Substitute actor is perhaps a new concept derived from the performing industry in China, they are hired merely for the purpose of saving time and money for production. Scriptwriter Song Fangjin went undercover in Hengdian, the largest film studio in China, and brought back forefront record: the performance art is being destroyed by substitute acting.
I noticed a man drinking coffee that day, and I immediately recognized him as an actor. He was 50 years old or so, with big and twinkling eyes and bushy eyebrows. I looked at him again and found that I had seen many of his plays. He was a powerful actor. I approached him and made a brief self introduction. Surprisingly, he knew me and had seen some of my articles and speeches criticizing the acting industry. I ordered a bottle of wine and asked him whether he could talk a little more. He said it was his treat and he’d like to talk more.
Song: It is interesting that substitute actor is popular in film and television production nowadays. For instance, actors don’t come to the scene, which was totally impossible before.
Actor: Yes, you’re right. In the past, Chen Baoguo, Chen Daoming and the like didn’t have substitutes, and people even had never heard of this word. Moreover, it would never happen that actors didn’t recite their lines.
However, changes have taken place now. For example, I acted in Play M, in which the leading actor and actress, including me, had substitutes. Why? One reason is that many action scenes are involved. Another reason is that time should be taken into consideration. The contract we signed with the leading actor stipulates that he should take part in the whole process. We divide all the staff into 3 groups (Group A, B, and C) to complete the play, so hardly could he balance the time spent in each group. We can understand this. But the fact is that sometimes substitutes are hired just for saving money, because 200 or 300 yuan is enough to solve problem, why use the leading actor for the whole film then?
I regard it as a rather bad phenomenon. But the rule of the market is that as long as the actor is popular, we should sign a contract with him. No matter how much workload there is, the leading actor and actress only give you a short period of time for shooting. Undoubtedly, they don’t have enough time devote themselves to the play, how could they create a good character?
I view it as a kind of “robbing money”. Once upon a time an IP actor asked me: “do you think I am robbing money?” I replied: “I don’t know if you rob money. It is none of my business because the boss is willing to give you money. Is it right?”
Song: You have been working in the industry for many years, do you remember when substitutes appeared?
Actor: Just 3 or 4 years ago. Now I also have a substitute.
Song: Is your substitute hired for some special action scenes?
Actor: Yes, and they are only used for action scenes. The leading actor and actress have substitutes for both action and regular scenes. For example, I played against Actor I, but I have seldom seen him during the whole production. One day I said that I didn’t know the opposite actor. I couldn’t see him because he personally played in Group A, using substitutes in Group B and C. It is always like this.
Now many actors don’t even recite lines.
Song: How can they act when unfamiliar with the script?
Actor: Other people nearby will remind him. All he needed to do was to repeat what others say. The majority of young actors do this. Not reciting lines was not allowed at one time. And the directors had ways to deal with it. Now this is too normal.
Song: Do you mean that few leading actors in plays you have taken part in in recent years could recite the lines?
Actor: No, experienced actor like Chen Baoguo could. He wouldn’t stop until he said the lines correctly. However, most actors don’t recite.
It takes only 15 or 20 days to finish a play.
Song: It is said that the time the leading actors and actress spent on the play was about ten days. Do you have some knowledge about it?
Actor: I don’t know exactly, but ten days is somewhat exaggerated. The leading actor in an IP play just spent half a month completing several hundreds of scenes. The director from Hong Kong let him perform from different angles with various expressions, and he was totally an emoticon actor. He left when they’ve shot enough expressions of him. All he needed to shoot was finished within half a month. For example, if 4 to 5 places were needed, the director would shoot you against either sky, or trees, or walls. After that, everything was done by substitutes.
Song: Does it mean that a play is finished within 15 or 20 days?
Actor: Yes. Actors tells the crew that they don’t have enough time and could spare only 20 days, and the crew accept this. 20 days, on a daily basis, is cheap. How could hundreds of scenes be done within these days? Understanding characters and plots became unnecessary. Frankly speaking, it was for saving money.
Actors are not serious, nor are many directors. Sometimes I read the script and asked the director why he invited me to play. He said it was none of my business and I just need to provide an image.
Facing such kind of director and crew, all I could do was to go through the motions. In order to make money, actors have no choice once joined such crew. Let nature take its course.
From director concentrated to little fresh meat focused
Song: Referring to director, what are their attitudes toward substitutes, especially of those who you have cooperated with? Indifferent or helpless? Or they are accustomed?
Actor: There was no substitute before. But now it is common, especially in IP plays. Directors are not surprised, and most IP directors come from Hong Kong. As is often the case that they shoot several poses and let you go. They don’t care about whether there are substitutes. I have never cooperated with industrious directors like Feng Xiaogang, Chen Kaige, and Zhang Yimou, but I think they would not hire substitutes.
Song: Do these IP actors, little fresh meats (Internet slang for hot male stars) often come late and leave early?
Actor: They often do this. I am not sure about others, but I am always punctual. These little fresh meats, IP actors enjoy privilege. Once they come to the spot, other actors need to wait for them to shoot first. One day, I only had one scene was left to shoot before Actor S came. The staff told me that the crew have a rule which once Actor S showed up at the scene, we just have to shoot him first. So I had to wait for about 3 hours.
Song: Does the director keep silent about this?
Actor: They would say nothing. Because the focus has transferred from directors to fresh meat. All the boss suck around these actors. It is really bad. But I have a good mentality that we don’t interfere each other and make money respectively.
Song: With substitutes catching on, I’d like to call for a temporary cancellation of the prize for act. It makes no sense once a role is not played by an actor in person.
Actor: Exactly, you’re totally right. Leading roles just acted one third of the play.
Song: Yes, only expressions, without actions.
Actor: The only thing they care about is to make money rather than making achievements in performance. So I think the market is not sound at present. Sometimes a play has been sold before it has been finished. How could a low-quality play be sold before it was completed? And why would people buy the play without seeing it?
Song: It is because there are 2 or 3 little fresh meats in plays.
Actor: Why? I don’t understand.
Song: Do you think the status of the industry could be changed in the future?
Actor: It is somewhat difficult. In our circle, about 90% of crews don’t do things in accordance with the rules. They are totally neglecting the rules of performing art. As long as you have the money, you could pay someone to write a play for you. You could direct a movie or a play whether you have learned it or not. Are the actors performing in the right way? It doesn’t matter anymore.
Drinking up, we got up and left the café. Darkness was falling outside. It is said that night in Hengdian just began.