While the world suffers on lockdown, China is getting back on its feet. Infrastructure, roads, factories, offices, shops and restaurants are all open, just schools, universities and large public places remain closed.
Meanwhile the filming industry is also back in full force, not only resuming shooting, but also beginning to find ways to support the worldwide industry.
Even at the height of the virus, Chinese productions never really stopped. In February, when virus cases started to spread outside Wuhan and the government implemented drastic restrictive measures across the country, most production companies went to Thailand – a familiar place with highly qualified crews and competitive production service prices. Thai companies enjoyed a month-and-a-half of major Chinese productions until March, when eventually Thailand also had to conced that the virus had spread there too. Chinese production companies were forced to fold their shoots and go home. In the process, some of the projects have never resumed and had to be cancelled but overall, the Chinese production market hasn’t taken too severe a hit, at least relative to the industry is facing around the world right now.
From mid-March, shooting restrictions in certain Chinese cities were loosened, allowing studio shoots with smaller crews to recommence, followed soon after by larger location shoots, including car projects in Shanghai and XinJiang. Indeed, as of now, beginning of April, the new projects in circulation have picked back up to near pre-covid levels, but the situation on the ground has revealed a few interesting twists, because….
Following outbreaks around the world and fearing a second wave, as of 28th March, China enacted a nationwide ban on foreign nationals entering China. That means no more directors, DOPs, talent or foreign productions are allowed in, almost certainly until after the National People’s Congress, the most important political event of the year that has been indefinitely postponed from its original March 5th date. An unprecedented circumstance, considering this is the first cancellation of this major event since the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, for the first time too, local Chinese directors have only a smattering of foreign directors with whom to compete. As far as we know, there are only three established international directors – French, Australian and South African – currently in Shanghai (though there may be others). The majority of others normally based in China are stranded outside, presenting a big opportunity for local Chinese directors and the lucky remaining foreigners.
Some brave brands are nonetheless still going ahead and pitching foreigners to work remotely, including apparently a major global car brand with an alleged 11-day shoot. That demand is forcing almost every significant local production company to look into remote shooting possibilities.
At the same time, much as China is now selling masks and health equipment to countries in short supply, as one of the only territories in the world open for shooting, it is suggesting solutions to the global advertising industry too. Local production companies are starting to offer international companies and their clients the ability to execute shoots within China using this remote technology.
As for the future, the current solutions being explored pose fascinating questions for the future of physical shoots versus the relative potential efficiency and affordability of all-digital execution.
Either way, China’s ad industry will not only survive, but will probably end up thriving.