Maturing Chinese film industry sees slower growth

Cheryl Heng
Rachel Lu
Data released at a Shanghai International Film Festival forum showed that the number of moviegoers grew 1 percent in China last year, slower than the 15 percent gain in 2017.
Cheryl Heng
Rachel Lu

The Chinese film industry is maturing with slower growth recorded last year, a forum held during the ongoing Shanghai International Film Festival revealed on Monday. 

Industry professionals, meanwhile, voiced the need for better industry standardization. 

Data released at the forum showed that the number of moviegoers grew 1 percent in China last year, slower than the 15 percent growth in 2017.

The average Chinese moviegoer has watched 6.1 films so far this year, compared with seven films a year in 2018. But the Chinese audience watches more than the average American moviegoer does, at 5.4 films a year.

According to James Li, co-founder of Fanink Research, 2019 will be a year of challenges for the film industry. With a more even-age distribution of moviegoers, films have to cater to a wider range of audience needs. More people aged from 40 to 59 are going to the movies, while those aged between 18 and 29 are opting for other entertainment options.

Comedy is the most popular genre for Chinese moviegoers of all ages, followed by suspense and crime.

Hollywood director Simon West talked about the differences between the Chinese and Hollywood film industries in terms of work time, preparation and formats. 

In China, the film industry is expected to work seven days a week, typically more than 18 hours a day. Hollywood, however, values rest time, preferring a five- or six-day workweek with less than 12 hours a day each time.

Another difference is that preparation prior to shooting is valued in Hollywood. 

“Production is the riskiest stage of the film, where everything can go horribly wrong,” said West. “And this is where the investors lose their money because things can get out of control. The Hollywood system has tried to mitigate as much of that as possible by putting emphasis on preparation.” 

Every stage of the preparation is carefully monitored, with every day and hour of the shoot in the schedule. The film cannot go into production until the preparation is complete. In China, greater emphasis is on the shooting, with matters left to be resolved during the shoot itself.

A standardized script format is used in Hollywood, which is not often the case in the Chinese film industry.

“The Chinese and Hollywood systems are not that different. With a few key changes to the processes, the production will be a lot more reliable and adverse to risk,” said West. “I certainly enjoy shooting here. The Chinese film industry has huge potential to be dominating the world movie market. If it adopts a few changes, people will see radical changes in the standardization and industrialization of the industry. This will also encourage foreign filmmakers, who understand the standards and will not be put off by the differences.”

Maturing Chinese film industry sees slower growth
Ti Gong

Ning Hao, president of the jury for the Asian New Talent Award of the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival, speaks at a media briefing on Monday.

Also on Monday, the jury of the festival’s Asian New Talent Award expressed their excitement ahead of witnessing the creativity of young directors.

“We will judge young Asian directors on their style and potential in creativity,” said Ning Hao, the jury president. 

The Chinese director and scriptwriter himself won the Asian New Talent Prize in 2005 with the children’s film “Mongolian Ping Pong.” 

Reflecting on his own first directorial effort, Ning said money was the biggest challenge.

Actress Tan Zhuo also identified her biggest challenge in the beginning as money. As a seasoned actress, she was involved with many low-budget films and invested as a producer to see them come to fruition.

Japanese director Yuya Ishii believed that keeping up the confidence of young talent is the most important so that they can persevere in the industry. An award-worthy film must have an entire team of passionate, determined people, he said.

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