Welcome to the sixth installment in a 10-part series of practical tips that will make up the CFI Guide to Film Production in China. Publishing each Friday from now until just before the annual U.S. China Film Summit and the American Film Market in Los Angeles in early November, the CFI Guide is built upon wide-ranging research and reporting checked against specific case studies and available official documentation. It is for writers and producers, directors, actors, and members of the film marketing and distribution chain who believe that working with China is a part of their future. With Chinese ticket sales up nearly 50 percent in 2015, and likely to surpass U.S. sales inside the next year, it’s clear that this market is too big to be ignored. CFI is here to help you better understand China’s filmmaking process and industry.—Jonathan Landreth, Founding Editor
One of the biggest challenges facing filmmakers in China today is the lack of strong Chinese studios, which means there aren’t strong film slates. This, in turn, means that building a production schedule toward a hard release date it tough to do. As a result, there is turmoil in the casting world, which spells trouble if filmmaking is centered around getting actors to perform in a controlled environment created by an often huge team. In China, it’s very difficult for films to have start dates and for producers to have confidence that those start dates will be kept when, for instance, a film with a modest US$5 million budget sees its lead actress drop out because she got a better offer. Hundreds of people on the crew are left short of work. Managers, agents, and financiers—the people working in support of the talent—are scrambling to get their clients ahead in a market that’s still very much in the laboratory stage. It’s all an experiment. Veterans observe that in China, there are very few producers who are able to hold together all of the different moving parts of a film with much confidence.
Furthermore, talent is under pressure to lead by example in modern China and be model citizens upholding what the government calls core Chinese values. And yet, actors are— surprise!—human, so occasionally they make mistakes. In the making of Monster Hunt, for instance, an actor was removed three months prior to delivery for having been embroiled publicly in a drug scandal, causing the movie to be re-shot at great expense to all involved. Producers regularly find themselves unable to lock in their cast members for a feature film because cinema stars are highly in demand for reality television programs that typically pay five times more. Further limiting their availability for film work, many lead actors book lucrative commercials, and because a number of them are also singers, they have concerts to schedule. In an economy in which many industries are slowing down, the media business is picking up; it’s growing up to 50 percent a year in some areas. There’s a gold-rush mentality that complicates planning around talent. — Jonathan Landreth
Read Part 7, “The Box Office Booms … and It’s Corrupt.”