Steven Ma Discloses The Real Reason Why He Resigned From TVB
Recently, there were rumors exposing that Steven Ma (馬浚偉), who has been slogging hard for TVB for eighteen years, had requested for an early release from his contract.
Asking Steven himself for clarifications, he admitted and confirmed that there was indeed such a matter.
However, Steven reiterated, “I’m not requesting for an increase in salary or winning of the TV King award but it’s just that I have reached a bottleneck position where I cannot see any further good developments from here. This leaves me feeling very insecure as a result.”
When it was mentioned that there were tongues wagging away that he was at odds with TVB’s Production and Resource Director, Virginia Lok (樂易玲), Steven finally revealed what was suppressed in his heart for a long time now, “Virginia Lok and I, we share little affinity with each other.”
In fact, Steven already had the intention to leave TVB two years ago. However, Steven eventually decided to stay after TVB General Manager of Broadcasting Affairs, Stephen Chan (陳志雲), personally persuaded him to stay and promised to give him various career advancing opportunities.
However, due to changes in the positions of the senior management staff, nothing else followed after Steven had completed his hosting duties for Apprentice Chef《大厨出马》.
All these tiny bits and pieces gradually accumulated into months of anxiety and exasperation and it also didn’t help that TVB had turned down the offer of accepting Mainland grand production, The Legend of the Yuan Empire Founder《建元风云》, which added onto Steven’s earlier frustrations and finally tickled the bomb inside him.
Steven remarked, “I would like to emphasize that it is not that TVB didn’t treat me well however there were always cases where I will meet something that makes me unhappy.” (Reporter: Was it because you were suppressed by a particular person?) “If you want me to answer you with a definite “No.”, I can’t give you that answer.” Like an intuitive thinking, one can’t help but to immediately think of Virginia Lok who has always been rumored to be on bad terms with Steven Ma…
In recent years, besides standing tall and steadying his position as a first line actor in TVB, the dramas under Steven’s wing have received soaring viewership ratings. Despite that, Steven has never been included in any high budget blockbuster TVB dramas or had the opportunity, like his peers, to be sent overseas to participate in Mainland production dramas. Even his sideline income such as shooting of advertisements, stage appearances and etc had to be self-sourced…
Without a single word of complaint, Steven slowly awaited for his golden opportunity to shine and his big break eventually came this June when “Siu-Ming Gor” Tsui Siu-Ming (徐小明) invited him to participate in the fifty episodes ancient periodic Mainland mega production, “The Legend of the Yuan Empire Founder”, which made him elated with joy, “Siu-Ming Gor specifically approached me to act in the role of Liu Bingzhong (刘秉忠) who was a Yuan Dynasty court adviser to Kublai Khan (played by Hu Jun (胡軍)) and was considered to be one of the pioneers behind the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty. Although I would not be one of the male main leads, this role has a huge room for development and it’s also a rare chance for me to snitch some acting tips from the stellar cast of actors and actresses. Furthermore, “Yuan Empire Founder” would be broadcasting next year during a golden time slot on CCTV1, which could stand for a very good opportunity in my future career prospects.”
Steven professed that he immediately expressed to Siu-Ming Gor that he had an interest in shooting this drama without even discussing about the remuneration fee for filming it. (It was known that the filming fee was 1.5million RMB) After which, Steven handed the filming offer over to his TVB assigned manager, Hillman, to follow up on the procedures. Hillman soon reverted back to Steven that Virginia Lok has turned down the filming offer and cited fixed contractual terms, which stipulated that artistes are not allowed to film overseas dramas that do not broadcast in TVB, as the reason for the rejection.
However, in the Mingpao reporter’s recollection, Myolie Wu‘s (胡杏兒) 2010 Mainland drama, Happy Mother-in-law, Pretty Daughter-in-law《八星報喜賜良緣》, was only broadcasted on Hong Kong’s cable television (Cable TV) early this year while Ron Ng‘s (吳卓羲) role as Fang Shaoling in the 2010 Mainland drama, Pretty Maid《大丫鬟》, even won him the Cable TV’s TV King award. So in this case, why is it that when it is Steven’s turn to conquer the Mainland drama-sphere, the odds are instead stacked only against him?
Steven explained, “I have not seen the contracts of other artistes but as per my knowledge, I do have such a clause in my own management contract…To be honest, it is such a great pity but there is no choice.”
