Many will be familiar with the web shorts by Manner Production. With an official fan page boasting more than 320,000 followers, they are the most popular among their peers in Macao. Manner’s actors also command huge followings, with Carl Ao leong leading the popularity stakes – his page is followed by 75,000 fans. Carl is thus the perfect person to speak to for us to get a lowdown on what it is to be a web celebrity.
The interview took place at Manner’s headquarters. Their staff took up two fairly spacious studios. On the wall is a calendar detailing the movements of the whole Manner crew in the coming month. Props fill the floor, with more than ten wigs among them. To make people laugh is a serious business for Manner.
Manner has a core team of 15 members, and Carl is, of course, the key man. This is because, besides his personal appeal and status as a top web celebrity in Macao, he is among the few online stars who are fully devoted to what they do. “I don’t have a full-time job. That’s right, I’m a full-time web celebrity. I go to the Macau Academy of Performing Arts for drama classes in the evenings. At weekends, I go out to shoot shorts. I spend the rest of the time designing my fantasies,” Carl said.
Carl had earlier had a full-time job after he graduated a year ago. However, he had little energy left to create anything after long days at work and all he wanted was rest when he got home at night. In the end, Carl chose to chase his dreams while he is still young. “I don’t make much money. It’s just about enough to feed myself,” he laughed.
Part of Carl’s income comes from his assignments as an event host, which is something that rides on his popularity online. Also, Manner works with companies to shoot commercials for their products, which are then plugged on Manner’s fan page. Each member of the Manner crew gets a share of the pay from each successful collaboration. And since Carl is the most popular face, quite a few clients ask for him to front their commercials, which pushes up his earnings. “Actually, I’d only earn several thousand a month during a busy period. The income is unstable. But once I’ve got into this way of life, it is hard to turn back. Luckily, I’m supported by my parents and others around me. I’m young, so I should give everything a shot.”
Carl said his parents still treats him like a kid even though he is a grown-up. They would give him financial support every now and then to push him farther on the road of online stardom. “They’ve seen my films and found them very interesting. Even though they don’t really know what social media is, they don’t get in my way, because they say so long as I’m doing what I like, then it is fine.”
With two new shorts released each week, Manner is prolific. Every week the whole Manner team is mobilised to film, rain or shine, which represents a tall order for any web celebrity to match. “We have our regular meeting every Monday. The creative leads will present their ideas to the team. After they’ll be put to a vote to be turned into films. We then spend the whole of Saturday and Sunday for shooting.”
To reward the creativity of team members, Manner would present several ideas to its clients. Whoever’s idea gets picked by the client will then get extra “prize money”. In the early days, Carl used to spend most of his time crafting his films, but these days he focuses on the acting.
Earlier the Hong Kong hip-hop duo FAMA came to Macao to team up with Manner. They shot a commercial together with Carl to promote Manner’s shorts. Some of FAMA’s classic numbers can be heard in the commercial, and the effect is natural and does not come across as “hard sell”. It looks like Manner’s productions are not raw or amateurish at all.
Some SMEs wanting to save costs will skip Manner’s official platform and go straight to Carl’s fan page, even though it has relatively fewer fans. But this has meant extra revenue for Carl, and it is also a recognition of his work. “As a web celebrity, the happiest part is when my hard work is returned with support from fans. Every time a fan tells me to keep up the good work, it motivates me to keep going.”
Carl laughs that he has received complaints from fans as more commercials are appearing on his personal fan page recently. But such feedback also provides him with an opportunity to interact with his fans and flex his PR skills. “Carl just wants to feed himself after all, haha,” he told his fans.
However, much as Carl’s videos enjoy great popularity, films by web celebrities will always stay in a virtual world, no matter how interesting or lively they can get, and this is a point Carl understands. Therefore, he has been actively looking for “real world” opportunities of late, bagging appearances in drama shows and even micro movies.
“If possible, I hope to go beyond Macao and further my acting career in Hong Kong or the mainland. But of course, my roots will always be in Manner and Macao.”