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Producer Lee Tim Shing: Still going strong after 40 years

| Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | |
Tim Gor’s words of wisdom: “You can lose, but don't be defeated”

As a stagehand in the props and scenery department, Lee Tim Sing (Tim Gor) joined TVB in 1969 and today, has worked his way up to become TVB’s Golden Producer. With a career that spans more than 40 years, Tim Gor has endured the various ‘ups and downs’ of the HK television industry. Known for his impartiality and fairness, Tim Gor is a man who thinks and acts according to his convictions – rare (and unique) qualities in today’s complex television industry. At 64 years old, Tim Gor is as busy as ever – his focus right now is figuring out how to fulfill his 50 episode obligation in the 1 year that he has left with the company. These past few years, Tim Gor has been constantly saying: “It’s enough! Time for me to retire…” yet, the more he says it, the more his passion and ‘fire’ for producing seem to burn strong – for proof, just look at his persistence in casting Nikki Chow as the main lead for his new series <<My Cruel Lover>>. Originally, Nikki did not have any chance of starring in the series due to her contract with record company BMA [TN: now part of the HKRIA, which is still locked in a royalty dispute with TVB], however with Tim Gor refusing to change the female lead of the series and insisting that the role was made especially for her, Nikki was eventually able to relieve her contract with BMA and sign an acting contract with TVB.
Last year, after much persuasion from TVB Vice-Chairman Norman Leung, General Manager Lee Po An, and Head of Production Catherine Tsang during a dinner gathering, Tim Gor agreed to renew his contract for 1 year. With his tenure, Tim Gor surely could have used his ‘clout’ and excellent reputation in the industry to ‘negotiate’ with the company for lesser work, right? To this, Tim Gor responded: “Once a contract is signed, it needs to be followed – plus, it’s not all about me, you know! With a 50 episode obligation, filming one 20 episode series and one 30 episodes is just right!”

Casting Nikki Chow – persistent until the end
Tim Gor continues: “Actually, the production schedule is really very tight. With only 52 weeks in a year, if we take out 2 weeks long vacation and the regular 1 day off per week, that leaves an average 6 days in which I need to turn over 1 complete episode of a series. Since there’s not enough time, then there’s no choice but to work on 2 series simultaneously; therefore, during the post-editing stage for <<No Regrets>> last year, I was already doing pre-work and planning for <<My Cruel Lover>> -- this is why telling me not to use Nikki Chow was not an option and I had to persist until the end, no matter what.”

With the television industry going through ‘turbulent’ times right now – new free-to-air TV stations adding competition, rumors of TVB changing bosses, etc. – Tim Gor welcomes the possibility of new changes on the horizon: “With competition comes improvement, so it’s a good thing! Without competition, it’s like a puddle of dead water – whether it’s the employer or the employee, no one is motivated to progress forward. When there’s a war, it makes people more alert. It’s best to look for opportunities to grow and develop while you’re still young, build strong prospects for the future, then go out and battle.”

With such a long career, Tim Gor went through several eras during which poaching of other TV stations’ personnel was very prevalent. Given all the options out there, why didn’t Tim Gor leave TVB and try his luck elsewhere?

Tim Gor: “It’s true that during the Commercial Television and Rediffusion Television eras, a lot of people left TVB to go to other TV stations. Those who left with Mrs. Chow at the time [TN: Selina Chow Liang Shuk Yee was former executive and head of production at TVB in the 70s and 80s; she later became a politician] were the ‘academic’ type, such as Yan Ho, Anne Hui, etc. I started from scratch at the bottom ranks, so I wasn’t their type. Later on, Rediffusion Television did have some talks with me, but at that time, I was very happy working at TVB, so I didn’t want to leave and have to re-adjust to a new environment. To be honest, the pay working at TVB in the past was very good – we got raises every year and there was 13 / 14 month salary; unfortunately, the economic situation nowadays is not the same.”

Understanding of managers; praises [former GM] Ho Shun Ren
In his many years at TVB, Tim Gor has had the chance to interact with various General Managers at the company. Though many of the GMs have come and gone in the past 40 years, Tim Gor feels that for him, it has been easy to get along with each one over the years – due in part to his philosophy of always looking at things from the company’s perspective rather than his own and ensuring that he does his own job well.

