big boss spent a lot of money to invite us over to film his series, yet he hires a bunch of unprofessional workers to frustrate us and turn a good situation into a bad one. If that’s the case, then why spend so much money to invite me over here?
R: Did this happen several years ago, or is it recent?
S: Pretty recent. I only started filming in Mainland a few years ago.
R: Have you encountered many unreasonable and unreliable production teams in Mainland?
S: From 2005 until now, I’ve filmed very few Mainland series every year, because at one point, I was very scared. The situations that you may encounter aren’t things that you can just lock yourself in a room and cry over it. Sometimes, while filming at the studio, you get to the point that you just break down and cry in front of everyone. I think it could be because of the difference in cultures between HK and China. In HK, I’m very familiar with TVB’s environment, so at least there, I don’t have to worry about someone trying to oppress me or cheat me, but in the Mainland, it’s very different -- there truly are all sorts of people here who will do things that you never thought they would do. I’ve encountered situations where my contract outlined specifically the hours that I would be working, yet I am still forced to work overtime. One time, I had just gotten off the plane and a production team sent a car to pick me up, but it was a very old, run down car that ended up breaking down on the freeway – yet, the team told me that I still have to report to work immediately and find a way myself to get there!
At the time, I was new to the Mainland market and figured that I had to be nice – plus I’ve always believed that if you respect people, they will respect you in return. So I tried to go reason with the person, but then I discovered that the person doesn’t care to reason with you – instead, they rudely brush you off or lie to you…at that point, you start to feel very disrespected. Some of my Mainland friends tell me that I should just ignore the person, disappear to my room, and insist on only working 12 hours – no point in trying to reason with them! When I first hear this, I thought to myself – is it really necessary to be that way? Later on, I slowly learned how the culture works over here and adjusted to it. The lesson I learned is that sometimes, when filming in the Mainland, you need to act like a ‘big shot’ (laughs) – otherwise, your dignity could get taken away!
I also learned other ‘tricks of the trade’ as well – for instance, once a contract has been signed and your working hours have been established, you cannot just work overtime arbitrarily because then you set the precedence and they will expect you to do it every time. One time, someone wanted me to work extra hours, so he said to me ‘a contract is dead, but a person is alive’ – the second time he tried to force me to work extra hours, I hung up on him, then I called his boss and told him never to send someone to talk to me like that again, otherwise, I’m quitting. After 2 years of ‘battles’ in the Mainland, I finally learned to be more ferocious and not let people upset me anymore.
R: Several years ago, there were reports that when Sonjia Kwok came to the Mainland to film, the conditions were really bad. One time, the production teams didn’t even have sanitary facilities available and she had to ‘take care of matters’ by a mountainside. Have you experienced similar situations?
S: Yes – I’ve especially encountered situations where there are no changing rooms and I had to go hunt for a place to change my clothes for the next scene. I finally found an old container truck that was really messy and dark and changed really quick – but then when I returned to the production team, they complained that I ‘took too long’ and was delaying production! Was it really my fault? Why is it that the production team never feels that they are at fault? As actors, we have to invest emotions into our performances too – if every day, before we even start filming, we have to deal with all these frustrating situations, it’s easy to go crazy!
R: Anthony Wong has also criticized certain Mainland production teams in the past for being unprofessional. It looks like many collaborations between HK artists and Mainland production teams often start out rocky.
S: Initially, it’s hard to adjust, but I feel that it’s understandable because the film and TV industry in China had become prosperous all of sudden rather than gradually. Like with Hengdian for example – with 40 production teams here all at once, how are they able to train up so many professional people in such a short amount of time to handle the various positions? No matter how pretty the ‘hardware’ is, it doesn’t mean that the ‘software’ can always accommodate. So basically, you have to make your choices very carefully and when you’re in an environment that you’re not familiar with, you have to be extra vigilant – for example, choose to work with big companies, choose good scripts, or if you know another artist in the same series, find out from him/her how the behind-the-scenes crew is….if you blindly explore without having some idea in mind, it’s hard to avoid painful experiences.
R: With a few years of experience here now, do you think the situation has improved?
