A puzzled Ji Polun pointed at himself. "You were talking to me?"
Fang Zhao nodded and repeated, "Please step aside."
Ji Polun stared at Fang Zhao in disbelief, as if he had gone mad. Having confirmed that Fang Zhao wasn’t kidding, he distorted his face, got up abruptly, and stepped away in exaggerated strides. "Fine. Don’t accuse me of being a prima donna." He had showed up as a favor to his agent. Not only are these clowns ungrateful, they don’t think I’m good enough?
Shedding the posture with which he had arrived, Ji Polun bolted toward the door, but he stopped just as he was about to cross the threshold. He turned back and plunked down on the chair next to Zu Wen. He dropped his act, folding his arms and crossing his legs. He wanted to see what these clowns would do now. It looked like they were going to act out the scene themselves.
What a joke. He'd heard this fella was a new composer—and now he thought he could act. Did he think acting was the same as gaming? How naive. Who did he think he was? As a newcomer, he was only on a grade D contract, one notch below Ji Polun.
Ji Polun started brainstorming for a snide comment he could make to avenge his dismissal if the producer turned out to be a shitty actor. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be pacified. How could they treat him this way?
Fang Zhao didn’t care what Ji Polun thought, let alone pay attention to his furious gaze. He signaled to Zu Wen that he wanted to reshoot the scene.
Fang Zhao didn't understand the craft of acting, but what Ji Polun had just said about getting into character—it was just a form of imagination, placing yourself in the scene conjured in your brain.
But be it Ji Polun or any other actor, their acting was just a function of their imagination, because none of them had actually experienced those desperate times. What they knew about the period came from watching documentary footage. But Fang Zhao was an exception.
Some events during the Period of Destruction were digitally recorded, and quite a few films about the period were shot during the New Era. The advancement of virtual technology also enhanced the viewing experience, leaving a deeper impression than regular footage.
But no amount of simulation could rival the memories of Fang Zhao, someone who had actually survived those times.
Taking a page from Ji’s playbook, Fang Zhao closed his eyes for a few seconds to build the mood.
Ji Polun was blown away. He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. The condescension on his face faded, replaced by a serious look.
Fang Zhao’s eyes were red and tearful, as if he were listening to a song that mourned the loss of the world, projecting a deep sadness and resignation, although he didn’t cry.
All hell breaking loose, lives sacrificed and families destroyed. How puny and helpless everyone and everything became when the world fell apart.
The pain and suffering projected in that moment engulfed the entire studio.
Ji Polun took a deep breath.
Fang Zhao managed to stir those emotions all by himself in this closed space without a set. He didn’t have an acting partner. He had no lines. All he did was sit there. He barely moved his body, conveying his character’s emotions with the subtlest of facial expressions and his gaze.
His timing was impeccable, down to the wink of his eyes. Had he winked a second earlier or later, the effect would have been completely different.
Ji Polun reflected on his own performance just now. By comparison, his delivery was slightly exaggerated and contrived, lacking genuine emotion.
A professor once said in acting class that sadness wasn’t conveyed by screaming or crying. Sometimes a subtle look would do.
Was this guy really an amateur actor?
Ji Polun quickly scanned in his head all the classic scenes from the countless movies about the Period of Destruction. He couldn’t find any matches. Fang Zhao wasn’t aping a previous performance.
Ji Polun even got the feeling that he wasn’t acting, that he had actually survived the horrible disaster and had lived in those times.
Come again, what was the character they came up with?
What was its personality?
He had acted based on his imagination without learning about his character first—bad move.
That was a major no-no.
Maybe it was the casual tone of his agent. He didn’t care for the job, didn’t take it seriously.
Ji Polun continued to observe in silence. Fang Zhao continued acting based on his script. He needed no pointers. He knew the character he designed the best.
This was a scene without dialogue. For eye shots, the focus was the eyes.
Everyone in the studio breathed lightly. The only sound was the noise of Zu Wen setting up equipment. But both Zu Wen and Ji Polun, who was sitting beside him, could feel the mood evolving in the small studio.
Repressed sorrow, smothering desperation, disappointment, indecision. How did one survive? He was a bee frantically looking for a light source in a shuttered house.
The minutes went by.
Fang Zhao ended the session only when Song Miao had a question about the starter voice.
"Let’s take a break." Fang Zhao told Zu Wen to catch a breather, while he got up to leave and headed to the sound mixing panel. When he got up, he instantly dropped out of character and became his normal self.
He was out of character already? Mind-boggling.
When Fang Zhao left, Ji Polun approached Zu Wen. "That Fang Zhao character—he’s really just a composer? He never studied acting?"
"I’m not sure if he ever studied acting, but he is a professional composer. He soared to No. 5 in the new talent competition in 20 days. You must have heard," Zu Wen said.
Of course he had, but Fang Zhao’s performance still left him perplexed.
"Hey, aren’t you going to leave?" Zu Wen thought Fang Zhao had spited Ji Polun into leaving, but now it seemed he had no intention of doing so.
"Leave? Why would I leave? That’s right, did you shoot a music video? Do you have more details about your character? Let me take a look," Ji Polun asked.
Zu Wen gave Ji Polun a surprised look and handed him a few pages from his drawer. Ji Polun had signed a confidentiality agreement and Zu Wen was going to show him the information anyway. Ji Polun just didn’t bother.
The next day.
Zu Wen had counted Ji Polun out. Fang Zhao could do the job himself. But Ji Polun still showed up on the 50th floor.
"Don’t look at me. Just pretend I’m not here and do your thing. Which scene are you on? Has the character transformed yet? Ignoring the gazes of Fang Zhao and Zu Wen, Ji Polun dragged over a chair, sat down, and began watching intently from the periphery.
It wasn’t only the second day. Ji Polun showed up the next few days. He didn’t do much, just sat in the studio and watched. His body language suggested he was there to stay.
Even though Ji Polun had his flaws, he was an actor keen on improving his craft. And Fang Zhao didn’t kick him out.
When shooting finally wrapped, Ji Polun couldn’t help pestering Fang Zhao with questions.
"Can I impose on you to reveal what you think about the most when you’re acting?" He wanted to know how Fang Zhao got into character and delivered genuine emotion.
When Fang Zhao heard the question, he stopped drinking from his glass and responded in a serious tone, "BGM (background music)."
Ji Polun: "…..."
Ji Polun suddenly remembered what a professor once said during his university days. "Don’t bother trying to figure out what goes on in the head of a professional composer. BGM is always playing no matter what they’re doing."