Steven then truthfully related the matter to Siu-Ming Gor and had courteously turned down his Mainland drama series. As it turned out, after two months, Steven received news that Siu-Ming Gor was still patiently waiting for him to join the cast of “Yuan Empire Founder” despite Steven’s earlier painful declination of his filming offer.
Siu-Ming Gor had even advised Steven to leave no stone unturned and try his best to persist with TVB for it…At this point in time, Steven was so touched by Siu-Ming Gor’s kind gesture that he discreetly teared up and personally sent a short text message to Virginia Lok to try his luck again. But alas, Steven received a reply in the form of the exact same sentence from Virginia, “All the artistes in our company are restricted by this clause in their management contracts.”
Not snatching for toys
After receiving the dismay reply from Virginia Lok, Steven immediately felt distraught and the next 24 hours was an extremely trying day for him as bits and pieces of his years as an employee and snippets of his happy and unhappy moments in TVB floated in his mind and before his eyes, “Even if I continuously acted in dramas, there really aren’t many appearance jobs from those external engagements. I believe that my manager, Hillman, had already tried his best to help me and that he is also helpless as there’s also nothing else he could do even if the outcome leaves much to be desired…Last year, when I was discussing about my contract with Stephen Chan, I did not request an increase in salary, I only purely wanted more room for exploration. I only signed the contract after Stephen had agreed to it. After which, in the starting phase, there was the hosting program, “Apprentice Chef” , but after shifts in the senior management positions and designations, I was beaten back to square one! Yes, I know that as compared to those struggling actors, I am indeed much better off. However, any artiste that has worked for their company for eighteen years, would also hope for a marked improvement right? Can I be allowed to pursue a space where I can prolong my career as an artiste?”
After reminiscing for a while, Steven straightened out his thoughts and finally carried out a notion that he had kept in mind for years — Steven sent out a formal resignation letter in the form of a short text message to Virginia Lok requesting for an early release from his contract. (Steven’s contract would only expire Next June)
Steven continued, “To me, making such a decision was an utmost difficult one. Especially when I thought of “Tsang-jie” Catherine Tsang (曾勵珍) and “Uncle Choi” Leung Choi-Yuen (梁材遠), both of whom were extremely good to me, and even Stephen Chan whom I have not known for a very long time. Although Stephen and I have just befriended each other for a short period of time, I could see that he works really hard to fulfill his promise to me for these past two years and for that, he truly deserves the unreserved respect I have for him.”
Despite Steven’s reservations, he still lunged forward with his plan to resign from TVB and sent his resignation (in the form of a short text message) in hopes of seeking a more prominent career advancement. That fateful day of his resignation was on 21 August 2011.
That completely did not tally with the earlier rumors that Steven had only requested for an early release from his contract in a fit of anger because his periodic drama, The Life and Times of A Sentinel《紫禁惊雷》had hit a staggering rating of 40 points (which made them on par with modern undercover-police-triad drama, Lives of Omission《潜行狙击》) but did not receive any form of reciprocation from the company whereas “Lives of Omission” had been thrown a huge-scale celebratory event.
Those rumors were thus proven to be totally untrue as Steven had officially sent in his resignation (in the form of a short text message) on 21 August 2011 while the broadcast of the finale of his drama, “The Life and Times of A Sentinel” was on 26 August 2011.
[Caption: Regarding not receiving any form of celebration despite his drama, “The Life and Times of A Sentinel”, raking in impressively high ratings, which was definitely a high contrast to “Lives of Omission” which was thrown a lavish celebration, Steven expressed that he was nonchalant about it, “As long as the audiences can see and feel our success, that’s all that matters.”]
Steven responded, “Did you assume that it was a case of kids who fought over toys? The viewership rating of the drama was favorable and response received from the audiences were also commendable, thus already making me feel overjoyed. If there was a desire to celebrate, I wouldn’t have mind forking out of my own pocket to pay for the celebration. It wouldn’t be the first time after all as I have already previously done that several times!”
Towards Michael Tse‘s (謝天華) rebuke that he wasn’t mature enough, Steven laughed and replied, “I’m not on familiar terms with Michael but I trust that he was only joking about it. Steven Ma will not undertake any form of actions just because there was no celebratory event.”