S: I still feel that there are all types of people here. All I can say is that when I’m filming at TVB, there are unhappy situations, but there are also happy ones. At TVB, I don’t have to deal with those types of people – I don’t have to go from one production team to another to ‘get to know’ different types of people from all walks of life. At TVB, it’s the same people who have been there for years – not complicated at all. Oh, and TVB doesn’t ‘force’ you to do overtime because you don’t get to sleep anyway! Hahaha!
Is filming at TVB truly like ‘living in Hell’?
R: Filming at TVB is still a very exhausting job though, right?
S: It’s been like that for years already – it’s not like someone put a gun to your head and force you to film series for them, you don’t have to do it – but in all of HK, that’s the only TV station that will give you series to film. Back when we were filming <<Rosy Business>>, we would consistently start filming at 7am in the morning at an offsite location until about 3 or 4pm, then return to the studio to continue filming onsite until 3 or 4am in the morning. By the time we get off work, it is already dawn. After a short rest, in which you usually only have time to go home and take a shower, you have to return to start another day of work. Everyday, instead of studying the script, artists are trying to think of ways to combat their sleepiness – with this type of environment, how is it possible to have quality productions? One of my Aunts in the U.S. asked whether we had labor unions and why can’t they do anything? I joined the Artists Guild years ago, but they’re not much help in these types of situations – the labor unions are not ‘official’. I feel that it’s very difficult in general for Chinese people to unite together to fight for something. I’m the type who dares to ‘fight’ for things and dares to say “I won’t do it”, but then you have 20 people who say “I will do it”, then that makes me the lone dissenter. If I’m constantly standing apart and saying “I won’t do it”, then I’ll become ‘troublesome’.
R: Recently, a lot of HK artists and media organizations have been criticizing TVB.
S: Sometimes, I do feel it’s unfair. HK isn’t entirely bad – just like in China, not all of the production teams are good, it’s just that you have more of a choice. Take Sunny Chan for example – after his son was born, he didn’t want to be away from home too much, so he chose to stay in HK and film HK series. Others may feel that they need to earn enough money to take care of their families and are up to the challenge of something different, so they come to the Mainland. Making a living in the Mainland is also very difficult and there are a lot of sacrifices that you have to make. In both HK and China, there are both good and bad – it really depends on what you want in life. As artists, we also have to face reality – after all, the Mainland market is definitely way bigger than the HK one. If you want to have the freedom to choose your own scripts, choose which production team to work with, or want ‘new sparks’ in your career, it’s definitely necessary to leave HK.
R: Bowie Lam also recently ‘separated’ with TVB. He said that he constantly hopes for a good script, but most of the scripts he gets at TVB, he needs to personally change or rewrite himself – he often has to change the stuff that doesn’t make sense and turn it around to become more interesting. When you were at TVB, did you ever encounter this type of situation? Dislike it?
S: I’ve been doing that kind of thing (changing scripts) at TVB for a long time already! In fact, oftentimes I write the script myself! Actually, as artists, we do empathize a bit with the scriptwriters, even those who are known for ‘flying papers’ [TN: ad-lib dialogue / scripts on the fly]. We understand that they aren’t given enough time and it affects their creativity. A good script requires a lot of time to create, but nowadays, the writers are really just going through the motions – the company would give the writer an ‘idea’, then tell them ‘go home and write it out for me!’. It’s hard to be creative when you’re asked to do this everyday without resting. Not allowing you to settle down and clear out all the ‘old ideas’ from your head before working on a new script – it’s hard to come up with new stuff….in this type of hard-pressed situation, it’s hard to produce quality work.
R: Is it true that when TVB asks you to film their series, a lot of times they don’t even give you a story synopsis?
S: <<War and Beauty>>, <<La Femme Desperado>>, <<The Family Link>>, <<Rosy Business>>, <<No Regrets>>...all of them – I never saw the script prior to accepting the series. Sometimes they’ll give us the script a month before the start of filming, other times, they won’t give it to us until a few days before. Oftentimes, I have them tell me the basic plot of the story and who will be writing the script, then I decide whether I will film the series or not – it’s definitely a gamble! For instance, after collaborating with scriptwriter Cheung Wah Biu on the series <<Rosy Business>>, even if he asks me to film <<No Regrets>> without having a script yet, I would still accept it because I have faith in him.
