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Faculty Lead Discussion on Insights into China and Hollywood

Emerson alumni, students, and friends packed the Bill Bordy Media Conference Center for a discussion featuring faculty members Weiko Lin and Chris Toronyi and Emmy-winning director Henry Chan in a conversation about the evolving relationship between Hollywood and China on February 8.

Lin, who emigrated from Taiwan to the US when he was eight, has always been interested in the ways that Asia and the US interact. In addition to teaching screenwriting at Emerson for four years, he has taught a similar class in Taiwan. Teaching the same class in two different countries has given Lin more perspective on the entertainment connections between them.

“I’ve come to realize that Hollywood movies are no longer made for just America,” Lin said. “They are made for the world.”

Faculty members Weiko Lin and Chris Toronyi. Photo/Stephany Christie

Toronyi has taught entertainment marketing at Emerson for two years. His interest in this conversation began during his childhood in Saudi Arabia, where Hollywood movies were not easily accessible. He remembers watching blockbusters such as Alien and Star Wars on pirated VHS tapes instead of theater screens, which opened his eyes to a different worldview.

“It made me look at things differently and appreciate [Hollywood films] more,” said Toronyi. “Being a professor allows me to weave my marketing knowledge with these stories while teaching.”

Throughout the discussion, Lin and Toronyi touched upon a variety of topics, including how to break into the Chinese film market and best practices for filmmakers hoping to succeed in China.

Audience members joined in frequently on the conversation, which covered the insurgence of movie theaters in China, in contrast with the US, where streaming services are beginning to take over the cinematic experience. According to Toronyi and Lin, social media, specifically the app WeChat, is a major marketing and insight proponent for this new theme of entertainment. Toronyi said that marketing tactics can be changed immediately based off of conversations occurring on WeChat.

Zining Wang ’18, a Visual and Media Arts major from China, contributed a great deal of input at the talk.

“Honestly, most of their points are right, and I never really think about the effect of social media,” said Wang. “Things are in the past [in China]. Younger generations watched films online [via piracy] before, so right now they are grown up and can watch these films in theaters, so they are driven toward nostalgia. If Harry Potter had a new film right now, it would be the box office king in China.”

Lin compared American movies such as Fast and Furious and Coco with Chinese films such as Wolf Warrior 2 and The Mermaid using statistics and trailers. He discussed how the differences in Eastern and Western cultures can influence the quality and content on the screen.

“Watching a Chinese movie is like eating at a Chinese restaurant,” said Lin. “You get whatever you want all at once. We eat the way we consume.”

From left: Weiko Lin, Henry Chan, and Chris Toronyi. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Later in the evening, Toronyi and Lin brought in special guest Chan, a notable film and TV director who helped helm Rich House Poor House, a Chinese sitcom that debuted recently. Chan, who describes the show as “a combination of Arrested Development and Friends,” talked about the difficulties that come with producing a TV series in China.

“We had to cancel an episode because we talked about pollution in China,” said Chan. “You can no longer reference hip-hop in television as well. The government still has control on a lot of Chinese media.”

The talk wrapped up with final questions from the audience. Chan offered advice to these queries, never once dropping his smile.

“It’s logical to assume that we consume most of our content on the internet,” said Chan. “Because of this, media can change very quickly, and our writing styles must be more efficient than before. It’s a very exciting time to be a filmmaker.”