China Issues Guidelines on Developing a Sci-Fi Film Sector

By Rebecca Davis

Popular on Variety

Chinese film authorities issued a new document outlining policy measures to boost the country’s production of science fiction movies.

Entitled “Several Opinions on Promoting the Development of Science Fiction Films,” the document highlights how the sci-fi genre fits into the ruling Communist Party’s broader ideological and technological goals. It was released earlier this month by China’s National Film Administration and the China Association for Science and Technology, a professional organization.

The document focuses on domestically developing pro-China science fiction film content and high-tech production capability. It comes in the wake of the country’s first VFX-heavy sci-fi blockbuster hit, “The Wandering Earth,” which remains the third highest grossing film of all time in the territory with a local box office of $691 million.

To make strong movies, the document claims, the number one priority is to “thoroughly study and implement Xi Jinping Thought.” Based on the Chinese president’s past pronouncements on film work, filmmakers should follow the “correct direction” for the development of sci-fi movies. This includes creating films that “highlight Chinese values, inherit Chinese culture and aesthetics, cultivate contemporary Chinese innovation” as well as “disseminate scientific thought” and “raise the spirit of scientists.” Chinese sci-fi films should thus portray China in a positive light as a technologically advanced nation.

In addition, the document honed in on China’s need to develop and control its own homegrown VFX and digital technologies to support the making of sci-fi content as tensions rise with the West over technology and internet control.

It says that companies building China’s VFX technological capacity should be considered strategically important in the same way as those working to “further implement the national policy of encouraging the development of the software and integrated circuit industries.”

The country should “encourage the research and development of VFX’s underlying core technology and platform tools with independent IP rights,” it said, as well as “support the R&D and industrialization of key technologies in the fields of film digital content processing and digital copyright protection.” It should also “support the R&D, production and use of Chinese-made high-precision film equipment.” International exchange should be encouraged in the context of furthering these goals.

Nevertheless, China’s lack of strong sci-fi is primarily due to a lack of innovative ideas and scripts, the document said. The country should focus on generating strong sci-fi scripts through talent incubators and prizes, and by urging film festivals to set up specific sci-fi film departments. The adaptation of sci-fi literature, animation and games should be encouraged to stimulate the production of new original content.

Elementary and middle school students should be made to watch “excellent sci-fi movies,” while universities should be urged to “strengthen the training of sci-fi related talent.”

To broaden films’ reach, the document further recommended that China establish a national science fiction film screening alliance, but provided no further details as to its implementation. The country is currently home to one such limited release circuit, the National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas.

China’s film industry does not typically employ much in the way of film production insurances or completion bonds, and investors have typically looked mostly to invest in projects with quick returns. These two factors have hindered the production of strong sci-fi titles, which are more expensive, complex and slow to produce than less effects-heavy works.

To address these issues and bring in non-state sources of funding, the document urges Chinese financial institutions to “explore credit products and loan models specific to the characteristics of sci-fi movies,” and insurance entities to “innovate in the development of intellectual property rights infringement liability insurance for sci-fi movies, as well as group accident insurance and personal accident insurance for specific actors and staff.”

Firms should also be encouraged to develop the means of “providing financing guarantee services for science fiction movies in a variety of ways.”