Private Studios Are Flourishing: Part 10 of the CFI Guide

Welcome to the 10th and final 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


The makeup of China’s film industry has been transformed since the country’s ascension to the WTO at the turn of the century, a move that saw the beginning of the privatization of a segment of a film industry long controlled by a one-party state. That epochal event in 2001 was to upend the industry, as the increased entry of foreign films broadened choices for cinema-goers and put pressure on local players to raise their game.

This followed an earlier, more limited round of disjunction and reorganization, prompted by China’s move from a planned to market economy. In 1993, the state-owned studios (then 16 in number) had been forced to figure out how to market and sell their films without the guaranteed support of the government.

Fast-forward to today and state, private, and foreign investors not only compete but cooperate as never before. Nonetheless, the state still maintains a commanding power in the industry. China Film Group and Huaxia Film Distribution share a monopoly on the lucrative import and distribution of international films. And most of the industry’s private players, including the Bona Film Group, Huayi Bros. Media Corp., Stellar Megamedia Group, Beijing New Picture Film Co., Orange Sky Entertainment Group, Alibaba Pictures, Wanda Pictures, LeVision Pictures, and Enlight Pictures, understand it makes sense for them to be based as close as possible to the political decision-makers in Beijing.

Bona, which had its roots in China’s military, listed on the NASDAQ in 2010 and Huayi Brothers Media on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2009. Bona recently privatized, bringing its business home to China’s markets as the political winds have shifted in the country and Beijing has indicated its displeasure at Western influence in media.

The picture has become even more complicated with the arrival of China’s big three tech companies — Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (collectively known as BAT) — in the content-making business. Just how disruptive their influence will be is still unknown; mega-media giants, they merge content production with a range of business lines that include ticketing, merchandise sales, gaming, social media, and online video streaming. — Fergus Ryan