'Entourage' Meets 'Mean Girls' in Chinese Online TV Drama Set in Hollywood, Beijing

Tess Liu - P 2015
Courtesy of Subject

Tess Liu - P 2015

'The Circle' hopes to wow Chinese audiences with a female-driven look at the film industry, with an associate producer of 'Entourage' serving as an executive producer.

A Chinese production company is looking to inject a dose of girl power into an upcoming show about life in the male-dominated film industry. Female-driven web TV drama The Circle is set in Beijing and Hollywood.

Described as a female take on Entourage with traces of Mean Girls, The Circle tells the story of a young Chinese woman who quits her office job to try and make it as an actress.

"Recently some U.S. shows were taken offline so I saw an opportunity to create an original Chinese show. If we create something, it has to be popular with a Chinese audience," said producer Tess Liu, whose Zora Media production company will back the show.

Shooting starts next month in Beijing and Hollywood, with 80 percent of the first season taking place in the U.S. Shooting is expected to last two months. The initial plan is for three seasons of 12 episodes each.

The show will run in the midday section on online video channel LeTV, one of China's biggest streaming services, and it's aimed at the 15-45 years demographic group.

The decision by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) to apply rigorous censorship rules for overseas TV shows streaming in China has prompted LeTV, as well as Youku Tudou, iQiyi and other big players, to start generating their own content.

While the story is partly inspired by her own experiences as an actress in the industry, Liu insists it is not an autobiography. "The Circle is a female project, and the lead roles are all female," she says. "It's important to have a strong female dimension."

"Entourage is male-driven, and the females are all in supporting roles. Why not focus on that and promote female-driven shows," adds Liu, who has previously worked on Karate Kid and Keanu Reeves' directorial debut Man of Tai Chi.

The main character is played by actress Cindy Zhang, with other roles for Angela Gao and Mike Sui.

The Circle is directed by U.S. director Jennifer Schwerin, who has been working in the Chinese film industry since 1995, developing Mandarin-language scripts. She is a former creative director of MTV China. The show was written by Joan Xu and Judy Li, in collaboration with Liu and Schwerin.

She was drawn to the idea of a web series, which is becoming a hugely popular format in China, where many of the country's 650 million webizens access content on their cell phones and tablets. Web dramas do not have a great reputation, however, which posed an additional challenge, said Schwerin.

"We wanted to raise the bar of the quality of web series and bring a new sensibility," she says. "We are bringing a female slant on a very funny model and it's very timely for China."

Adds Schwerin: "We are talking about someone in this generation. In the Chinese context it's doubly interesting and I find the material very exciting and challenging, too."

One of The Circle's executive producers, Gary B. Goldman, was also one of the associate producers of Entourage as well as assistant director of the show and featured as a producer on the recently released Entourage movie.

Chinese actress Bai Ling, who also featured in the show Entourage, will have a cameo role in the show and is also involved in the production.