A New Film Law is Coming: Part 5 of the First CFI Guide


China's Great Hall of the People (Photo: Wikimedia)

China’s Great Hall of the People (Photo: Wikimedia)

Welcome to the fifth 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

In November 2015, a new draft of the Film Industry Promotion Law was issued for public comment. However, that’s no guarantee that the current draft will become law anytime soon, as this legislation has been in the works for more than a decade, with a series of draft versions issued over the years. But as China’s film industry continues to boom, shining as a bright spot in a largely troubled economy, the imperative for transparent governance will only grow.

The rapid pace of the industry’s development has increased the need for comprehensive legislation to provide a framework for regulating the movie business and, in practice, some previous drafts of the law have already seen their provisions take effect in an informal manner. For example, the draft issued in late 2011 emphasized that private investment in the industry would be encouraged and barriers lifted so that private companies could share equal footing with state-run businesses. In the years since, this has already largely come to pass as private studios and related enterprises have flourished, so it is longer necessary to “state the obvious” in the latest draft of the law.

In the years hence, this has already largely come to pass as private studios and related enterprises have flourished, so it is longer necessary to “state the obvious” in the latest draft of the law.

The 2015 draft establishes fairly broad guidelines for film production, distribution, screening, and financing, and simplifies some of the approval processes required for filmmakers. For example, qualified companies would be able to obtain general film production permits, allowing them to make films without having to secure an individual permit for each project, although individual screening permits would still be required for each release. The law also points toward the establishment of a film rating system, which currently does not exist in China; in theory, all films released should be suitable for all audiences. (In practice, the lack of a rating system is a blind behind which the censors hide, cutting or banning films without accountability to a set of transparent standards).

The latest draft film law delegates more responsibility to industry regulators at the provincial level and below. If the draft were to become law, provincial regulators would be in charge of most of the approvals for productions and scripts. Another addition to the latest draft reflects current concerns about box office fraud and questionable ticketing practices, with specific penalties laid out for failure to account for ticket sales accurately.

There are no changes foreseen to the status quo that prevents foreign companies and individuals from operating independently on film production activities in China (see Part 1 of this report), and no mention is made in the draft of revising the cap on foreign movie imports.

If the law passes, there will be a flurry of additional regulations and related policy documents issued at both the national and local levels to ensure that its provisions are implemented. — Sky Canaves

Read Part 6, “Talent is Hard to Nail Down.”