R: If after you receive the script, you are disappointed, you still agree to film the series?
S: Then it will be like Bowie Lam’s situation – you try your best to ‘save’ the script and it ends up getting constantly changed.
R: When filming Mainland series, do you receive the complete script prior to filming? How is the quality of the script?
S: The good thing about filming in the Mainland is that the market is huge, so you can choose between many different scripts – but good quality scripts are very few. In the Mainland, I oftentimes don’t receive the script prior to making the decision either – usually there is only a synopsis because a lot of artists generally are willing to accept a series after reading the synopsis. I’ve encountered many instances where I end up not accepting the series because we are not able to come to consensus on the storyline. If I had to ‘gamble’ on accepting a series when certain factors are unknown, I’d rather do it at TVB than in the Mainland – at least it’s safer and I don’t have to worry about dealing with complicated people.
R: Does the ‘flying papers’ situation occur with Mainland productions?
S: Yes, it’s the same….so it’s not fair to only criticize TVB for it. In fact, in the Mainland, it’s not just ‘flying papers’, it’s also ‘flying notices’ – for example, the agreed upon start time is 10am in the morning, but then at 2am in the morning, you receive a phone call that the start time has been changed to 6am. This kind of thing doesn’t happen at TVB because if the time is changed last minute, even if the artist is willing to do it, there are a lot of other factors (such as the filming location, etc.) that may not be able to accommodate. Not like here in Hengdian – the artists are already here (at the hotel in Hengdian), so it’s easy to just knock on the door and wake them up.
Adapted to life in the Mainland? Are there obstacles to development and growth?
R: On the poster for《倾城雪》, you are standing in the upper corner, whereas the younger Mainland artists are standing in the middle. Oftentimes, HK lead artists who film in the Mainland end up taking on supporting roles only and sometimes may not even stand out to audiences. What do you think about this?
S: I want to say that everyone chases after different things. I’ve never thought about this question – even when I look at the poster, it doesn’t come to mind. When I was at TVB, I was already doing lead actress roles at 18 years old – at the time, I didn’t have to put in much effort to get there. The stereotypical lead actress is pretty, kind-hearted, loving and righteous, has a perfect personality, etc. – I’ve already passed the stage of chasing after these types of things. To truly be able to portray a character who doesn’t need to have a lot of scenes but can still attract the audience’s attention to herself and those around her – it’s difficult. If you are able to let go of the “I won’t film unless it’s a lead actress role’ concept, you’re able to put everything out there – at that point, you’re able to portray any type of role.
R: A lot of TVB artists who go to the Mainland usually film idol series or ancient (wuxia, pre-modern) series. The truly ‘first-line’ Mainland series -- such as the grand family ethics series, war-themed series, adaptations of the Four Classic Novels of Chinese Literature, etc. – rarely include HK TVB artists. How do you feel about the limitations in terms of characters placed on HK artists in the Mainland?
S: It’s normal. If you truly want to participate in an authentic Mainland-themed grand production, you need to thoroughly understand the life and culture here, sometimes even plant your roots here. For us (HK artists), it’s very difficult – it’s almost like we’re a group of immigrants who come here only to film a series or two, then return to HK after that. This is why it’s so important to ‘know yourself’ – you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and don’t force things. I actually don’t mind having these limitations. In order for me to truly open up new horizons in such a huge market, I have to excel in my field of expertise and comfort zone – plus I must be able to live the life that I want to live…after all, I wasn’t born to act!
R: What about your life here in the Mainland makes you feel especially warm and happy?
