As a follow up to my earlier rant about TVB's double standard (see TVB Rant #12), below is a great article that gives insight into what inspired yet another rant from me against TVB.
The article is an interview that Steven Ma had with Mingpao Weekly that was just published this weekend. In it, he outlines very clearly his reasons for why he is leaving TVB -- and does so in a manner that is gracious yet revealing.
Also included is TVB's Artist Department Head Virginia Lok's response to Steven's interview...compare her 'accusatory' response with Steven's gracious one, and you will see why I loathe Virginia Lok so much.
After the article, I also included some comments that I posted regarding this article in AF.
Article originally published on 09/17/2011
Source: Mingpao Weekly Issue 2236 (as posted on HKChannel)
Translated by: tamaya @ steven ma fanblog
Admitted that He has “Weak Affinity” with Lok Yi Ling; Steven Ma Reveals the Reasons for Tendering his Resignation.
Steven Ma, who has worked in TVB for eighteen years, shockingly requested termination of his contract. I sought confirmation from the horse’s mouth and he candidly admitted its veracity. “I’m not asking for an increase in salary, or for the tv king award, it is just that I am at the bottleneck now, and that I just can’t see any further growth, which makes me uneasy.”
The year before (2009) Steven had already decided to leave the nest but general manager, Stephen Chan, personally persuaded him to stay back, and promised him lots of opportunities to grow in different areas, and so he decided to stay. But with the changes in the higher management, after Apprentice Chef, things came to a halt. The steadily accumulating anxiety and anger ignited by the company's rejection of the Mainland grand tv series production, "The Founding of Yuan Dynasty", finally exploded. “I want to exert it is not that TVB is bad to me but that I often met with unhappy issues….” Is it because of someone’s suppression? “If you want me to answer “no”, I can’t do that!” Naturally, it brought to mind the persistent widespread rumors that Steven and Virginia Lok do not get along. For the first time, Steven speaks out what he had suppressed in his heart for a long time, “Virginia Lok and I, weak affinity!”
For the past few years, Steven has been standing firmly as a first line siu sang, and the series he leads in have high ratings, however, his name never appears in grand productions or in Mainland tv series, either. Moreover, the commercials and advertisements, stage performances and other side jobs all have to depend on himself too. Finally in June this year, he was invited by Tsui Siu Ming to shoot a 50-episode epic historical grand production, "The Founding of Yuan Dynasty", which greatly elated him. “Siu Ming Gor approached me to portray Liu Bingzhong (劉秉忠). He was the founding minister who assisted Kublai Khan (Hu Jun) to found the Yuan Dynasty. Though not a first lead,his role has lots of room to elaborate, moreover, I can also learn from the veteran actors, plus the series will premier next year on CCTV1 on prime time. It will help to further my career. It’s a very good opportunity.”
Without even discussing the fee, he had already indicated his interest to Siu Ming gor his acceptance of this series (reported fee was 1.5 million rmb). He handed the offer to his tvb manager, Hillman, to follow up. Very quickly Hillman responded that Virginia Lok had rejected the offer. The reason being his contract prohibited acceptance of series that will not air on TVB. I recalled distinctly that Myolie Wu’s Mainland tv series was broadcasted early this year on cable tv, and also that Ron Ng snagged the Cable tv king award with his role in another mainland series, why not Steven?
“I don’t know other people’s contracts. I know that my contract has such a clause. Honestly, very regretful but what to do?” He told Siu Ming gor his situation and politely declined the series. Who knows two months later, he received a message that Siu Ming gor was still waiting for him and urged him to vigorously fight for it . At that moment in time, Steven was so touched he felt like tearing up. He forwarded the text message to Ms. Lok to ask her to reconsider. The return text message came with the same previous response: “All artists in this company are subject to this provision in their contract stipulation.”
Afterwards was the most difficult twenty four hours. All that he had gone through in TVB, the happy and unhappy fragments all floated before his eyes. “No matter how hard I continue to shoot series, the outside jobs are truly not many. I believe Hillman is already very diligent in helping me but unfortunately the outcome is always less than satisfactory.…The year before when negotiating with Stephen Chan, I didn’t request salary raise, I’d only wanted to have more opportunities to experience new things. It's only when Stephen Chan agreed to them that I signed up. In the beginning there was Apprentice Chef but when management went through changes, I was back to square one again! I know I’m in a better situation than others, but after 18 years as an artist, one hopes for improvement, right? Can you allow me space to pursue a longer term artistic life?”
