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China Producers Grapple With ‘Chaotic’ Market Conditions

SINGAPORE — Chinese film has entered a new era in the past 12 months, with growing success for local movies and an increasing emphasis on meeting audience demands. But top producers also described the China market as “at its most chaotic ever.”

Speaking at the ScreenSingapore convention Thursday at a seminar organized in association with Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia, producers Shi Nansun and Ellen Eliasoph both used the word “chaotic” to describe a market where production numbers have grown roughly eightfold since deregulation of the sector in 2001 and where box office and exhibition have grown even faster.

Shi, who recently produced hit “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon,” said that there is a severe shortage of experienced production executives, especially first assistant directors. “Talent doesn’t grow on trees,” she said. “The rising production numbers mean that we have to employ people who are not as skilled as they should be in their position,” she said, and explained that key staff then need more assistants to do the job, thus driving up the overall cost of production.

“I have very mixed feelings about working in China right now. There are weaknesses in marketing, delivery, financing and international sales. Why are directors still cutting their own trailers and designing their posters?,” Shi said.

“People expect crews to be less expensive in China than elsewhere. But it is not true,” said Ellen Eliasoph, head of VREGA, which has had a string of hits since setting up in China two years ago.

“In Hollywood, Hong Kong or Bollywood you can find three generations of costume or props makers. In China it is new. So you end up having to bring people in from outside, having to pay for places for them to live and adding taxes.”

“Chinese companies need to learn to get up to standard with IP concepts like completion bonds, errors and omissions insurance and chain of title. They need to be able to own the IP [if not for the domestic Chinese market] otherwise they simply will not be able to have it acquired internationally.

“It is chaotic because there is so much money sloshing around,” said Eliasoph.

The two veterans both said that rich tycoons continue to enter the market offering to finance productions by new directors, though many fail to have the patience to see a film all the way through to completion and release. When that happens the projects then come back into play and seek out the experienced producers.

“It is very hard to turn down these moguls and their money, you have to show face [respect],” said Shi. “Just the other day I had to turn down a man who owned a huge chain of foot massage parlors. I don’t have anything against foot massages, but I just didn’t think it right for the film.”

“Ultimately there will be five or six significant local companies and some embedded international firms,” said Eliasoph. “They are actually running it as a business, they are more responsible and in time will pull away from the rest.”

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