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Lecture at ELA Examines China Film Industry

With China projected to eclipse the U.S. box office by 2018, Assistant Professor Weiko Lin discussed how to work creatively with China’s film industry during a wide-ranging public lecture at Emerson College Los Angeles on December 7.

“Can you tell a story the Chinese market can relate to?” asked Lin, who wrote the original story and produced the 2013 Taiwanese romantic comedy film 100 Days. “The more education everyone has, the better it is.”

Lin shared insight about making 100 Days and offered advice to the audience about how they, too, can participate in the Chinese film market. He started out the discussion by enumerating some facts about the market: 34 foreign films per year are allowed to be imported into the country, foreign films are limited to a 30-day theatrical release, and the number one group that watches movies in China is females aged 14–30.

“A $5 million romance movie in China can make $66 million,” said Lin, who also told the audience that sci-fi movies were becoming trendy in the nation and to avoid sad stories.

Assistant Professor Weiko Lin discusses the major film companies in China. 

Lin travels to China every few months and offered practical tips to the audience about breaking into the industry. Among his tips: download the mobile text and voice messaging communication service WeChat (“If you don’t have WeChat, you cannot do business in China”), have business cards in simplified Mandarin, and make sure to visit the Asian nation frequently for face-to-face time.

On the list of things to avoid when coming up with concepts for a film: time travel, corrupt Chinese cops, dirty Chinese politicians, ultra violence, ultra sexy, and horror (unless it’s in a dream). Three big topics to never include in a movie include Tibet, the Tiananmen Square protests, and the persecution of Falun Gong.

Lin said that the biggest mistake foreigners make when trying to break into the Chinese movie market is making a film based on the Western perspective of Chinese culture.

“The Chinese don’t need to see your representation of their culture,” said Lin. “Don’t disrespect their culture.”

Lin said one question every moviemaker should ask to become a success in China is: Would Chinese people go watch that movie?

Assistant Professor Weiko Lin says the Chinese audience craves big stars in their movies.

Filmmakers, alumni, faculty, and students were in the audience taking notes and asking questions about the increasingly important Chinese market.

“It’s an important topic,” said Serena Kassow ’16, a Theatre major. “From a publicity standpoint, it’s definitely great to understand this market because it’s becoming so huge.”

Joshua Jackson, MFA ’16, who took Lin’s Feature Writing Workshop class, attended the discussion because he wanted to learn more about how to successfully navigate the industry.

“The fact that certain kinds of films can’t be produced in China, like horror, was really interesting,” Jackson said. “I learned a lot.” 

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