Written by David Lewis on Jul 30, 2008. Posted in On Location

Filming the Beijing Olympics

There is much consensus among local industry experts that the Beijing Olympics have already had an impact on the work rate of local production and service companies. Industry professionals from across the world have become more focused on China as a location. However, there is also a widely held view that even before the Olympics became an issue, China had been attracting more filmmakers as the economy developed and the availability of modern production equipment and skills became more widespread.

Michael McDermott of Gung-Ho Films explains: “The TV commercial production industry in general has seen some solid growth in the past 12 months. Some of it is due of course to the Olympics. But also in general growth is occurring because not only are more international companies expanding their marketing budgets in China, but also domestic companies as well.”

Suasan Xu, at the China Film Co-Production Corporation observes that TV filmmakers may find it somewhat crowded in China at the moment, as the region is hosting so many documentary film crews and reportages. Susan explains, however, that feature films should be unaffected as most crews work in stages. She adds: “Filmmakers will definitely benefit from shooting in China during this booming time.”

As far as filming directly connected to the Olympics is concerned, Jud Willmont, Producer/Director with Willmountain Films observes: “There is currently plenty of promotional work being done in relation to the Olympics. Much of that is corporate sponsors placing ads that feature various aspects of the Olympics (Athletes, Venues, etc).”

Michael also points out that most of the big Olympic ads have now been made. Production service companies are now seeing more documentaries, television programmes, and projects related to special events around the games. And while a large part of the directly Olympics-related filming has already been completed, Jud is confident that there will also be plenty of work in the aftermath of the games.

There has certainly been an increased demand for film projects in China. Suasan reports: “We have been busy since early 2007 and received over 100 proposals for shooting features in China.” She goes on to provide some statistics for last year: “There were 91 features proposed, 67 approved and 49 completed in 2007.”

Again, many attribute the increase in filmmaking to the combined effect of the games and wider economic developments in China. Michael points to a Chinese proverb which says: As the water rises, so does everything else. “It is not just the games, but the growth of China’s economy in general that is leading to increased demand for commercials, corporate films and press ads,” he observes.

Filmmakers arriving in China in and around the Olympics may benefit from less restrictive bureaucracy. Michael explains that in some areas, like Beijing, the government is loosening earlier restrictions for film permits. For example in the past, Tiananmen Square was more or less off limits to foreign filmmakers. But now, because of the Olympics, it has become possible to film there.

The impact of the increased filming activity in China currently may not, however, be entirely beneficial. Some believe production service companies will find issues such as red tape slower than usual.

Filmmakers may also be slightly cautious as China has come under scrutiny in the film press recently over some controversial censorship decisions. In particular, there has been much publicity around the censorship of scenes in Ang Lee’s new film, ‘Lust, Caution’.

However, industry insiders also report that the film industry in China has grown rapidly since the Chinese government began relaxing its regulations in 2001. Currently the third-largest film producer in the world, after India and the USA, China’s film production rates in 2007 showed an increase of 25% on 2006 figures.

As to whether the Olympics have served to focus global attention on China as a filming location, Jud comments: “We’re starting to see more Chinese landscapes being written into scripts for ads. Some of these projects happen and some don’t, but certainly there is more of China showing up in the ads across the world. We’re also getting some attention from countries interested in shooting in China because it’s convenient for them. In these cases we’re asked to consider how to make china look ‘not like china.’”

The message is that a series of recent events have served to raise China’s profile as a serious contender in the film industry. The Olympics will no doubt help and the success of recent films like Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Assembly have also focussed attention. Jud asserts: “China provides a fertile ground for inspiration and creative thought.” Michael adds that much of China’s future strength will come from increasingly sophisticated equipment and the availability of talented professionals in China.

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