Dollies, booms, cameras and spotlights were scattered around an empty Richmond factory on Clarke Place, in preparation for the shooting of a new Chinese TV series.
Laughs and chatter filled the space, but once the director called “action,” there was silence — save the actors’ dialogue and the sound of our own breathing.
Richmondite Sam Shen is the director behind the seven-episode series, Acting Classes, which he’s hoping to sell to a Chinese streaming service.
“The drama will not only explore the difference between western and eastern acting styles, but also tell stories of local Chinese immigrants, such as their life’s lowest point after immigration and their victories in a foreign land,” said Shen.
For example, one of the episodes tells the story of a Chinese couple getting married to obtain a Canadian permanent resident card, explained Shen. To make the immigration officer believe their “love story,” they decided to take acting classes. However, in true Harlequin romance fashion, they’ve genuinely fallen in love by the end of the classes.
“The whole show is fictional but is also based on first-hand experiences from locals,” noted Shen. “Flesh and blood experiences always resonate with audiences.”
Before settling down in Richmond, Shen was a well-reputed director in China who started his career as a filmmaker in the early 1980s in China.
Since then, he has dedicated himself to integrating western film concepts and acting techniques into Chinese movies.
Shen said the freedom and inclusive vibe of Richmond inspired him to keep moving forward in his directing career.
“I am determined to tell more stories from the Chinese immigrant community since some community members told me every time they come across an immigrant actor appearing on TV that looks like them or holds similar characteristics, they feel immediately connected to that character,” said Shen.
“They also feel their own happiness, struggles or sorrows have been seen, heard and understood by others.”
Shen said he expects the filming to be done by the end of the year, and he and his team will forward film clips to Netflix and other North American streaming services to see if his show could get on those bigger platforms.
Even as an experienced director, Shen said he felt unsure if Chinese immigrant stories would resonate with English-speaking audiences.
“I used to worry that an English-speaking audience would fall asleep while watching my work.”
But he soon decided that trying to “please” an English audience would be a waste of time.
“I would rather spend more time thinking about what makes a good story. Good stories always win,” laughed Shen.