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Chinese Script Development Requires A Different Touch, Top Producers Say

Leading film producers highlighted the challenges of developing good scripts in China and abroad at a panel during the Shanghai International Film Festival on Sunday.

Wanda Media GM Jiang Wei (aka Wayne Jiang) recommended that producers remain aware of the real differences between the scriptwriting process for Chinese productions versus international and co-productions.

The fundamental distinction is that in China, “the screenwriting system is a service centered on the director, who is the creative center,” rather than the producer, he assessed. In his experience, he’d seen that this could be frustrating for Chinese writers, who, eager to finally put their own spin on things, would often fail to execute what he’d asked of them, and turn in scripts that veered too far away from the company or the director’s original vision, making it necessary to switch from writer to writer until someone stuck.

But when working on Hollywood films like “The Meg,” he saw that writers were used to doing multiple iterations of the same story without touching its overall direction or main storyline, and were used to discussing what elements they’d like to add before going ahead with them.

“I think this experience of mine is something to note for great producers… coming to China,” he said. “The type of screenwriter system you’re jumping into is an important factor in your choice of what kind of project to undertake.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, Indian producer of smash hit “Dangal,” provided advice on how producers should balance different players’ creative visions. “It’s important to bring the director on board as early in the process as possible,” he said. “If you bring the director on at the end of the process, the director wants to come in, but the writers want to make it their own.”

He added: “It is important as the producer to pick your battles – very often, there are producers that have writing aspirations, and they want to jump on writing the script. That leads to a larger conflict later.”

“You need to realize you’re not the writer. If you have a vision you’ve got to let the writers see it so that they can then go out and create magic. It can’t be a writing by committee — that never works.”

Huayi Brothers Pictures CEO Jerry Ye also highlighted the differences between China and the West when it comes to screenwriting.

“The thing with China right now is that there’s a huge lack of creative power… so we spend a huge amount of time finding a good script. I now require all my producers to spend 60% of their energy on the script,” he said. “This is something that’s hard to understand for foreign filmmakers because in many countries, there are loads of great scripts and stories sitting around, but no capital or market to support them. It’s the opposite in China.”

Most younger Chinese creatives still don’t understand the logic needed to create a successful script, Ye said, urging them to study foreign films and screenwriting techniques. Huayi therefore often had to resort to hiring foreign writers to “build the bones of a screenplay” before bringing in Chinese screenwriters to then “fill it out with flesh and blood,” Ye said. He laughed: “We could also just do more remakes — as long as they can pass censorship.”

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