HKTV chief director So Man-chung laments lost opportunities in licence rejection
HKTV drama chief worked on new-style productions which will now never be shown on TV after the government rejected station's licence bid
As the credits rolled on the final episode of a television show that's been two years in the making, it was an emotional moment for everyone in the room.
Many on the production team behind the show have lost their jobs after Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) missed out on a free-to-air licence last week. But worse, they say, is that viewers have been deprived of quality dramas - and none of their hard work will be seen on television.
"It's like killing a newborn baby in the hospital's delivery room - and it's the midwife who murders it," said chief director of drama production at HKTV, So Man-chung. "I can't help but cry when I watch the scenes I filmed. The government is supposed to nurture, not destroy, the city's creative industry." The HKTV staff had gathered at their Kwai Chung office to watch final screenings of series such as Borderline, which have been in production for the past two years.
"It's not just about losing our jobs," said So, who will remain at the station. "People look back at what they've done over the past two years with satisfaction about the shows they have made. Why, now, has the chance of them being aired been trashed?"
Some 320 jobs will go after the government rejected the station's licence application. Licences were granted to i-Cable and PCCW subsidiaries.
So and his colleagues had produced 150 hours of television in anticipation of winning the licence. The station decided to broadcast the first episode of Borderline on the internet, ahead of the licence announcement - the only one of the new works available in full. It has notched up over 804,000 hits on YouTube since it went up in June.
The station has tried to move away from the usual fare on local television, striving for film-like, US production values with snappy storytelling, darker lighting and more realistic scenes.
For So, moving from TVB to HKTV two years ago afforded him the opportunity to experiment with film-style narration, telling the story with images instead of dialogue. "It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It's satisfying when the audience completes the picture on their own," So said. "People feel like they live in the story. That's why movies are touching."
He tried a similar approach at TVB on Lives of Omission. "But after the first 10 minutes I had to go back to the conventional style. TVB doesn't take risks. For Borderline, though, I could film it my way for the whole 1,000 minutes."
So said they spent double the time filming than when he made dramas at the TVB "factory". Scripts were written in advance instead of on the spot, and scenes were rehearsed before filming.
HKTV actress Rain Lau Yuk-chui said the station was doing groundbreaking work in its bid to produce something different. "We've risked our lives heading to volcanoes, caves and chasing cyclones," she said.
Lau also worked at TVB, where she said she felt disillusioned with the lack of creativity after two decades there. She worked on the mainland before returning to work at HKTV.
A different role at TVB just meant "putting on a different outfit and changing my name", she said. "That's all that made it a new character … I've stopped watching local dramas - it just makes my acting worse.
"There won't be any second chances for local television. Who else would be as naïve as [HKTV chairman Ricky] Wong, and dump that much cash into the industry again?"