Thousands of extras find success online

By Dong Feng and Li Lei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/17 16:23:40

Dandan uses a livestream platform to show audiences the costume room. Photo: VCG

After spending years "drifting" in Hengdian World Studio, the world's largest film and TV shooting base, thousands of wannabe actors have gone from being extras in Hengdian to leading men and women in their own online short videos.

"When I was an extra in Hengdian, I earned around 100 yuan ($15) a day. Sometimes, I even had to put blood on my face and act like a corpse in the rain, and I didn't even have that chance every day," said Qiu Lei, who has turned to Douyin (Tik Tok), a popular entertainment short video platform.

"Now I have a monthly income of 7,000 to 8,000 yuan by shooting videos on Douyin, and sometimes even more," Qiu said in an interview with a WeChat public account affiliated to a Beijing based film investment company.

Since 2018, many extras have been trying to share videos on short video platforms like Douyin and Kuaishou, often featuring themselves in lead roles in self-made films.

In Hengdian, around 78,000 extras are waiting for opportunities to play bigger roles, and on Kuaishou, over 10,000 people have been tagged as "Hengdian extras." 

Huang Hanxuan (left) prepares his cameras to shoot a short video with his friends. Photo: VCG

From extra to protagonist

Anyone who wants to become an extra in Hengdian only has to get a local bank card and a temporary residential permit and register with the actors' guild.

In his four years as an extra in Hengdian, in addition to various bit roles, Qiu has had several supporting roles in online TV series and had four lines in a hit drama.

After that, Qiu entered a higher level and became a contributing extra at the film base. Despite this progress, he often found himself between jobs.

In July 2018, out of curiosity, Qiu started sharing videos on Douyin and Kuaishou. When the third video he uploaded in Douyin received more than 100 likes, he started to share more. Today, Qiu has hundreds of thousands of followers on Douyin, and some of his videos have been watched even more than some TV series.

"Many people around me are shooting videos," Qiu said, adding that more and more extras are paying greater attention to Kuaishou and Douyin.

With their dreams of becoming superstars slipping away, they are now trying to become popular figures online. 

"Before, my mother had to try very hard to spot me from a pile of corpses on TV and pointed to me proudly to the other villagers," Qiu recalled. "Now she shows my account on Douyin and asks them to follow me."

Yanzi (pseudonym) is also an extra in Hengdian who shares short videos on Kuaishou, in which she often appears in costumes.

In 2018, Yanzi shaved her hair to play a nun, a role that earned her 7,800 yuan. When she was unable to find work playing other characters because of her bald head, she started to use Kuaishou and found a totally different world there.

Yanzi said she now makes more money sharing videos on Kuaishou than she did on Douyin.

"Many stars want to become internet celebrities now, so extras like us without resources should work harder," said Yanzi.

In Hengdian, an extra is paid 50 yuan a day and 5 yuan an hour after working eight hours. If an extra has water poured on him or has to kneel for more than 30 minutes, they get paid another 10 yuan.

"In the beginning, most extras could not accept it [shooting short videos] and thought it was beneath them," Yanzi said. "Now everyone is shooting short videos, as it brings us extra income and more exposure."

Qiu is more concerned about the future, as short video platforms are currently in fashion and bring them more income than working as extras. "The heat could be gone anytime," said Qiu.

Despite gaining many followers on Douyin and Kuaishou, most extras haven't abandoned their dreams of becoming stars on big screens, and often share videos while shooting films and TV series.

Qiu is now planning to shoot some more professional short videos for bigger video platforms together with some friends from Hengdian. "We extras can also play movies and TV series, and maybe we will become superstars."

More positive changes

Dandan (stage name) also decided to try her hand shooting short video dramas on Kuaishou. At 59 seconds an episode, each series has more than 60 episodes. She also has a team in charge of writing and shooting, making her series more professional than those with lower investments.

Dandan performs for her short video. Photo: VCG

She usually invests 50,000 to 60,000 yuan for a short video series, and works as producer, writer and lead actress. Other jobs such as props, costumes, lighting and directing are done by her friends from Hengdian. Dandan told that she can shoot in any style and theme that she likes, something she was unable to do as an extra in other crews, where she was often looked down on.

Dandan has gained 300,000 followers on Kuaishou in the past two years by shooting costume dramas. She said that it is her followers' support that has given her confidence and made her more passionate about the work. She says that she is a totally different person now from the aimless girl she used to be, and has now established her own company.

After his graduation from a film academy, Huang Hanxuan drifted in Hengdian for 10 years, usually playing bit roles.

Huang Hanxuan edits footage. Photo: VCG

In the beginning, he refused to take part in short video platforms and thought internet livestreams and short videos were a waste of time. Later, while helping his extra friends with their short videos, he became inspired to write a script for a costume drama. However, the first two episodes received only a few likes, and he gave up on the idea. Several days later, he received messages asking him why he had stopped updating the series. Huang picked up his camera and shot four more episodes.

Huang has a sense of social responsibility, and his videos are usually educational with a twist at the end. Many people commented that "After watching your videos, I changed a lot. Now I work hard and spend more time with my parents."

Following trending content 

Jiang Han, a research fellow at Suning Financial Research Institute, believes that this change has been brought about by the change in audience tastes in content and entertainment forms.

"Audience tastes seem to be changing, which, in effect, reflects the changes in entertainment forms," Jiang told the Global Times. 

"People used to follow long content forms such as movies and TV series, but now, more people are into short, frequently updated and interactive video clips on platforms like Douyin/Tik Tok and Kuaishou," Jiang said.

The move to Douyin is a sign of the rise of the group as well as an indicator of the direction the market is developing, Jiang noted.

"It is possible to see some stars among those mass actors … the new normal is that new stars might come from channels like Douyin and Kuaishou," he said. 

As long as they can provide decent content, the audiences are willing to pay premium for it. This is the real trending audience behavior, Jiang concluded.

Ding Daoshi, a veteran internet analyst, expressed some concerns over the short video careers of these extras who have turned to short video platforms.

Ding told the Global Times that extras who move to short video platforms made money by earning rewards, e-commerce advertising endorsements and offline performance opportunities.

According to Ding, the two short video platforms have provided incomes for millions of performers, entrepreneurs, anchors and brokers since short videos became commercially accepted. But for individuals and small groups, it is still far from certain that they will be able to profit from the platforms in the long term.

Newspaper headline: Film extras turning to short video platforms to put themselves in spotlight

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

blog comments powered by Disqus