Sunday, January 11, 2015

CRHK radio interview with HKTV director and scriptwriters - PART TWO

Recap of highlights from CRHK radio show “On a Clear Day” hosted by Kwok Chi Yan (郭志仁) – January 2, 2015

*** NOTE:  Please read part ONE before proceeding with the below. ***



-          The second segment starts with the host continuing the conversation (from part one) about how the ‘system’ at HKTV is different from TVB and that’s why the output is different as well.

-          The host said that the day before, he had interviewed Maggie Cheung (張可頤) and asked her about her thoughts filming TBONTB.  One of the things she mentioned was that this was the first time in her acting career that she had received the entire script prior to filming.  At TVB, it was nearly impossible to read the entire script prior to filming – they usually only received the script for a few episodes at a time, so it was very hard to grasp how the character is going to develop.

-          Given the topic of ‘on-the-fly’ scripts, the host asked his guests (scriptwriters Alex Pau and Benny Wong and director KK Wong) how HKTV is able to achieve the ‘100% complete scripts’ mandate.

o   Benny Wong clarified that not every series at TVB was ‘on-the-fly’ – it really depended on which production team (some are worse than others).  In some cases, the scripts may be close to completion, but the production team might have encountered some ‘problems’ or need to change the script for some reason, so they couldn’t complete timely.

o   Benny and Alex stated that HKTV must have complete scripts prior to filming because Ricky Wong requires it – they are not allowed to start filming until the script is 100% completed and distributed to the artists.

o   The reason why they were able to meet this consistently was 1) the station had not launched yet so there was plenty of time to write the script, and 2) HKTV has fewer obstacles in terms of ‘timing’ (meaning that they don’t have to ‘jump through hoops’ to get their story ideas ‘approved’ like they did at TVB).

-          The host asked them to describe what the script writing process entailed at TVB – he asserted (somewhat sarcastically) that the ‘winning formula’ for TVB series seems to be to write a generic story, throw in a few love triangles and/or complicated love relationships, end with a ‘happily ever after’ barbecue scene, then repeat.  This is the ‘formula’ that TVB has adopted for decades and audiences are so familiar with it already that it has become a ‘culture’ of sorts.

o   Alex stated that this ‘formulaic’ approach to scriptwriting is not a ‘new’ thing – in fact, it has been in effect for many many years.  The reason TVB uses this method is because it is easy, fast, and most efficient.

o   The reason why it is ‘fast’ and ‘efficient’ goes back to the ‘approval’ process mentioned earlier [in part one of the interview].  If the story idea that you are trying to ‘sell’ is obscure, controversial, complicated, etc., you will have difficulty getting buy-in from all the people who need to ‘approve’….alot of time will be wasted trying to ‘convince’ everyone to ‘accept’ your idea. [sidenote:  at this point, the host jokingly said: “well, unless you’re producer Jonathan Chik – otherwise, you will definitely waste a time of time arguing”]

o   Most of the scriptwriters at TVB conform to the process because: 1) it’s fast and convenient – why delay people from getting off work on time by trying to be ‘different’ and causing issues;  2) it’s less hassle – quickly ‘sell’ the idea, get approval/buy-in, then can start filming right away; 3) the ratings will always be good anyway [TN:  TVB’s monopoly over the HK television industry means that their ratings will always be decent no matter what type of series they churn out], it makes the company happy, so why not?

-          The host turned to KK Wong and asked him:  for The Election, if this were TVB, would you not even bother trying to ‘sell’ the idea, since there would be so much opposition and it would for sure be banned? 

o   KK responded that at TVB, it’s best not to even mention the word “politics”, as it’s a ‘taboo’ subject.  He said that if he were to even mention the word, his story idea wouldn’t even get past the first stage of – it would have been ‘banned’ from the start. [TN:  this coincides with what Alex Pau mentioned in the book he wrote about 6 or 7 years ago about his life as a scriptwriter – he listed all the topics that are considered ‘taboo’ at TVB and they are not allowed to film… I don’t remember all of them at the moment, but I know for sure ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ were 2 of those topics…]

o   He also expressed that after working at TVB for a long time, the scriptwriters and producers all have a ‘self-reflection’ and ‘self-censorship’ mentality – meaning that they already know they will encounter problems if they even try tackling a particular topic, so why waste time attempting in the first place?