Tim Gor: “I tend to like those GMs who are straightforward and direct. Mr. Ho [Shun Ren] use to always show a ‘black face’ [TN: constantly look upset and mad] and when he got upset, it would be scary because it seemed like he wanted to kill people, but in reality, if you give him a good reason that makes sense and are able to convince him with it, he has no problems accepting your opinion. The GMs in the past constantly kept an eye on the company’s finances and once they set a goal, they would delegate to the various department heads to implement – they very rarely got involved in front-line work. The department heads served as checks and balances for each other and if there was a difference in opinion, they would bring it to the table and talk through it until they found the best solution. If only one person made all the decisions, it would be too easy to make mistakes and miss something.”

Sacrificed high-paying position; would rather fight the war on the front lines
Tim Gor was once promoted to Head of Production and as a TVB executive, was required to wear a suit and tie to work every day. However, he chose to give up this high power position and be a regular producer instead.

Tim Gor: “Being an executive is definitely not my strength. I would much rather endure hardship and work in the front lines as a producer, since I know I would be good at it and would be happier. Even after 40 years in the industry, I really like my job – the thing that is most attractive about production are the endless possibilities. It’s necessary to maintain a ‘fire’ and not give in to defeat. I understand that if I produce 10 series, it’s impossible for all 10 series to be great productions – it’s okay to lose, as long as you don’t ‘throw in the towel’ – it will motivate you to do even better next time. For instance, I recognize that casting newcomer [TN: back in the 1980s] Nixon Pang as the lead in <<The Book and The Sword>> was a failure, as was the series <<亂世兒女>> in the early 80s. I lost in those instances, but did not give up, continued to fight.”

Talking about ‘fighting spirit’, most memorable was <<The Yangs’ Saga>>
When talking about ‘fighting spirit’, Tim Gor loves to recount the story of the 1985 special production <<The Yangs’ Saga>>. At that time, rival station ATV had a sudden surge in ratings and in order to save their own ratings, TVB made the series <<The Yangs’ Saga>>, in which every single TVB artist participated, including big names such as Chow Yun Fat, Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, the Five Tigers, etc. etc.

Tim Gor: “We pretty much had to start from scratch and only had about 10 days or so to pull everything together. From the artists in front of the camera to the crew – including hairstylists, makeup, costumes, etc. – everyone was in the ‘fighting spirit’ so it was one call and everyone responded, working together to pull it off. Unfortunately, that ‘spirit’ is lost now because today’s environment is different, as there are too many factors that affect each other – from the size of the TV station to the atmosphere at the company to the quality of the artists (or lack thereof). Some people are like a piece of wood – they receive the same orders, but you need to kick them in order for them to move forward one step. Sometimes, it does get discouraging and you feel like there’s no point anymore; unfortunately, it can no longer be changed – either you accept the way things work now or you choose to leave.”

What about some people’s methods of copying the works of other TV series overseas? Tim Gor responds: “Consulting the spirit and concepts from other people’s series can help with the direction of one’s own series. However if the plot itself is copied almost exactly, then that’s unforgivable and the meaning is lost at that point. Creative people need their own space, but sometimes they get so busy that they hardly have time to breathe…it’s a sad situation.”

TVB’s former ‘golden’ scriptwriter Cheung Wah Biu – who created hit series <<Heart of Greed>> and <<Moonlight Resonance>> among others – accepted an interview recently where he complained about years of mistreatment and producers who are quick to take the credit of others. Cheung Wah Biu had stated that after he decided he was going to leave TVB, he had the opportunity to work with Tim Gor on <<Rosy Business>> and <<No Regrets>>; with regard to Tim Gor, Cheung Wah Biu stated: “Lucky to encounter such a good person.” Upon hearing mention of his old partner, Tim Gor felt a little saddened and replied: “Wah Biu and I complement each other very well; perhaps it’s harder to get along with some people……”

Words from the heart very satisfying
Tim Gor is known for being a bit shy when it comes to praise and thanks from others, as he doesn’t like to take credit for other people’s successes and actually becomes a little embarrassed when people start putting him on a pedestal. However, even though Tim Gor is a ‘man of few words’, he is never shy about thanking people who put effort and are willing to sacrifice for their work. When he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the TVB Anniversary Awards a few years ago, his acceptance speech was short, but very satisfying, as he took the opportunity to share the philosophy by which he lives his daily life: “A person should possess a little less selfishness and a little more fairness.” These are words not only from his heart, but also from the hearts of others. Not only that, Tim Gor is also a producer who makes it his goal to help hard-working but virtually unknown artists obtain the respect and accolades they deserve – this in itself makes us ordinary people want to stand up and applaud him.

