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February 4, 2018

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China’s wannabe actors chase careers, dreams in Beijing hotel

IN a budget hotel next to the 800-million-dollar World Trade Center in downtown Beijing, Quan Meihua practices reciting the lines of a crazy blind woman, while dreaming of becoming the country’s next superstar.

“I could be the next Zhang Ziyi,” she says. “I just need a perfect audition.”

Located in Beijing’s central business district, the Piao Home Inn in Beijing’s Chaoyang District is full of people each day looking for a breakout opportunity to star in one or two Internet films or TV series. Some are graduates from film academies, while others are just extras hoping to make money.

Driven by China’s explosive growth of Internet films and series, many casting directors reside in the hotel throughout the year to recruit potential actors and actresses for their projects, while also hoping the newbies can help them become the next Ang Lee or Zhang Yimou.

The Piao Home Inn recently created buzz on Sina Weibo microblog, after a video of people auditioning for Internet films and TV series was posted there. By last week, the video had attracted more than 1,000 comments and had been forwarded by almost 3,000 Weibo users.

“All actors and actresses, when they set their foot on Beijing, instantly hear about the Piao hotel,” Wang Xiaoyan, an actress, says in the video.

The Piao, which means floating in Chinese, is located where a lot of creative and entertainment companies converge. Being close to Guomao stop, one of the busiest subway stations, and many other public transit lines, the hotel is easily the best choice for crew members to meet potential cast, according to casting director Wang Xiaojian.

That’s why Quan Meihua, 23, came to try her luck at the hotel.

“I think the hardest part of acting is probably the crying scenes,” she says. “I want to secure a good role, and I want to do my best in the business.”

The wall in the hall of the Piao Home Inn is full of paper ads looking for actors and actresses for the latest film and TV series projects.

Actor He Qiwei auditioned for a role in the Piao Home Inn on January 24, preparing for the role for considerable time.

“I have been reciting the lines,” He says. “They are long and very difficult to memorize. Every gesture, every movement matters.”

He, 28, is not a greenhorn in the industry. He has already landed several roles in a number of Internet films, although none have yet been broadcast.

In December, he was given a role in an Internet film, which was shot in Zhejiang’s Hengdian Film and TV Park, dubbed China’s Hollywood. The experience was tough.

“I had to jump into a cold river in the freezing air,” He says. “As I had to shoot the film for the entire day, I had to wear my wet costume all day long.”

He said that after getting involved in a new play, he usually sleeps 3 to 4 hours day.

“Shooting is quite hectic, and an Internet film is usually shot in less than 20 days, so you should always be ready,” he says.

In his spare time, he goes on live-streaming websites to broadcast his life to his fans.

“I can play the piano, and my fans love it when I play different music,” he says.

Driving the fervor for these wannabe actors is the explosive growth of China’s Internet film and Internet series industry.

According to China Internet Network Information Center, China’s online population reached 751 million as of June 2017, up 2.7 percent from the end of 2016. The number of mobile Internet users stood at 724 million.

Riding on the back of Internet success, online films and series have also seen rapid growth. In the first half of 2017 alone, about 5,000 Internet films, series, cartoons and documentaries were registered at the State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

“The quality of the online projects is debatable, but the industry has great potential,” says casting director Wang Xiaojian.

Hopes, dreams

The rise of the industry has given precious opportunities to relatively unknown actors, including Chinese actress Zhang Tian’ai, who shot to national fame via her character in the hit Internet series “Go Princess Go.” After the show’s success, Zhang’s career skyrocketed, and her salary rose to rival that of China’s top actresses, according to web portal Her followers on Weibo also rose from 30,000 to more than 13 million.

But not everyone is as lucky as Zhang. The daily salary for unknown actors varies, from as low as 50 yuan (7.8 US dollars) to as much as 4,000 yuan, according to actor Shen Shijie.

Shen, 68, is a retired musician from the Chinese Ballad Singers Association. After his retirement in 2010, he began an acting career, looking for opportunities in the hotel, or via social tools such as WeChat.

“Sometimes I come to the Piao hotel to look for opportunities,” Shen says, as he knocks door-to-door to hand out his resume to different crews. “If they think I am suitable for a certain role, they call me.”

Shen says he can make more than 1,000 yuan every day for a cameo in a film or TV series, but “most extras can only make 100 yuan or less” because they have no connections in the industry.

“I have some acquaintances, so my income is better,” he says.

Many, however, say that money is not a priority, but experience is.

“I love meeting different people in the cast and crew, and more importantly, I really enjoy acting,” says Zhao Yuhao, 25.

Zhao says he has played different roles in a series of films, including Zhang Yimou’s “The Great Wall,” starring Matt Damon, in which he played a general, though his cameo was eventually cut from the final edit.

“It takes time and effort to be a good actor. I am not here for overnight fame,” he says.

Quan Meihua says she has been to the hotel many times.

“I would like to be like Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who has not only achieved fame and celebrity via acting, but also learned to deal with many difficult situations,” she says.

Last year, Fan Bingbing topped the Forbes China Celebrity List for the fourth consecutive time.

“I know that not everyone can be like Fan Bingbing or Zhang Ziyi,” Quan says. “But it is best to hold out for our hopes and dreams.”


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