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Chinese film studios must function as actual studios, not just tourist destinations, in order to remain viable in the long term, said Chen Jianyu, board chairman of the entity that oversees the Xiangshan Global Studios, one of China’s largest.

Speaking at the Shanghai International Film Festival on Friday, Chen cited statistics showing that China is home to more than 3,000 registered studios. But he said that “the majority of them are there for the purpose of film-related tourism, rather than to actually provide space for film and TV crews. Tourism is the real substance, while studio itself is just the superficial form. Tourism is the end, while the studio is just the means.”

With this approach, only 5% of them are profitable, he said. “Ultimately, a studio should be an actual studio — that is the foundation of its vitality,” he said.

He explained that the country currently suffers from an oversupply of such facilities. “China has more people than other countries, so we can support a few more studios than they do, but it’s not an unlimited number. If you want them to be successful, not every province in China can have one.”

Chen is chairman of the board of the Ningbo Screen Industrial Park, the location of the Xiangshan Global Studios. It one of the biggest in China, with nearly 4 million square feet of stages, and has hosted 1,200 productions, including popular period drama series “Nirvana in Fire” — making it the second-most-used studio in the country. 

It is also one of the locations that has itself had the greatest success with tourism.

“In the beginning we had fewer than 100,000 tourists [per year], with revenue of just RMB5-7 million, but last year we received around 2.6 million tourists and our ticket revenue was over RMB100 million [$14.5 million], accounting for 60-80% of our total revenue,” he said.

What attracted tourists to his studio was the appeal of getting to look behind the scenes at how shooting works, rather than any show or franchise in particular, he said. “Everyone in China wants to do tourism and everyone’s talking about IP. But to be honest, I’ve done this for 10 years, and there are many, many films that were shot here that couldn’t become an intellectual property, or were just a very weak property,” Chen said. Nevertheless, tourist numbers and ticket revenues at Xiangshan continue to grow 50-60% year-on-year.