A feeling of estrangement
Because they were still in the midst of handling the matter, Steven could not publicly disclose the rationality behind the termination of his contract but he could only reveal that the following day after his resignation (in the form of a short text message) was sent, Sir Run Run Shaw‘s (邵逸夫) secretary, Chan Hui Guang (陳輝光), contacted him to understand the full situation. After which, Virginia Lok arranged for a meeting with Steven through Steven’s manager, Hillman, and held talks with him for a short while in TVB City.
Not long after their discussion, there were news that Stephen Chan and TVB’s Group General Manager Mark Lee Po-on (李寶安) had both unanimously agreed to excuse that particular clause from Steven’s contract and gave their consent for Steven to accept and film the Mainland drama, “The Legend of the Yuan Empire Founder”, as per his wishes.
Steven’s filming of “Yuan Empire Founder” did seemed like a done deal as even the contract for “Yuan Empire Founder” had been prepared near to completion. It was scheduled that after Steven completed filming for Lucky Father《當旺爸爸》in Mid-October, he would travel up north to Inner Mongolia to shoot “Yuan Empire Founder” for four months…Just when everything had been set to be a happy ending, Steven instead said that his intention to resign had not waver one bit. Steven expressed, “I think, many people would feel that Steven Ma is such a bold person. However, on the contrary, I would like to seize this opportunity to clarify that I might give the impression of a fearless person from my external appearance and yes, I’m already accustomed to life and death situations but this does not mean that I’m emotionless and do not have feelings instilled in me. Requesting for a premature release from my contract was not a joke. Right from the start, when I had sent out that resignation letter (in the form of a short text message), I was already adamant to resign.”
There were heated rumors that many management agencies from Hong Kong and Mainland China have expressed their interest in signing Steven up as their artiste but for the time being, there were none that had really reached a cooperative agreement with him. Since there was no guarantee of any greener pastures after leaving TVB, why then was Steven so intent to pull out now? Was it because he was tragically suppressed by some particular person? Steven responded, “”If you want me to answer you with a definite “No.”, I can’t give you that answer. The company has so many talents, they don’t have to go out of their way and specially do anything for me but they should at least be more unprejudiced!”
When Virginia Lok, who was heavily rumored to be at odds with him, was brought up, Steven replied, “Virginia Lok and I, we share little affinity with each other. I don’t know why but we just cannot communicate with each other. As time goes by, I feel estranged from her. It was such to a point where people couldn’t even remember that TVB was my management company.”
[Caption: Steven Ma The Lucky Charm For TV Ratings
Although Steven Ma has not had the affinity to win the TV King award, but judging from the statistics derived from the viewership ratings received, Steven was already undoubtedly a ratings guarantee. In fact, his dramas were amongst the top ten highest viewership dramas of the year and his name often appeared in the list of main leads for dramas. Steven had even single-handedly held the drama on his own as the main male lead for both TVB dramas, A Watchdog’s Tale《老友狗狗》and Ghost Writer《蒲松龄》. It was no wonder then that his request for an early release from his contract was highly regarded by the senior management staff in TVB and had even managed to “coerce” Stephen Chan and Mark Lee Po-On to join forces and made an exception to overlook the clause in the contract for him so as to allow him to accept and shoot the Mainland grand production, in a bid to retain him.]
Responding to Steven Ma’s assertion that they shared little affinity; Virginia Lok : “It’s most important to have affinity and fate with TVB.
[Caption: Virginia Lok strongly emphasized that she barely went out, played cards or exercised with any artistes in private. However, she recognized Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼) as one of the rare exceptions where both of them had ate and chit chatted alone in private.]
In reply to Steven Ma’s assertion that they shared little affinity with each other, Virginia Lok responded, “I hope that all the artistes understand that it is not important whether they share little or great affinity with me. It is most significant for them to have affinity and fate with TVB! As artistes are invaluable assets to the company, I will, of course, diligently fight for opportunities for everyone however it is not to the case where Ms Lok’s every decision will be the final decision. In order to succeed, one has to meet the right people and be at the right place at the right time (天时 地利 人合) .”
However, Virginia admitted that she rarely interacts with Steven privately. Virginia explained herself, “TVB has so many artistes under it’s wing. As such, it is highly impossible for me to interact with each and every one of them. I would only get to mingle with them when there are large outdoor events involving our artistes like the previous one where Alfred Hui (許挺鏗) [a contestant who won the “Most Popular Award” from his participation in popular TVB singing competition program, The Voice《超級巨聲》] signed up with a record company or when the three fortune gods consisting of Wong Cho Lam (王祖藍), Johnson Lee (李思捷) and Louis Yuen (阮兆祥) held a concert performance…Or unless an artiste personally requested that he or she would like to talk to me face-to-face then in this case, I would privately arrange a time to meet him or her for dinner, one of whom was Charmaine Sheh.”
