Permits, timing, cost, tax, crew All you need to know before shooting in China

May 11, 2020

Where To Shoot?

There are no city-wide permits. It is essential to have a good Chinese fixer or production service producer to navigate the process and sensitive locations. Rules, regulations and procedures for setting up a production are different for every part of China. It can take a bit of planning so choosing a service company that has a strong nationwide on the ground network and established operating procedures is essential. Permitting times vary depending on the location and use. Locations such as airports and subways are possible to film in but location fees are expensive and location control is restricted. Shutting down city streets is very difficult but limited traffic control such as rolling blocks are possible. A no-fly-zone applies to all major cities. Helicopter footage can be shot outside of cities. Allow plenty of time for permitting. Contact us for location-specific information.

When To Shoot?

China is a large country with a vast diversity of climates. North and central China tends to have hot, dry summers (June to September) and freezing cold winters (December to March) with clear blue skies. Southeast China has rainy, semi-tropical summers and cool winters. Western and Himalayan China has very harsh, cold winters. For monthly weather statistics please see here.

Festivals and events of interest to filmmakers and photographers include:

• Chinese New Year held in January / February
• Lantern Festival in February
• Pure and Bright Festival (Qingming) in April
• Shanghai F1 Grand Prix in April
• Dragon Boat Festival in June
• Xinjiang Apricot Blossom from June to September
• Mid-Autumn Festival in September / October
• Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival runs from December to February

Public holidays may affect timing, availability and costs. In particular, it’s best to avoid shooting around Chinese New Year, May Day and Labour Day. See here for public holiday dates in China.

Costs & Tax Incentives

Costs. Chinese government currency controls keep the RMB undervalued and therefore the purchasing power of foreign currencies remains strong. Although low-skilled labour costs in China may be low, the cost of professional crew and filming in China is on par with wealthy Western countries. The cost of shooting in Shanghai and Beijing is on par with any other major international cities like Tokyo, London, or New York. That said, our locally based fixers and service producers will negotiate deals and provide the appropriate level of production support to match every budget.

Tax Incentives. In terms of financial incentives, a 40% rebate is available for films shooting at Wanda’s Movie Metropolis facility in Qingdao.

All business transactions within China incur tax up to 15% of total production cost. Providing the commercial is to be aired outside of China and your payment is made to the service company’s overseas bank account, you will not incur this tax.

Most experienced service companies will have established financial procedures and a Hong Kong bank account.

Film Crew & Talent

Crew. China has a good pool of local English speaking directors, directors of photography and stills photographers including many expats now based in China. Local crews continue to gain more experience in servicing visiting productions. Crews are non-union. Rates and hours of work are negotiable and flexible to budgetary requirements. Labour on the whole is abundant and very inexpensive in China however costs of skilled key crew members are now on par with costs in the West. Although crews understand the language of film many are not fluent in English. Translators are provided to help jobs run smoothly. Production support is of course fluent in English.

Contact us if you are looking for a Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou based director, DP, photographer, videographer (cameraman / camera operator), camera assistant (focus puller), sound operator, grip, gaffer, stylist, hair and makeup, PA / runner, production driver, or any other film crew in China.

Talent in China is non-union, day rate and buyout costs are negotiable.

China is home to 56 distinct ethnic groups including the majority Han Chinese, and minorities including Uyghurs and Tibetans.

China has a growing pool of global talent looks. If needed, higher-end Western talent can be quickly and easily brought in from Hong Kong, although the costs can be expensive.

Fringes and Premiums. There is no 6th or 7th day, weekend or night premiums with crew or talent. A 30 – 50% surcharge does apply if you are going to shoot during Chinese New Year or on the first week of the month of May Day and October Labour Day. Some crews have started charging overtime after 16 hours.

China Film Equipment

Equipment. China is Arri based. Additional equipment can be easily imported from Hong Kong. China has a good stock of locally available equipment including Arri 435 & 535, Pegasus Crane, Libra Heads, Panther Dollies, as well as new Alexa and Phantom cameras. For the more complicated shoots requiring equipment such as Fly-Cam, Motion Control, Steady-Cam or Tracing Car that can be easily accessed from Hong Kong suppliers. If you are planning on bringing in your own gear our Chinese fixer / producer organises easy customs clearance.

China is an ATA carnet country. For smaller projects looking to bring in their own gear and supplement with local rentals, note, most Chinese camera, grip and lighting rental houses require a gear minder to be hired to accompany the gear. If you’re working to a tight budget and cannot afford to hire a minder, it’s best to double check what gear is best hired locally and what is best to bring in with you.

CommunicationsIn terms of communications, bandwidth in China can be unreliable. Some websites are also blocked from access. Government authorities are also cracking down on VPN’s. WeChat is a good way to communicate with locals.

Communication is key. Our agility and global experience allows us to customise the right communications systems for every shoot.

Web posted casting, scouting, and videoconferencing.

For clients that are unable to attend set we offer a virtual video village solution. This dedicated and secure high-resolution video streaming platform allows clients from one or multiple timezones to view setups without compromise and to participate in real-time with the team on set. Separate systems can be set up for the discrete conversations that are required to make a job run right. Working remotely with our local teams reduces your content production costs, turnaround times, carbon footprint, and risks associated with unpredictable global events.

Art Department, Studios, Backlots, & Post Production

Art department and set construction is inexpensive and quite good. China has played host to several feature films including Empire of the Sun, Last Emperor, and Hero.

Studios exist in all the major cities with the best facilities being in Shanghai and Beijing. Pinewood Studios has a branch in Beijing. Qingdao Movie Metropolis is a massive complex featuring 30 film studios, a theme park, shopping mall, luxury hotels, and even a yacht club and international hospital.

Backlots. Hengdian World Studios has a Forbidden City backlot about 4 hours drive from Shanghai. Please see here for images. There also exists a backlot of 1930’s Shanghai that was built for Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.

Post Production. No labs. All digital these days. Technicolor, Digital District and PO are the big players in Shanghai.