o   The other thing about the work environment at TVB that complicates things is that they (the execs/management) are rarely forthcoming or direct with you.  For instance, if you mention wanting to film one of the ‘taboo’ topics, they will never tell you directly ‘no, you can’t do that’ – instead, they will ask you all sorts of questions and make the process as difficult as possible, to the point that the person who mentioned the idea will feel it’s too much hassle and decide to abandon the idea on his/her own.

-          Both of HKTV’s currently airing series reflect what is going on currently in society – The Election talks about the HK political scene while To Be or Not To Be talks about the long-time conflict between HK and Mainland China.

-          Discussion about the series TBONTB:

o   The host asked Alex Pau whether there is special significance to the way the opening theme video and the transitional video during each of the break segments are designed.  Just in case people didn’t notice, during the break segments, the middle characters of the 7 character title are ‘blurred out’ – so if you read the non-blurred characters only, you’ll notice it says ‘come HK people’….is there a particular meaning to this?

o   Alex answered that the design of the title flow should be credited back to the series’ main director Luk Tin Wah.  He said that there is indeed a purpose behind the design – each audience will view the title in a different way depending on their own background and experience.  For example, you can interpret those remaining characters as a way of encouraging HK people (‘come on, Hong Kongers’) or you can look at is not wanting to be a Hong Konger.

o   The purpose of designing the title that way [TN: there’s also significance to the way the artists’ names are listed in the opening credits, which wasn’t mentioned during the interview but was explained on HKTV’s Facebook page later on] is to make audiences think and reflect:  if you were given the choice, would you choose to be a Hong Konger?  How about your children and grandchildren?  Would you want them to be Hong Kongers?

o   The host asked Alex for his personal interpretation of the title:  which perspective does he see it from?  The Mainland sister’s perspective (HKers have a certain attitude and can’t stand them), the HK sister’s perspective (too much pressure being a HKer due to all the conflicts and would rather not be a HKer) or the ‘future foreboding’ perspective (sooner or later, HKers will lose their identity and no longer be HKers)??

§  Alex stated that from a creativity standpoint, he can see it from both perspectives (HK and Mainland).  He said he has a Mainland friend who once said to him: “HK is like a spoiled child”…already treated well yet still wants more.  This made him reflect and realize how true it is that each person’s perspective will differ depending on which ‘side’ you come from (HK side or Mainland side).  For example, some Mainlanders may think – hey, you guys (HKers) are already given special treatment all the time, daddy already spoils you, lets you play with all the toys and do things we can’t do, yet you still feel it’s not enough and have to push for more?  Meanwhile, HKers see it from the opposite perspective and feel their freedoms are being taken away.

§  This helped Alex understand that growing up in different places with different education and cultural influences will cause your mindset to be completely different.  Taking it down to a smaller scale – even in a household, you might all be HKers, yet you could hold drastically different perspectives on things that could cause the household/family to be divided.

§  The purpose of the title (and the series as a whole to some extent) is to urge people to recognize that there are issues.

o   To conclude the TBONTB segment, the host asked Alex a very interesting personal question:  in your next life, would you choose to be a Hong Konger?  Alex’s response:  Yes, absolutely!  Why?  Because even though HK is not what it used to be and despite all the problems going on, he was born here, grew up here, his friends and family are here, so he feels that even if the boat is truly sinking, he will accompany to its end.

-          Next is discussion about the series The Election:

o   First, a fun fact – KK and Benny are actually brothers (people may have noticed the similarity in their names).  KK (the director) is the older brother and Benny (the scriptwriter) is the younger brother.

o   The host asks Benny:  this is the first time that a TV series about politics in HK has been made.  Without prior experience with this type of topic, how were the ‘sensitive’ portions of the series handled?  Previously at TVB, you wouldn’t dare to write this kind of stuff, so now, writing it for the first time, what was going through your mind?  Were you worried at all? 

