source: Ming Pao issue 2236
Admitted that He has “Weak Affinity” with Lok Yi Ling.
Steven Ma Reveals the Reason for Tendering his Resignation.
Virginia Lok's Response to Steven's news article.
see related post: Steven reminded Ms. Lok he is requesting to terminate his contract not renewing it.
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? 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 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 because 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 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 bold. 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. Had no choice but to leave? Is it because of him being suppressed by a certain person? "If you want me to answer you with a “no”, I can’t do it! Company (TVB) 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, the distance grew such that some people can’t even remember that TVB is my management agent."
Note: Even Steven's recent herbal commercial was not through TVB. VL says: With Steven is aTsui Jie who is a veteran journalist, maybe many clients may her up first and have us followed through.
Note2: Sentinel ended with a big bang but tvb had no reaction; conversely Omission was ostentatiously celebrated. Steven said he doesn't mind:"So long there were viewers watching it, that's enough."
The year before Stephen Chan had promised Steven developments in different areas but soon after SC became entangled in ICAC investigation, soon after Apprentice Chef, nothing more happened.
The Uncrowned General Fortune of Ratings. 收视福将
Based on average ratings: Last year, A Watchdog Tale was top 5, (avg=31 points peaked @ 36pts) Ghost Writer: avg = 30 pts peaked @ 41pts.
Although does not the fate to be tv king but from the rating numbers can see that Steven is undoubtedly a box office draw to audiences. On tvb top 10 rated series of the year he is a regular male lead on the list. Last year, he was even the sole artist who got on twice with A Watchdog’s Tale and Ghost Writer. No wonder his request to prematurely terminate his contract provoked the attention of the senior management. Stephen Chan and Mark Lee jointly gave their consensus to exempt the clause from his contract to permit him to shoot the Mainland tv series as appeasement and as persuasion to have him stay.
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 were fickle, one minute like this the next like that, so many 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 know 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 clause, 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 expressing 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 griped to Executive Deputy Chairman, Norman Leung, and became quite teary as he spoke. Everybody hurriedly comforted him."
“I feel that maybe it's 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?"
related post: Steven is terminating not renewing contract