Winter Has Come for China’s Movie Extras

As a slowdown chills the Chinese film industry, actors are finding creative new ways to make a living.

Actress Ruo Xuan (right) has her on-screen advances rejected by another actor while filming a “short drama” in Hengdian Town, Zhejiang province, Jan. 15, 2020. Kenrick Davis/Sixth Tone

ZHEJIANG, East China — It’s a weekday afternoon in “China’s Hollywood,” but the three actors aren’t in a hurry. They’re sitting around a table in a gloomy, unheated fourth-floor café, smoking, chatting, and sipping fruit-filled cups of tea. Outside, the streets are almost deserted.

“Tons of people used to live here,” says stuntman-turned-actor Liu Gang, stubbing out a cigarette. “It was hard to find a house, and you’d have to go really far out in search of one. But now, many are sitting empty.”

The group gazes through the window at the distant apartment blocks just visible through the mist and rain. It’s clearly winter in Hengdian — a small town in the eastern Zhejiang province that’s home to the largest movie studio in the world, Hengdian World Studios.

Around one-quarter of all Chinese movies and one-third of the country’s TV series are filmed in Hengdian, but over the past year a chill has gripped the town. Heightened regulatory oversight and a stagnant business environment have caused a sharp slowdown in new productions.

The depression has been so severe, it’s gained its own ominous nickname — yingshi handong, or “the winter of film and television” — and actors like Liu are feeling the effects.

“I’ve barely filmed any dramas these past two years,” says the 35-year-old. “I’ve just been hanging around. Few production crews are shooting, so most people, including extras, don’t have anything to do.”

In 2019, the number of TV dramas filmed in China was 27% less than the previous year, and 1,884 Chinese film companies went out of business, according to business database Tianyancha. Continue to read the full article here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.