Chinese Shoots to Resume Despite Virus Threat, While Beijing Throws Industry a Lifeline

Hengdian World Studios, one of China’s largest, cautiously reopened for business today after it shut down all production in recent weeks to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The move comes a day after Chinese authorities released an official statement pledging government support for the struggling entertainment sector. 

Huge portions of the world’s second largest economy have been at a standstill since the virus swept the country. Though work officially began again Monday after an extended holiday for the Chinese new year, many are still working remotely as China continues intensive measures such as travel restrictions to keep a lid on the disease’s spread.

Hengdian had closed off to all tourists on Jan. 25 before shutting down all production on Jan. 27, at a time when Chinese reports estimate 20 crews were filming and 11 preparing to begin.

It will now resume work in stages, the studio said in work guidelines posted Monday night. Those set to resume shooting will be film and TV crews who stayed on-site throughout the Spring Festival period and have had no contact with people from highly infectious areas, as well as production firms “with adequate prevention and control measures in place,” although their eligibility well pend review.  Employees in highly infectious areas have been advised to postpone their return.

The next stage of operations will be “determined according to the circumstances of epidemic prevention and control,” it said.

A spokesman for local government in charge of Hengdian’s district told Chinese news outlet Sina Entertainment that though many applications to resume shooting have been filed since Feb. 3, so far, none have been approved. “Resumption of work will have to wait until Zhejiang Province lifts its Grade I [high-level public health emergency] response.”

Given that actors will be unable to wear masks, Chinese reports said shooting teams have been advised to stay small, limiting to 20 people when possible.

On Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, TV actress Zhang Lingzhi wrote that when she heard the news of Hengdian re-opening for shoots, she was very concerned for her husband, actor Johnny Chen (“The Climbers”), who has remained confined to his hotel room while his shoot there was halted for the past 15 days.

“Is it really possible to resume work now?” she asked. “[Feeling] so worried, so sad, so helpless.”

The production shutdown has delayed the output of new dramas and put severe financial pressure on firms. With daily actor fees accruing and the possibility of selling completed product postponed, smaller companies with fewer reserves have been particularly hard-hit, as reported by Variety earlier this week.

Beijing breaks silence on entertainment

To address such problems, Beijing’s film bureau said Wednesday that it will provide financial support to production companies and cinemas hard hit by recent cinema closures and production stoppages. It did not, however, provide details as to how or when.

Beijing’s municipal government recently issued two documents outlining measures to support businesses — particularly small and mid-sized enterprises — as they deal with the impact of the capital going into effective lockdown.

Though vague on detail, the Beijing Film Bureau’s statement on Wednesday indicated that it was working to ensure entertainment firms “are connected to these policies and receive practical benefits.”

To protect hard-hit companies, the bureau said it would soon issue “relevant policies to increase support for film and TV cultural enterprises” and subsidize the operating costs of production firms and cinemas “to help companies overcome their difficulties.” 

The bureau will also intervene in actual production.

“In order to meet the expectations of audiences across the country, and ensure that there will be adequate theatrical content after the epidemic is over, there is a plan to open a ‘green-light channel’ for the key films of this year and next, and key projects that have been severely affected by the epidemic this year,” it said.

For such films, it promised “financial assistance, creative guidance, filming support, and so on to ensure that important projects will not have to stop, be aborted or lower their standards.”

The bureau also expressed plans to “very proactively solicit film and TV works that reflect achievements in fighting the epidemic and offer subsidies to support them.”

To help streamline censorship and other film approvals and reviews, it said paperwork can now be initiated via an online submission only, and physical documents either delivered in-person at a later date or mailed in. A fast-track for approvals of “special projects” will also be established. The statement noted that its normal review and approval mechanisms hadn’t stalled during the quarantine period.

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