The man with the ‘golden touch’: counting the ‘stars’
“Thank you Tim Gor…..” These are words spoken by many artists on the awards stage who have collaborated with Lee Tim Sing in the past. Tim Gor has produced many classic series over the course of his career as well as created many memorable characters, dating back from the 1970s until now. With his unique ability to turn almost everything he touches into ‘gold’, Tim Gor is credited (by others of course) for launching many of TVB’s most popular siu sangs and fa dans to stardom.

‘Picked up’ Wayne Lai to TVB
Though Tim Gor is very fair and just towards almost everyone and everything, he definitely has a little bit of ‘partiality’ toward Wayne Lai – something that he may not even recognize that he has. When asked to name his favorite characters among all the series that he has produced over the years, his response was: Sheung Chung from <<Safeguards>>, Hon Sun from <<The Conqueror’s Story>>, and Chai Gau from <<Rosy Business>>, just to name a few – coincidentally, all of these characters were played by Wayne Lai.

Tim Gor: “Wayne Lai is an artist I ‘picked up’ 20 plus years ago to TVB. He loves acting, but at the time, did not have a means to enter the industry, so he paid money to taking some acting classes at ‘Little Sun.’ I happened to be a substitute teacher there and when I saw his performance, was amazed that it was already up to professional standards. Therefore, I went back to the company (TVB) and told the artists department to sign him as a character actor.”

For many years, Wayne was ‘Green Leaf King’ [TN: ‘green leaf’ is a term used in the industry for ‘supporting actor/actress’] and one of Tim Gor’s most favorite actors. The main reason why Tim Gor loves to cast Wayne Lai in his series is because of his acting skills of course, but also because Wayne is a very versatile actor, so won’t cause people to feel bored with him.

How could Andy Lau ‘not’ succeed??
Tim Gor can be considered Andy Lau’s mentor, as Andy shot to fame with Tim Gor’s series <<The Emissary>> back in 1982. Tim Gor has been an important person for Andy throughout his 30 year career and he has publicly thanked the producer, most notably last year during the promotion for his concert. Tim Gor: “This past Christmas holiday, my wife and I went to see Andy’s concert at the HK Coliseum, as he gave me 2 of his concert tickets as a gift.”

Tim Gor continues: “Andy Lau is like gold – shines brightly and fervently. All I did was act bravely and cast Andy as main lead once he graduated from the Acting Class. Andy has such great ambition and drive, plus his meticulous attitude toward his work – how could such a person ‘not’ succeed?”

Noticed Stephen Chow’s ‘gag’ look
Tim Gor is also one of the few people whom Stephen Chow publicly thanked as a mentor. Back in the days, when Stephen was still hosting children’s programs, it was Tim Gor who saw the talent in him and supported him to join the drama department as well as participate in the series <<Tribute to Life>> (1988).

Tim Gor: “In that series, Stephen was only one of the supporting actors. Back when he hosted children’s programs, I saw the way he would poke the children with his fingers and it was very funny – so I guess you could say that I saw the ‘gag’ look in him. You guys always say that I have the ‘golden touch’, but in reality, the most important thing is the artist’s own talent. Even in the early years, it was already obvious that Stephen was not an average ‘fish in the pond.’”

“I like to cast newcomers to give some freshness to audiences. Some audiences may notice that in some of the 3rd line series, a few of the ‘green leaf’ artists ‘continue on’ in 2-3 different dramas, which is a huge problem. I like to ‘cook on a cold stove’ – just take Pierre Ngo for example [TN: virtually unknown at the time but cast as a villain in <<Rosy Business>> and saw success] – as long as you’re careful and accurate, then it works.”

When Tim Gor chooses newcomers for his series, he also gathers feedback from his colleagues. He explains: “Those whom I ask to attend tryouts usually have a high chance of getting the role. When I was casting for <<The Lonely Hunter>> (1981), I had 2 artists on hand – Felix Wong and Michael Miu – and I had to choose who should play the villain. My female assistant said that Felix Wong has that ‘honest and sincere’ look whereas Michael Miu has a more mischievous look, so Felix was cast as the lead. It was the same with <<The Foundling’s Progress>> (1986) – having to choose between Wilson Lam and Leon Lai – one to play the ‘honest’ one and the other to play the ‘traitor’ character – Leon’s ‘slovenly’ look would for sure capture the hearts of a few girls….that’s just the way casting goes.”

Tony Leung’s performance very ‘particular’
Talk about perfect casting, Tony Leung as Wai Siu Bo in Tim Gor’s <<The Duke of Mount Deer>> is definitely the ultimate ‘classic’ role.

Tim Gor: “Honestly speaking, I wasn’t the first one to cast Tony in a series. In some of my previous series, he would always play the role of the younger brother. He definitely has ‘fine’ acting skills and his performances are always very ‘particular’.”