§  Benny said that when he first started writing the script, he didn’t think much about whether the topic was ‘sensitive’ or not.  He just wanted to lay out the story for audiences and think of ways to add in the dramatic elements, since it IS a drama series after all.

§  In the middle of writing however, he (and his brother KK) started questioning himself – is this perhaps a bit overboard?  Perhaps a bit too ‘sensitive’?

§  The host asked what parts were ‘sensitive’, to which the brothers responded – the piece about the Media for example and their role in politics as well as the back story of the TV station owner trying to pull political strings to get her son out of prison – perhaps some of the elements are a little bit too close to real life?

§  In the end, they decided to talk to Ricky Wong about it and ask for his opinion.  He said that if they feel strongly about it to go ahead, but if anything happens, they will also need to be accountable (along with himself of course).

§  Benny said that the main thing he kept in mind while writing:  their intention isn’t to deliberately ‘insinuate’ anyone or anything – rather, their intention is to create a series that people will want to watch, has dramatic elements, and delivers the message that they want to get across.

o   It was briefly mentioned that in terms of ‘sensitivity’ of the subject matter, season 2 of The Election will contain way more ‘sensitive’ material (as a ‘spoiler’ of sorts – the Media will be a huge focus in the second season).

o   The discussion then turned to all the complaints about the ‘dark lighting’ of the series [TN: those who have been following the news will probably have heard about this].   Was the lighting done that way on purpose:

§  KK started off by saying that one of the good things about working at HKTV is that all of the production team (director, scriptwriter, lighting, props, makeup, etc.) stay in close communication with each other (inferring that there was a lack of communication at TVB?). 

§  Since everyone on the team has a ‘heart’ for making the best series possible, their goal is the same, so it promotes an environment where they constantly get together to discuss the various elements of filming.

§  KK said that they filmed the series with dark lighting on purpose – as the director, he wanted more natural lighting because it would give a more realistic effect, so the guys in charge of the lighting gave him feedback on how to go about achieving this.

§  After hearing all the audience complaints about the lighting, he realized that not all audiences are accepting of this type of lighting (hence they decided to add a “brightened” version of the series for those who couldn’t accept the “darkness”).  He said that he will keep this in mind for next time.

§  Benny added that when they do the post-editing for the final cut of each episode, they use high quality specialized monitors that bring out all the colors and details and very meticulously go through each scene – but they realize that when the finished product comes out, majority of the audiences will see things differently because they are not watching on the same specialized monitors that the production team is.

-          To conclude the interview, the host asked the team what they would like audiences to ‘pay close attention’ to when watching both series.

o   For TE, the director and scriptwriter would like audiences to really pay attention to the way the series was filmed and the unique way the story is told:  the dialogue is not very blunt or direct and oftentimes, audiences have to ‘read between the lines’ – this isn’t a series that will be easily understood by just ‘listening’.  Also, the other elements that make up the story, such as the ‘daring’ subject matter, concentration on one main story arc (the Chief Executive election), the political philosophies of the main characters, etc. – for example, the main character Yip Ching (Angelica Lee) running her political campaign based on the tenant of ‘fairness’…should cause people to reflect…

o   For TBONTB – in addition to the fine acting from the cast as well as the good script, Alex would also like audiences to pay attention to the aspects of the production that are not as easily ‘seen’ – for example, the quality and aesthetics of the production (the cinematography, lighting, camera angles, etc.).  He would like audiences to ‘feel’ the effort put into the production and give credit back to the production crew behind-the-scenes who worked so hard to make things happen.


  1. Interesting read... Now I understand why TVB keeps producing the same old stuff again and again. Sadly, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

    1. @miriamfanz: Yea...definitely alot of good information in the radio interview -- though personally, I would've preferred that they talked more about the 2 series than the HKTV vs TVB differences, since I already knew most of that stuff anyway.

      Unfortunately, I don't see things changing with TVB either -- they've been using the same methods for over 40 years and it has become a 'habit' of sorts already....