With the buzz around China’s box office and financing deals, the country still attracts international productions but can no longer be regarded as a low-cost destination to shoot. As the local film industry is booming, competition for cast, crew and equipment is fierce and costs are rising.
The country offers no tax breaks or other incentives, although Wanda Group has announced it will introduce grants for productions shooting at Wanda Studios Qingdao on China’s east coast. The incentive, created with the Qingdao municipal government, will offer up to a 40% cash rebate for qualifying expenditure in the Qingdao region by eligible Chinese and international participants. It draws from a $750m (RMB5bn) film and TV development fund allocated over the next five years. Already confirmed to shoot at the studio are the next instalments of Godzilla and Pacific Rim from Wanda-owned Legendary Entertainment, as well as projects from Lionsgate with China Media Capital-backed Infinity Pictures, Arad Productions, Gary Hamilton’s Arclight Films, Kylin Pictures, Base Media, Beijing Dirty Monkey Culture Industry Development and Juben Pictures.
Most productions that come to China do so for market access or unique locations that are difficult to find or replicate anywhere else. All films that shoot in the country have to be set up as either a full (he pai pian) or assisted (xie pai pian) co-production, and full co-productions bypass the country’s import quotas. Recent full co-productions include Legendary Pictures/China Film’s The Great Wall, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon, Andy Lau and Willem Dafoe, and EuropaCorp/ Fundamental Films’ Warrior’s Gate, directed by Matthias Hoene and starring Dave Bautista.
Chinese authorities have clamped down on the practice of retro-fitting existing projects to squeeze past full co-production requirements, which include a story with Chinese cultural elements and one third Chinese finance and cast. Even if a foreign producer has a genuinely Chinese story, satisfying the other requirements can be tricky, as there is so much demand for local talent. “One of the major reasons co-production projects don’t happen is because there isn’t enough Chinese cast available,” says line producer Aaron Shershow.
Assisted co-productions, such as Transformers: Age Of Extinction, Iron Man 3 and Spike Jonze’s Her, have less stringent co-production requirements and tend to shoot in China for shorter periods, but cannot bypass the quota system for distribution. Locations remain a major draw for international producers, from ancient villages and futuristic cities to mountains, deserts, high plateaus and the picturesque karst scenery around Guangxi and Guizhou.
China also has a growing number of sound stages in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Wuxi, in addition to outdoor sets at Hengdian near Hangzhou, although local fixers say there could be more. Anticipation is high for Wanda Group’s Wanda Studios Qingdao, a complex of 30 sound stages, water tanks and outdoor sets. There will be a soft opening in July 2017 before the full ceremonial opening in August 2018.
There are none right now, but Wanda Group and the Qingdao government have talked about introducing grants for productions that shoot at Wanda Studios Qingdao.
Infrastructure and crews
It is possible to just bring in heads of department but the crew base is not growing as fast as the local fi lm industry. Scarcity of English-speaking crew is an issue, but this is improving. “Foreigners and overseas Chinese are coming to work here, and there are more co-productions, so more people have experience of working with international crews,” says Michael McDermott of production services outfit Gung-Ho Films.
It takes seven hours to fly from Beijing to Kashgar in the far west, but most films shoot in the more densely populated east. Planes and trains are reasonably comfortable but flight delays are common.
Aaron Shershow, producer, Outcast, Iron Man 3, Man Of Tai Chi
“You wouldn’t favour China if you’re dependent on tax breaks or low costs, but with increased studio capacity and the introduction of incentives it could move in the opposite direction.”
First person to call
China Film Co-production Corp, the state-owned body that facilitates co-productions, bilingual fixers and a trustworthy local co-producer.
Need to know
- DO come with the right attitude. “You can do more than you think in China, but don’t take the US model and try to force it on the Chinese way of doing things,” says Michael McDermott, who produced Her.
- DO be aware you cannot access Google, Facebook or Twitter in mainland China. And you may lose shooting days due to pollution.
- DO have dinner at Duck de Chine or eat hotpot on Gui Jie in Beijing.
- DO install messaging app WeChat on your smartphone, as every member of your crew will be using it to communicate.
- DON’T forget that cities have a lot of signage written in Chinese, so if you are filming a non-Chinese story, you need to shoot above road level.
- DON’T forget that Chinese crews expect to stay in hotels during prep and production, even in big cities, as public transport may not get them to set on time.