On the topic of ‘classic’, how about the ‘classic’ pairing of Chow Yun Fat and Carol (Dodo) Cheng in <<The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly>>, <<The Brothers>>, and <<The Fate>>?

Tim Gor: “Back when I was a writer/director, I was already collaborating with Chow Yun Fat – I guess you could say we grew up together. I still have a the provocative promotional poster for <<The Fate>> -- it’s a treasured item for me. The way of thought at that time (1981) was more daring than now.”

But even the nicest of people are not immune from rumors and opposition – namely the ‘blood letter’ and ‘chicken feather commanding officer’ situation with Alex Man and the misunderstanding with Liza Wang years back.

Tim Gor: “Alex’s situation was because he was being stubborn and not understanding of his fellow colleagues. The company has certain systems that must be followed – how plausible is it to ask the cast and crew to work through the night every night without rest? It’s unreasonable. As for Liza’s situation, that was a communication error on the part of the media. At the time, I had told a reporter that there isn’t only one 鎮台之寶 [TN: ‘Treasured guardian of the stage’] at TVB, as it is unfair to other artists to say that there is only one. The next day, when the report came out, my words were turned into ‘Liza Wang is not a 鎮台之寶’ – what does this have to do with me when the reporter twisted my words? I can’t help it if she was mad at me because of that, but honestly speaking, in the entertainment industry, there is more important stuff to be concerned about.”

No opportunity to cast Charmaine again
Many artists view the opportunity to collaborate with Lee Tim Sing as a huge honor and surely many artists desire to do so. However, even ‘golden producer’ Tim Gor needs to fight for the artists he wants to use.

In October of last year, as he was doing post-editing for <<No Regrets>>, Tim Gor was already preparing to film his new series <<My Cruel Lover>> . Of course, he already planned to cast Nikki Chow as female lead, however in terms of male lead, he had first proposed Raymond Lam, then Moses Chan, then Bosco Wong, however the answer he received from the artists department is that all of these artists are ‘unavailable’. So in the end, the opportunity fell upon Raymond Wong. When talking about casting artists, Tim Gor admits that it can get very frustrating: “In the beginning, I was the one who cast Charmaine Sheh in <<The Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain>> (1996 version), yet once she became popular, I never got a chance to cast her in one of my series again.”

Loves work, but loves his family more
Looking through old newspaper clippings about Tim Gor, there is one in particular from 1974 that reads ‘Lee Tim Sing says goodbye to bachelorhood’ – the article talks about him secretly getting married. Laughing, Tim Gor states: “What secret? Back then, I was a writer / director and didn’t make much – it was because of lack of funds that we decided to have a simple wedding. We even had to budget carefully in order to have our honeymoon in China.”

Looking at pictures of him in his youth, Tim Gor says that it brings back memories: “Haha…I had so much hair back then – so sad now…all of it has fallen off!” During the interview, he bumped into an old friend, who said to him “Tim Gor, you should be rich now!”. To this, Tim Gor replied: “That’s what you think! I’ve been working for 40 years, yet never driven a European car and never lived in a mansion – I’m not as smart as people think!” In reality, Tim Gor places more importance on work and family than on material things such as cars and houses. After the success of <<No Regrets>>, Tim Gor did buy a new car as a ‘reward’ for his hard work – he had used his previous car for 10 years already and this time, he decided to buy an 8-person van so that when his children return to HK, it will be more convenient for him to pick them up from the airport – plus when the whole family goes out to dinner, they no longer have to drive two cars.

Tim Gor: “In the past, work was everything – it consumed my life. In recent years, I have set aside more time for my family and after work, I would even go out with friends occasionally – however, once I’m home, I have no interest in going out again. Even though I’m also working when I’m at home, at least I’m able to keep my wife company.”

After contract expires, definitely will retire
If Tim Gor hadn’t extended his contract with TVB for one more year, he would be living a retired life right now. After he does retire, he plans on having early morning tea with his wife every morning and also going swimming. For right now though, he is busy with his new series <<My Cruel Lover>>. He smiles and states: “Definitely will finish off the remaining time! But once my contract expires this time, I am definitely retiring – it doesn’t matter who tries to ‘persuade’ me, I won’t give in! Plus the signs of age are definitely showing – after just 1 day of following up with costume fitting, I am already experiencing back pain….”

- Credits to Mingpao News and llwy12 @ Asian Fanatics for translations

Comments: Will definitely miss Tim Gor!!


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