New Rules and Governing Bodies in China

How To Help Them Do Their Purpose

Most filmmakers are aware that China has a more strict censorship policy than most foreign companies.   But few of us know this is a “good thing.”   Companies bitch and moan about how their film didn’t pass censors, or that they fear the process.   The simple fact is that without the Censorship Organizations and Committees, in a year or three the Chinese film Industry would shake itself apart where it meets distribution and social calm.   Unlike most Hollywood companies that either don’t know anything about the process, or don’t want to comply and instead try to sneak past it, Creativity First Films understands how it works and how to make it work in our favor. 

Quotas are also a “good thing” for Hollywood, as well as the citizens of China.  Only Creativity First Films understands and supports this as a “good thing” – mainly due to the “Greed First” mentality of Hollywood   First we shall analyze the Censorship. 

We in the USA deal with the Ratings System with no problem.   This is the China version of it.  But when you really think, that due to social pressure, many films cannot ever be shown in the USA, we also have covert censorship.   It is our goal at Creativity First Films to show the world how well a film company can make its job easy, welcome, and good publicity. 

First things that helps is meeting with people on the Censor Board, or formerly on that Board, as well as members or advisors of what used to be SAPPRFT.   Talk with theater owners.   Simply learn it, from the ground up.  Then, engage with more cultural awareness with the new entity formed in Macau.   Dealing directly with this entity puts more profits into the hands of both parties – Hollywood and China entertainment systems.

China realized that they must improve partnership appeal by crushing the rampant box office fraud by theater owners.   They punished 350+ theaters with penalties and closures, with confiscation of the theaters the next step to anyone dumb enough to fake box office numbers.  This makes investing in co-productions so much safer, knowing the US company will get their profits out of China based on honest numbers.   They also confiscated companies over $1 billion each from mega-rich film production companies in 2016 to punish them for box office fraud.  The new guidelines leave no doubt that President Xi plans to make entertainment an honest business China can be proud of.   

One of the more impressive moves was approving for Hunan Sat TV, a major show called “In The Name Of The People.”  It is a live show that busts corrupt officials, much like “To Catch A Predator.”   It covers both anti-graft and sexual misconduct by top officials or rich Chinese executives.   It is a 55-part TV show.   They have actors play the disgraced executives or party officials.  Sometimes they try to avoid names, but the example becomes obvious who it is about.  This show replays crimes on the level of Enron or Madoff.   The busted execs had to confess their cultural sings, and will never be allowed major roles in China.   The corrupt officials are either “tigers” (big corruption) or “flies” (low corruption.)   An example of a tiger is Wei Pengyuan, who kept $29 million U.S. hidden in his home, and was given a suspended death sentence.  The show not only appeals to citizens proud to see the campaign against corrupt officials, it also warns execs that the old ways are over with, and the penalties so severe that they simply stop their games.   The Streaming version first episode was watched over 350 million times. 

Second huge factor is that, Creativity First Films sets up original ownership of all IP Rights, as well as the bank accounts funding the projects, in Singapore.  Singapore is one of three nations with a special arrangement with China, declaring that a film from Singapore is not in the normal “Foreign Film” classification (although this can change without notice.)  This means that any film we shoot from Singapore or in Singapore is not subject to full Quota limits.   This is especially true if we hire a lot of Chinese actors, partner with Chinese film companies, and in some cases hire a Chinese Director.  At least 9 of our films comply with this.  Our films still need to not offend the censors though.   So we must plan for this by making sure each slate of films has major productions and money-making projects that surely will pass Censorship Boards.   

The bottleneck for future deals relies strongly on approval by SAFE (State Administration of Foreign Exchange.)   It can prevent foreign deals.   Creativity First Films will work with SAFE to ensure a large share of money stays in China, from investment to revenue, to future development of their own national industries in Media, through training and education.  Their position is justified.  In 2016 China invested $54 billion in the US alone, 83 times what it invested in 2015.   

Because China lacks a film ratings system to put the power of choice into consumers’ hands, the power lies instead with a group of censors—numbering between 19 and 36 people at any given time—whose job it is to grant or deny each film entry into the market.

It is key to know their current rules. That’s right: their current rules. Although various quasi-official sources outline what is and is not acceptable for the big screen, China and its one-party government currently lack a film law (though as Part 5 of this guide outlines, one is coming) that would set clear guidelines and standards.

As such, it’s difficult to know whether or not a proposed project may fall afoul of the censors, whose whimsy seems to be determined in large part by the higher ranks of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—an organization for which projecting the image of a stable society is considered paramount to preserving its hold on power.  But the fact is that if film deals are honest, and the story content is globally appealing based on the Hero’s Journey, most films will not run afoul of censorship limits, which means, this isn’t a case of selling out to China.   To better understand this, look at how many nations prohibit films that show anything sexual, or insult religions already.  Then add to that how harshly the U.S. attacks a person or company that goes against the Social Justice Warriors and the most current trends for persecution.   

Although you can never be exactly sure what will pass the censors, save time and money by following some basic principles when submitting a film project or a finished film for distribution in China:

  1. Check yourself. Watch everything that has made it to the screen in China the last 18 months to gauge what is currently resisting the ever-shifting political winds. Even if your film bears a passing resemblance to other films in a popular genre, it is subject to rejection. The early 2016 Marvel hit Deadpool, for instance, was rejected in China for being too violent—this after a string of Marvel films, and films with comparable levels of violence outside the comic-book genre, made a lot of money there.  Be aware that new goals are set by the Party just about annually. 
  1. Work with the censors. Submit your film’s name and plot outline to (what used to be) the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), both in Beijing and—if you want the film to air on provincial satellite television—at each provincial-level (previously named) SAPPRFT office. Listen to their feedback and be prepared to make their suggested cuts. The list of deletions from popular imported films is long, ranging from the seemingly innocuous scenes of laundry hanging out of Shanghai apartment building windows removed from Mission Impossible III, to the evisceration of the crucial sex scenes in Lust, Caution. Sex makes the censors squeamish, no matter what sort of sex is involved.
  1. Know the red flags. Be especially mindful if your film addresses any aspect of Chinese history, especially the modern topics of the Chinese Communist Revolution, the Cultural Revolution, and the famines of 1959-1961, or if it is in some way related to the leaders of the CCP and their families. If your project touches on any of these areas, expect that the CCP history research center and the Party 5 leaders and their living family members will be a part of the censorship process.
  1. SAPPRFT’s New  Government Agency does not work alone and its name and role has changed; it will also seek advice from other government organizations that oversee content related to the topics of submitted film projects. If yours is a spy thriller, expect the censors to consult the Ministry of State Security; if it has minority characters in it, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission will be taking a look. Health-themed dramas will be censored by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, and cop movies will be reviewed by the Ministry of Public Security. Films addressing spirituality will be censored by the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, and the Ministry of Education will pore over any films with students and schools in their plots.
  1. Law- and justice-themed dramas will go to the Ministry of Justice for review, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will check films touching on international relations. Films depicting historical wars that occurred after October 1, 1949 (the date of the establishment of the PRC) are banned outright to preserve China’s stable foreign relations. Even a China-friendly drama about the Korean War, for example, would be denied under this regulation.