Providing budding actors with a sense of direction
Fame is more easily achievable in a multimedia environment but then again, so is criticism. Social media is not for the faint-hearted. In the not-too-distant past, actors and actresses found fame, or had fame thrust upon them, by successfully portraying a character in a popular film or TV drama.
Then came the digital age. With the increasing ubiquity of social media, one can become well-known by ways other than an impressive performance. These include but are not limited to, exposing details of one's private life, shaping an engaging public persona on reality shows, wearing eye-catching makeup or dresses at red carpet events and actively livestreaming to interact with internet users.
In recent years, the emergence of I Actor, Real Actor, and other talent shows where performance expertise is rated, is encouraging film practitioners to take acting seriously and help the public to better understand how to appreciate a performance.
Among them, the second season of the online reality show Action!, on Tencent's video-sharing platform, has been widely discussed on microblogging platform Sina Weibo. The show sees directors give their opinion on acting and reveal the unwritten rules and behind-the-scenes drama in the film industry.
Its first four episodes have notched up around 1.2 billion views, according to the box-office tracker Maoyan.
The show has not only invited several veteran insiders to comment on contestants' performances, illuminate the script, and guide actors and technical crew to fulfill their vision, but also gathered established practitioners to grade and rank the 40 actors and actresses. These grades have different criteria, according to their popularity, exposure in the media, acting skills and other factors that represent their "market value". The participants are then divided into three classes.
The initial grades were given by experienced producers, such as Lyu Jianming, producer of the blockbuster Wolf Warriors, and Wu Yi, president of the Tianyi Media group behind many military dramas. However, the actors and actresses will regularly be mentored by director Chen Kaige, Hong Kong actor-director Yee Tung-shing, actress-filmmaker Zhao Wei and writer-turned-director Guo Jingming.
The top contestants have priority to choose the character they want to portray in a short play adapted from a hit movie or TV drama. Consequently, those in the bottom class are more likely to lose the chance to act in their favorite roles. Depending on their performances throughout the series, contestants can find themselves being promoted to a higher class. Equally, they can also be relegated to even lower in the pecking order.
"The show epitomizes the current situation of the film industry in a real, cruel way," says Guo.
"It's also a good opportunity for them to know their place in the ranking, and to improve themselves as, on this stage, they get suggestions from, and cooperate with, well-established and experienced directors."
Chen points out that in today's market, many film practitioners tend to churn out mediocre movies, due to tight budgets and schedule constraints, and fail to bring out the artistic value of the work in the production process. Thus, actors lack a favorable atmosphere to hone their skills that enable them to better play a role.
He believes directors should exert themselves more to guide the performers.
Chen says: "We are here to deliver a serious approach toward acting." He adds that the show, with its classification effort, helps actors and actresses realize what a qualified, good performer is and aim toward that goal.
Yang Zhigang, a 43-year-old actor who has starred in around 30 TV series since 2003, was highly approved by producers on the show and initially he got into the top class. However, after his onstage performances, his stereotypical expression of characters' feelings became a target for criticism.
Yang confesses that the production units he has been a part of usually finish shooting six pages of script each day. Time was of the essence and directors didn't have enough of it to guide the cast as much as they would have liked.
This show rectifies that. "It's been a long time since I last got such patient, systematic guidance from my directors," says Yang. "I really enjoy rehearsals these days.
"In this time, with its glut of frivolous pleasures, we gathered here simply to discuss how to act. That's a rare luxury for me."