S: Whenever I film in the Mainland, I have a very close assistant who helps me out a lot, which makes me feel very comfortable. In HK, it’s impossible for your personal assistant to live close to you, but in the Mainland they are right there with you! I’m the type of person who, in the drama world, I become very engrossed in what I’m doing, but in the real world, I don’t pay a whole of attention to myself. Back in HK, I barely have time to sleep, let alone look after my own health! But here, because of her (points to her assistant Little Bell), not only do I get a healthy breakfast every morning, I also get all the vitamins and nutrients that I need because she is so good about reminding me whenever the time comes for me to take them. I’m very fortunate to have her.
R: I heard that in addition to filming, you also have time to play tennis?
S: Compared to filming at TVB, life here is a blessing! With the current series I’m filming here, I start work at 8 or 9am every morning and usually get off work by about 7:30pm. The latest that I’ve gone was until 10 or 11pm and even then, I’m able to get a good night’s sleep. On days when I get off early, I usually go get a massage, or sometimes I meet up with my ‘daughter’ in the series and go to the local sports facility for a game of tennis. Or sometimes I would invite a few friends who I usually never get a chance to meet up with in HK to dinner and we would just chat. Of course, there were times when I would go to the local supermarket and pick up some stuff. It’s quite a happy life!
R: Here in Hengdian, the lifestyle is different from HK – the traffic is not that great and there aren’t a whole lot of places to go. Do you think that the lifestyle may be too boring or too simple here?
S: No, I feel very comfortable here. I remember not too long after <<War and Beauty>> aired in HK and I became popular, I bought a ‘mansion’ that had a gym, an indoor swimming pool, and other amenities. At the time, I was extremely busy and was travelling a lot, so of course, with such a big house, I had to worry about the security. A couple years later, I came to the Mainland to film a series and lived in one of the hotels in Hengdian. One particular Sunday, I slept in until I naturally woke up, then turned on the television to watch a program. After that, I felt a bit energetic, so I went with my assistant to the garden downstairs for a walk – the scent of the flowers and the fresh grass was very sweet and I felt very happy and content. My assistant asked me whether it’s truly that difficult to live such a contented life and to be honest, it is -- I lived in my ‘mansion’ for 4 years in HK and was always rushing around so much that I never got the chance to even set foot in my garden. At that moment, I reflected on a lot of things – that day in Hengdian, I only spent a couple hundred dollars and was able to feel such a sense of contentment and joy. I started asking myself what was the purpose of earning so much money, rushing around to the point of not being able to enjoy the things around me? If I can find such happiness living in a hotel in Hengdian, why do I need such a grand, expensive ‘mansion’ in HK?
After that experience, everytime I returned to HK, I would feel a lot of pressure. I remember last year, when I was filming <<The New Princess Pearl>> in the Mainland, I would have to return to HK occasionally for the promotional events for TVB’s <<No Regrets>>. I always felt so stressed because it felt like I had a million things that I had to get done in 1 day. As soon as I boarded the plane to return to the Mainland to continue filming, I instantly felt relaxed and without pressure. The more I film in the Mainland, the more I feel like I don’t want to go back to HK. I hate when the HK Media say that we (HK artists) leave for the Mainland because we want to earn lots of money – in reality, we are actually saving our own lives. Our health is our life – some people may argue that our acting career is our life as well, but the reality is, if we ruin our health by filming non-stop day and night to the point that we can’t do it anymore, all TVB is going to do is replace us with a younger, prettier newbie who is willing to work those types of hours. Actually, those of us who leave are not special – it’s just that we see an alternative path for ourselves and realize that staying in HK is not the only option. I’m very lucky in that as soon as I started in the industry, I was already doing lead roles – but that also means that I’ve had even less time for sleep in my life and had endured much more pressure than others who may have started later. And with the low salary, I don’t have much to show for all those years of pressure.
Back in those days, I was filming 4 series a year, just like Charmaine Sheh is doing now – I feel that I’ve given all of myself, both physically and mentally, to this industry and all I got in return was fame. It’s the same situation with Raymond Lam right now too. True, they are able to earn a lot of money, but in the scheme of things, money is just a ‘filler’ for when your soul is feeling empty. I’ve asked myself in the past why I chose such a career – you sacrifice your lifestyle, your family, your free time, your holidays…I felt like a bought-out machine – constantly running and moving, but without any dignity.