Mulling over it he evoked that notion that had been stored for a long time in the back of his mind and activated it. He sent an official letter style text message to Virginia Lok requesting an early release from his contract. (The contract terminates June next year.)
“To make this decision was not easy. I thought of Zhan jie (Catherine Tsang), Uncle Choi (Leung Choi Yuen), they've been good to me. Even Stephen Chan, though the days of our interactions are not long, but these two years I can see that he has been trying very hard to fulfill his promises to me. I’ve the utmost respect for him.”
But to pursue better growth he, in the end, still sent out his text message. The day was August 21. It was rumored that the finale of 'The Life and Times of Sentinel' peaked at 40 points, but the company showed not reaction to it; however it held an ostentatious celebration for Life of Omission that had the same peak rating, and that this had so enraged Steven that in a fit of anger he decided to terminate his contract, this clearly does not hold water as it was not until August 26th that ‘Sentinel’s finale was aired.
“Do you think it's little kids playing toys? If I want a celebration I can pay for one out of my own pocket. I’ve done that many times already.” About Michael Tse's upfront upbraiding him for being “immature”, Steven smiled and said: “I’m not very familiar with Michael. I believe he was just kidding. Steven,I, will never carry out any action because of not having a celebratory event.”
Because talks are still in progress, Steven cannot reveal his rationale for terminating the contract. He can only say that after sending out that text message, on the very next day, Run Run Shaw’s secretary, Chan Fai Kong Run, contacted him to investigate his situation, and soon after, Virginia Lok through Hillman arranged for a meeting with Steven in tvb city. They talked for a while, and shortly there was news that Stephen Chan and Mark Lee had both agreed to exempt that clause from his contract, and permit Steven to accept “The Founding of Yuan Dynasty”. The contract (tn:series) is almost complete now. When finished with shooting “Prosperous Father, he will head up north; it seems like a happy ending.
But Steven says his wanting to terminate his contract has not wavered. “I guess lots of people must be thinking how come Steven is being so audacious. I want to take this opportunity to say, outwardly I’m very strong, I'm used to confronting life and death separation, but it does not mean that I don’t have feelings. When I submitted my request to be released from my contract, it wasn't on a whim. From the moment I sent out that text message, my decision to leave was resolute.”
There are rumors that there are many artists management agencies in Hong Kong and Mainland beckoning him to their companies. Have no choice but to leave, is it because of him be suppressed by a certain person? "If you want me to answer you with a “no”, I can’t do it! Company has many talented people, no need for you to especially do anything for me, but at least, be a little bit fairer!” When brought up the rumors that he has never gotten along with Virginia Lok, he quipped: “Virginia Lok and Me, weak affinity. Don’t know why but we just can’t communicate. And after a while, feel very distant. Some people (tn:tvb human resource department) I can’t even remember. TVB is my management agent.” (tn: as opposed to solely VL)
Virginia Lok's Response to Steven's news article
Responding to Steven Ma’s “weak affinity”, Virginia Lok say: “I hope all artists understand whether have weak or strong affinity with me is not important, what’s important is to have affinity with TVB! Artists are the company’s resources, of course, I will work hard to help everybody fight for opportunities. But not everything, I, Ms. Lok, say is fine then it’s fine. To be successful, also has to depend on opportune timing and favorable conditions.”
She admitted that she does not have much contact with Steven other than business. “ TVB has so many artists, there’s not way I can have contacts with each and every one of them. Unless like Xu Ting Keng (許挺鏗) signing the records company or Fook Lu Sau held a concert, only then will have more mutual contacts. Sometimes when an artist want to make a request and talk personally to me, only then will set up a private meeting to eat together, like Charmaine Sheh.”
Steven claims he has signed contract with TVB for six years, but stage performing, commercials and ads, and other side jobs are far in between, everything has to depend on himself and his colleague to fight for. Ms. Lok say: “I also have asked Hillman (Steven’s manager) why Steven’s jobs are not many? Hillman said that many clients had asked about fees, schedules, but clients are fickle, one minute like this the next like that, so maybe in the end picked another artist. For this I truly feel it is a bit regrettable but you know, there’s supply and there’s demand.”
