○ A scandal over the tax evasion by one of China’s most famous actresses led to a drop-off in film production
○ Workers at China’s Hollywood equivalent Hengdian World Studios believe the scandal will lead to better treatment for most people in the industry and higher quality productions
The scandal over famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing’s tax evasion has given many Chinese film producers pause, causing an industry-wide slowdown.
Even so, some actors and insiders are positive about the turn of events.
“Winter has come, but the cast and crew in Hengdian World Studios are getting warm,” a veteran actor in Hengdian named Zhang Hailong told the Global Times, noting more films were being shot there than in the first half of the year.
Top Chinese actress Fan Bingbing was ordered to pay more than 800 million yuan ($116 million) in tax and fines in October for tax evasion. The State Administration of Taxation (SAT) then stepped up supervision and punishment for tax fraud which some say was widespread in the film industry.
Insiders say that instead of paying big salaries to superstars, the same money could be used to improve the quality of a film and the shooting environment for the cast and crew.
As the world’s largest outdoor movie and television studio, China’s Hengdian World Studios is usually seen as an indicator of the state of the domestic entertainment industry.
The world’s most searched TV drama, Story of Yanxi Palace, was filmed in the Palace of Ming and Qing Dynasties, Hengdian World Studios’ largest lot.
Hengdian is located in Dongyang, Zhejiang Province, a 160 kilometer drive from the provincial capital Hangzhou.
The high efficiency and delicate settings of Hengdian World Studios have attracted a great number of national cast and crew to film there. If a crew requires any new setting, such as an exotic garden, a shabby prison or traditional pavilions, the construction will happen very quickly.
Many directors have indicated they want a street view of cosmopolitan Shanghai in Hengdian. It only took Hengdian World Studios a year to finish the construction of the “Dreamy Shanghai” area, which will be put in use officially next year, the manager of the Hengdian Film and Television Management Company, Chen Mingying said.
Chen has only worked for the company for three years, but she is very proud of her work, which has increased the amount of movies and dramas filmed in Hengdian from 100 to 300 annually.
There are over 60 crews registered to film in the studio to May in 2019, Chen said.
“Although Hengdian was ‘cold’ in July and August, we started to get warm again,” Chen said.
The local government has given strong support to the studio, because the industry benefits the town a great deal.
Hengdian suffered its most serious crisis in the latest 22 years this summer. Not only were the extras and prop makers were affected, but also people working in the tourism, dining and accommodation industries.
A change Zhang has seen in the industry since the scandal has been more considerate treatment of the grass-roots people in Hengdian, such as a simple canteen with table and desks for the extras to have meals. In the past, everybody squatted with a box of lunch in their hands.
Zhang sees the tax scandal over Fan Bingbing’s income as a positive turn for the industry. “I think if the payment for superstars could decrease, more money could be used to improve production, such as props and the environment for workers,” he noted.
Hub for extras
It was the first time for Du Qiu and Fang Zhiqiang to meet in person. Sitting with excitement on benches at the Hengdian World Studios Performance Association, the 19-year-old and the 18-year-old were waiting to apply for an “extras card” – a certificate allowing them to work as extras in Hengdian World Studios.
Du and Fang met each other on the Hengdian page of Baidu Tieba, a platform for people with the same hobbies to communicate. The magic and hope of experiencing the life of an extra brought them here.
“The motivation for me to come here was the film I am Somebody,” said Fang, explaining the reason he gave up his studies in Shanghai and came to Hengdian.
“Working here as an extra is like becoming a soldier for some people. If you become a soldier, you may regret it for two years; but if you don’t, you will regret it forever.”
The film I am Somebody was released in 2015. The Hong Kong director Derek Yee Tung Sing told the story of hengpiao (Hengdian drifters), and ignited the passion of many Chinese who dream of being actors.
However, few aspiring extras will become superstars. Some even suffer tragedies. In July, two workers of the crew for the film Chen Qing Ling were killed in a fire at Hengdian.
After hearing many bittersweet stories of Hengdian drifters, Du was prepared for the hardships that he may go through.
“We have had to fight in the mud since we came here,” Du said, adding he will stay in Hengdian until he can’t support himself any longer.
Because the salary of an extra is a mere 80 to 90 yuan per day, he now lives in a studio in Hengdian which costs 600 yuan ($87) per month.
Popular internet dramas
It is not common to see people like Zhang, who can stick in Hengdian for over 11 years. Studying performance at college, he gave up on a plan to run a restaurant and came to the town from Central China’s Henan Province.
He started as an employee who managed extras 11 years ago. Now he is a bit player and can earn 3,000 yuan in one day.
Zhang was playing the part of a pro-Communist Party of China merchant during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression when this Global Times reporter saw him. The director said the 40-year-old actor did not look right for the role, so Zhang had to glue a mustache on.
Appearing on the screen is the dream for every extra, including Zhang.
He took part in filming the famous film Shaolin and expected to appear on the screen. However, when he finally saw the film, he was disappointed. Most of his parts were cut.
“I began to doubt my performance capability at that time. I thought I hadn’t done a good job,” he said. Later, he learned there are different versions of a story written for a film. After shooting, the editing team will choose the best one.
Talking about the slowdown in the film and television industry, Zhang said not only Hengdian was influenced. The drop-off in production has spread throughout the country.
He was planning to take a bit role in Anhui this summer, and had booked the air ticket already. Unexpectedly, the crew was dissolved right before his flight. Shooting hasn’t been rescheduled.
“In the first half year, only internet dramas dared to shoot, because they had a short production period, low investment and easy-to-reach platforms to broadcast. These shows can expect instant revenue,” Zhang told the Global Times.
Internet dramas have made up the majority of productions in Hengdian in the past two years, according to Chen.
Story of Yanxi Palace is an internet drama which has been viewed over 15 billion times on iQiyi, China’s Netflix-like video site. The series is popular due to its delicate costumes with historical details, and the realistic sets thanks to Hengdian World Studios.
The Palace of Ming and Qing Dynasties was constructed based on the Forbidden City in Beijing, and had become the most popular tourist attraction in Hengdian.
Posters of characters from Story of Yanxi Palace are seen everywhere at the palace. A female tourist surnamed Li came to visit the studio just to see the Yanxi Palace set, which made her feel closer to the characters in the drama.
Chen told the Global Times that by November 22, Hengdian World Studios has accommodated 390 crews, well on the way to meeting its 2018 target of 400.
She said Hengdian World Studios wants to learn from and compete with Hollywood. “Hengdian will definitely challenge Hollywood one day,” Chen said.
– Global Times
Mar 22, 2019 0
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