Letting off some steam by grumbling before the TVB Anniversary Awards
Steven Ma complained that despite having signed on with TVB for a management period of six years, he hardly had any stage or event engagements, endorsements, commercials or any other sideline jobs and everything had to be sourced and self-achieved on his own or, in his colleagues’ case, on their own.
About this, Virginia responded, “I did ask Hillman (The manager that TVB assigned to Steven Ma) before about why Steven’s external engagement jobs weren’t a lot. Hillman replied me that many prospective clients had ever inquired about Steven’s appearance fees and the spare time slots in his schedule. However the clients are often erratic as they could like one artiste at this moment but they could also like another artiste the next moment and could very well end up switching to hire another artiste in the end. About this, I do indeed feel regretful but you know, when there’s supply, there must also be demand for that supply.”
When “The Legend of the Yuan Empire Founder” saga involving Steven’s request of an early release of his contract was brought up, Virginia’s version of the saga did not tally with Steven’s portrayal of it. Virginia said that she only learned of the matter when she received the short text message that Steven had personally sent out, “That fateful day was a Sunday and I immediately rang Hillman up and asked what had happened. Hillman told me that it was because the Mainland filming company couldn’t accept certain clauses in Steven’s contract. I knew that Steven really wished to film that said drama. Thus I asked the company whether they could try their best to accede to Steven’s request of filming this series. However, during the adjoined meeting with the other senior management staff, everyone genuinely did not wish to give in and make a special exception about this clause in the management contract, especially since Steven isn’t going to be the main lead in that drama series.”
For the aforementioned clause, does it meant that any dramas outside TVB that the artistes film must be broadcasted on TVB? “No. I’m actually on very familiar terms with Tsui-Ming Gor. We used to work together for Rediffusion Television (RTV) [established in 1957, now known as rival television station ATV] Thus if Tsui-Ming Gor had very much wanted Steven Ma to join his cast, he could have jolly well dropped me a call but he didn’t…I asked Hillman to help me arrange to meet Steven and during that meet-up with Steven, we did discuss once about this. Steven expressed that he truly wanted to shoot this series hence I gave a call to Tsui-Ming Gor, in hopes that he could lend us a helping hand and ask the producer to accommodate us. In the end, the Mainland filming counterpart finally relented and did some adjustments regarding the contract and thus fulfilling the wishes of both parties.”
In Virginia’s recollection, she only received Steven’s request of an early release from his contract via a short text message after she had attained a consensus with Tsui-Ming Gor.
Virginia continued, “In fact, I didn’t feel that the short text message resembled a formal resignation letter in any way! Yes, Steven’s text message did actually expressed that he was crestfallen and felt that the company seemed like it didn’t really regard him highly. However, that wasn’t the first time Steven had expressed his unhappiness. He had previously mentioned about it to Tsang-Jie (Catherine Tsang) and Stephen (Chan)…Once, at a company dinner, Steven drank some wine and confided his grievances to the executive deputy chairman of TVB, Mr. Norman Leung (梁乃鹏). While griping to him, Steven was so emotional that his eyes brimmed with hot tears, such that everyone immediately rushed forward to console him!”
Virginia went on saying, “I feel that, it could be because it’s almost the end of year again, nearing the TVB Anniversary Awards hence Steven was just letting off some steam by grumbling lah! Usually before or directly after the Anniversary Awards, we would refrain from negotiating the contact renewal with the artistes as it is too sensitive a topic. Since Steven’s management contract with TVB would expire next year, it is more of an urgent case, so we initially settled upon discussing with him about his new contract after the Anniversary Awards show.”
But now that Steven has revealed his intention to quit TVB, will Virginia Lok even try to retain him from leaving? “Of course I will retain him. Steven works hard and has rendered numerous contributions to the company. Even if he ultimately doesn’t sign a management contract with us, he could always have a working relationship with us and stay to film some dramas…However, can Steven even cease his contract earlier than stipulated?”
Source: Mingpao, iHKtv
This article was translated by Ah K, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com.