Talking about “The Founding of Yuan Dynasty’s” contract woes, what came out of Ms. Lok’s mouth was a different version from Steven’s. She said that day she received Steven’s text message, only then did she know about this situation. “That was a Sunday. I immediately called up Hillman to ask what happened? Hillman told me it was because company couldn’t accept certain clauses in the contract. I knew Steven truly wanted to shoot this series. I had helped him ask the company if it could cooperate with him. But during the meeting, they all did not want to waive the clause on the contract. Moreover, he is not even the first lead in the series.”
This stipulation, is it true that all mainland series that the artists participated in must be aired on tvb? “No. Actually, Siu Ming gor and I are very familiar to each other. We once worked together in Rediffusion Television (RTV). If he had truly wanted Steven to shoot in this series he would have called me but he didn’t. Through Hillman I contacted Steven . And we discussed the matter again. Steven expressed that he truly wanted to shoot this series. So I called up Siu Ming gor to ask him to help, to ask the producers to be more accommodating. Consequently the other party accommodated, and we successfully resolved this matter.”
She remembers that it was after successfully resolving this matter with Siu Ming gor that she received Steven’s text message to terminate his contract. “I don’t consider that is an official letter style. In his message, he seemed dispirited, like the company does not care too much about him. But then this is not the first time he expressed his unhappiness. He has expressed his unhappiness to Stephen (SC) and to Zhan Jie (Catherine Tsang). Once in a dinner, after consuming some wine he related his grievances to Executive Deputy Chairman, Norman Leung, and became quite teary as he spoke. Everybody hurriedly comforted him."
“I feel that maybe it is almost year end, and close to the anniversary awards ceremony so he threw some tantrums! Usually prior to and after the anniversary ceremony we seldom negotiate contracts with the artists, too sensitive. Steven’s contract will end next year. We had intended to discuss his contract after the anniversary ceremony.” Steven has expressed his wish, will Ms. Lok make gestures to retain him? “Of course want to retain him. Steven has achievements and has put in efforts, even if does not want to sign management contract, can also stay back to shoot series….but, can he terminate his contract early?"
My response to the article:
.-- Great recap of the REAL story....I like how Mingpao presented both sides so that people can decide for themselves who they want to believe.
.-- I personally found Virginia Lok's comments insulting -- especially the part where she practically "accuses" Steven of trying to use his contract thing to gain advantage at the awards ceremony. What a tactless (and stupid) thing for someone in her position to say! As a manager myself, I'm disgusted by VL's blatant bias and lack of professionalism...she's definitely not a good manager -- that's for sure!
.-- Also, I almost threw up when VL tried to make herself sound like a "hero" because she 'supposedly' helped Steven get his Mainland China series back...she's so "full of it", it's not even funny....
.-- The other thing I found interesting with this interview is the issue regarding the contract. It behooves me that TVB would put a stipulation in their artists' contracts stating that TVB artists are not allowed to participate in a Mainland series unless that series airs on TVB....The question I have is: Really? I would be curious to see if the contracts for the other TVB managed artists who filmed series in the Mainland the past couple years (i.e.: Charmaine prior to her contract ending, Kevin, Tavia, Ron, Myolie, Raymond, etc.) had that same stipulation -- if so, then TVB is definitely limiting the growth of their artists, since that greatly narrows the options for their artists in terms of series that they are allowed to film in Mainland (since not every Mainland series will end up airing on TVB).
However, I actually have a feeling that there is no such stipulation in the other artists contracts and TVB is just using this as an excuse to hold Steven back from further opportunities (which means that TVB is trying to play favorites again by allowing their favored artists to film in the Mainland but not others). I mean, it really doesn't make sense to me that they would put such a stipulation in the artists contracts, especially considering how big the Mainland market is and knowing how it's virtually 'impossible' for TVB to try to control that market by buying the broadcast rights for every single series. If that's truly the case, then it's no wonder that majority of the artists in HK don't want to sign management contracts with TVB....heck, if I were those artists and knew ahead of time that the opportunities would be so limited, I wouldn't sign with them either!
.-- And of course, this makes Michael Tse's comment even more insulting and shows more than ever how arrogantly and stupidly he (Michael) answered. Hey, if Steven could respond with such grace and help Michael "save face" by saying that he was probably only joking, the least Michael could have done was just shut the hell up!