R: Do you feel that Charmaine Sheh chose to leave TVB because of the same reasoning?
S: Actually, many years ago, I had already talked to Charmaine about it, but at the time, we didn’t know each other very well. It’s impossible for an artist not to settle down and reflect on their lives at some point and to experience the world around them. If you are cramped up in a narrow space for a long period of time and do the same routine things over and over again, you are never going to grow as an artist. That’s why starting in 1991, I would only sign per-series contracts with TVB – it was the only way for me to get my life back. So with Charmaine’s case – well, to be honest, after having sacrificed 13 years of your life in exchange for a peak in your career, it’s definitely time to change your life a bit…after seeing the same scenery for so long, it’s not a bad thing to change environments!
R: Producer Yu Zheng once said that in Mainland China, the only female HK artists who truly have market potential are you and Charmaine Sheh. But if the series is bad, even if you or Charmaine are in it, there may still be difficulty selling it. With more artists heading North, do you feel that there will be more competition and pressure now?
S: Of course! It doesn’t matter how popular you are in HK – when you arrive in the Mainland, things are completely different! Going from a place that has only 7 million people to one that has over 10 billion people – plus there are already many capable actors in the Mainland, many of whom are even better than us. So we have to work even harder to develop our strengths and overcome the weaknesses.
Is there anything you want to tell TVB and those who will be leaving the company?
R: Towards the artists who are preparing to enter the Mainland TV industry, do you have any words for them?
S: I see the Mainland television industry right now as very similar to the HK movie industry in the 90s – a lot of people are willing to invest, but most of them are wealthy people who don’t know anything about movies. Because of the abundance of money, the artists’ status rise sharply and their salaries become very high, however this does not mean that they are truly talented or are willing to put in the effort. So when they come here, they should try not to use ‘money’ to determine their ‘status’, as this could be very dangerous. It could be hard though because the environment promotes it. Bottom line is that if the Mainland market collapses suddenly, anything could happen – the only guarantee is one’s own talent.
R: How about your former employer TVB? Based on the current trends, do you hope to see a change in the company?
S: In the past, we foolishly believed that for a TV station to have so many people employed, it’s reasonable to film day and night – the moment the filming stops, then there’s no money. So based on this thinking, we would ‘bite the bullet’ and conform to the routine. But then after I started filming in the Mainland, I realized that even with time spent preparing the script and coordinating the artists, working only 12 hours a day to film a 30 episode series is not that much slower than the amount of time that TVB takes to film the same number of episodes. So obviously, since there is a way out of the ‘filming 24 hours a day’ predicament, why not take it? If I were to spend my entire life focused solely on making money and allowing myself to be stifled, I wouldn’t be able to become an actress with depth who is able to move audiences with my performances.
R: With so many people leaving, do you think it will be a warning to TVB?
S: The reason I accepted this interview is because I hope that industry people will truly understand our (actors/actresses) needs and also give us respect. It’s true that a lot of talented people came out of TVB, but unfortunately, the company does not cherish its talents. From the time I started with TVB, I’ve been told repeatedly: “No one is indispensible; TVB won’t topple just because they don’t have so and so”. Most of the artists willingly and wholeheartedly stay with the company for many years and only leave because they truly can’t handle it anymore physically or they are truly unhappy. Here in Hengdian, there are a lot of people who got their start at TVB – also, the production teams are always in need of talent. TVB still has some talented people left – if they choose to stay there and not leave, then the company really needs to learn to cherish them.
R: After this ‘leaving the nest’ situation settles, will TVB have fewer and fewer talented people?
S: Whether it’s the case or not, you guys are able to see it. I hope that with the new bosses, there will be a new environment. One of the new bosses is a devout Christian, so I feel that there may be some hope. From a business perspective, they already have a lot of money, so if they turn TVB into purely a business venture, then that would be a shame. Hopefully, they don’t just look at money and instead, are truly sincere in wanting to improve the company – if that’s the case, then there is definitely still hope for the company.
Source: Sina Entertainment
Translated by: llwy12 @ AsianFanatics
Labels: Sheren Tang 鄧萃雯