- It is illegal for foreigners to engage in film production in China by themselves.
- Permits and permission are required at almost every stage of the filmmaking process in China.
- Even China’s new draft film law is not expected to change this situation.
China Law Blog‘s lawyers get a fairly steady stream of China law questions from readers, mostly via emails but occasionally via blog comments as well. If we were to conduct research on all the questions we get asked and then comprehensively answer them, we would become overwhelmed. So what we usually do is provide a super fast general answer and, when it is easy to do so, a link or two to a blog post that may provide some additional guidance. We figure we might as well post some of these on here as well. Our China attorneys are often asked some version of the following question:
I’m making a low-budget independent movie set in China. Can I just take my cast and crew to Xi’an on tourist visas and film a movie without bothering with permits?
It is illegal for foreigners to engage in film production in China by themselves. Full stop. Guerrilla filmmaking may have a certain romantic appeal, but things get a lot less romantic when viewed through the bars of a prison cell. Or when you lose all your footage and equipment and have to pay a substantial fine. Maybe you’ll get away with it, but is it really worth putting you, your cast, and your crew in harm’s way? Independent films may be inherently risky, but that’s because most of them lose money, not because making the movie is dangerous. Unless you’re making a movie with Werner Herzog in the Amazon. (When Klaus Kinski is in the mix, all bets are off.)
Note also that although changes have been proposed to the laws and regulations governing film production in China, those changes will not change anything about foreigners seeking to film in China.
— A version of this article originally appeared on China Law Blog.