Screenwriter or not, I think all Americans–and those all across the world—are NEVER shocked when the tag on their shirt says “Made in China”. Why is it made in China? Let’s see…. cheaper labor, boost in their job market, an ocean of investors, and much more. But is merchandise the only thing being made in China? Nope. So are your favorite films – and your FUTURE favorite films, too. Don’t be surprised if the next time you buy a movie at the store (if anyone still does) that in the far left corner you find a sticker that says, “Made in China”.
OK – enough about economics.
I was out in Palos Verdes, CA, last year speaking on an international screenwriting panel. The only two Americans were me and a UCLA screenwriting professor. But it was no coincidence that the rest of the panel consisted of all Chinese filmmakers, and rightfully so. There are some amazing things happening East of us, and it’s about time the screenwriting community realizes it – because the rest of the industry already has.
Last year, between Canada and the United States, Hollywood grossed OVER 10 billion dollars, which was expected. But in China, they grossed just a little UNDER 3 billion by themselves. This figure alone has industry giants projecting that China will be the mecca of the film world by 2020. CNN reported that nearly 10 theaters a day are being built in China. And, after many long and hard years, China is FINALLY loosening up on their strict censorship laws, allowing American films to find a VERY “cozy” and “profitable” home in the Chinese market. (note: I wrote this several months ago. As of 4/1/15, China may start removing unlicensed foreign movies and TV shows via streaming sites, according to The Hollywood Reporter)
OK – so enough reporting, but you get the point.
China is taking OVER the film world, and you can either hate it or love it, but either way… it’s happening.
If the Chinese film market is growing each day, the Chinese (and most of the Asian community) are going to want to see Chinese elements in their films. But is it as simple as throwing in ridiculous Chinese product placement ads into the film, or taking your 2 VERY Caucasian American characters on a honeymoon to China, appeasing the Chinese audiences? No. The Chinese have enough movies being peddled (even more than Bollywood) each month, and each location is in China. But what do most moviegoers say Chinese films lack?
It’s not music, or lighting, or camera direction (those are usually ALL brilliant). It’s story. I’m not one to get hung up on story, but there is a prominent reason why the U.S. has been on top when it comes to film: we know how to tell a good story.
But with Hollywood’s big studios slowly merging with Billionaire tycoons in China, taking films that are meant for a US/UK audience, and streaming them in Chinese theaters, they are now beginning to cut out their ONLY need for us: our screenplays.
If you follow the trades or any site that post screenplay requests (Screenwriting Staffing Jobs & Screenplay Requests), you will find one constant theme: Chinese producers seeking screenplays. But they are NOT seeking your Titanic 3 screenplay. They are seeking films that cast Chinese characters, with strong Chinese elements. They are no longer JUST interested in your location (China, or just Asia in general). They now want their protagonist to be Chinese, with real emotions, real struggles, and believable dialogue. This means the writer MUST understand Chinese culture. Our non-creative stereotype Chinese characters will not fly in China.
So what am I saying and NOT saying?
I’m saying your protagonist, or at least someone in your supporting cast, needs to be Chinese.
I’m NOT saying take your existing screenplay and change your clearly African-American character, who gets a full ride scholarship to Duke, and make him Chinese. But the next time you sit and write a screenplay, think about how you can incorporate a powerful Asian character. Make sure it’s motivated and needed. This will not only help your screenplay in a “story” sense, but it will also give the Chinese audience someone to relate to. This will involve research and facts. Nothing is more insulting to a moviegoer than a screenwriter/film-maker interpreting a “specific” racial group incorrectly.
Don’t take this to the extreme though. Write what you know, and I personally believe your script will find a home. But it doesn’t hurt to have a Chinese-themed screenplay in your arsenal. The industry over in China can NOT be denied, and if Hollywood is already taking production OVER to China, having their movie debuts launched in the biggest cities across Asia, and now casting ALL Chinese actors for American TV and film, it’s time that we as writers’ get with the program.
Food For Thought: There are some amazing screenwriters in China, I’ve met them. But if you have ever read a Chinese screenplay it looks a lot like an 8th grader trying to write a novel. It’s all over the place, no formatting, just VERY long, drawn-out sentences. That’s because there are VERY little resources to software and formal script-writing training in China. But during my time on the screenwriting panel, I met a genius couple who is launching the first of its kind ‘Chinese Script Writing Software’. Due to privacy, I can’t list names or release dates, but this is just one other resource the Chinese film industry will NOW have, and one more thing they WON’T need us for. So stay with the times, watch some Chinese cinema, and get hacking away at your next script that focuses on the rich history, tradition, and power of China! Just because our films are being shot in China, doesn’t mean our screenplays can’t be bought here!
For those of you that are NOT members at www.screenwritingstaffing.com, I wanted to give you some examples of requests that typically come across our desk regarding “Chinese scripts”. (note: these listings are from last year)
HORROR SCREENPLAY SET IN CHINA. TM is in search for its next Horror Screenplay. Budget is between $300k-1M. Please submit a logline and a BRIEF synopsis. If our investors are interested we will contact you requesting to read your screenplay. Script MUST take place in a populated Chinese city.
CHINESE FILMS ONLY. We are seeking a film that can be shot in China w/ Chinese main characters, but also involves American customs, and characters. We are NOT Seeking Drama or Comedy. All others will be considered. Send a standard query letter. Also, please have a few feature film credits under your belt. Compensation will be 5 figures.
LITERARY AGENT SEEKING SCRIPTS. Literary Agent with locations in Paris and New York seek Hindu & Chinese screenplays. The scripts must have a Western Civilization take on it, since the film is being shot in the U.S. The script must take place in the present, and portray Hinduism and Chinese culture in a respectful way.
JAPANESE RELATED SCRIPTS. MF welcomes synopsis, treatment and screenplay submissions for narrative and documentary feature film projects. While we have a preference for Japan-related projects, we are interested in any feature film project that has strong Japanese domestic and international appeal. DO NOT SEND anything else at his time. All submissions MUST be accompanied w/ a release form.
ASIAN SCREENWRITERS. At this stage we only welcome applications in Singapore or Hong Kong. You will be responsible for writing 10-12 (short) episodes for a flat rate. Info about shorts/episodes will be forwarded to appropriate applicants. Speaking Mandarin is a plus.
This article was written by Jacob N. Stuart
Jacob is an award-winning, produced, and represented screenwriter. He has had OVER 10 scripts produced to screen, airing in OVER 7 different countries. He is the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, Chief-in-Editor at The Backstory, Screenplay Contest Director at Cincinnati Film Festival, and a Screenplay Judge for Universe Multicultural Film Festival.