THE 18th Shanghai International Film Festival has
cast a new spotlight on a previously quiescent sector of the industry —
People who write the words that actors mouth and create the scenes
that propel a plot have never enjoyed top billing in China, but that is
With support from the government and financing from big Internet
companies, Chinese screenwriters are beginning to take their place in a
film industry striving to catch up with the polished and popular fare
from the US and South Korea.
“Each phase of film production is now starting to gain recognition,
and that starts with the writers who come up with good scripts,” said Hu
Jinjun, director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture,
Radio, Film and TV, and organizer of the Shanghai film festival.
About 30 original new Chinese film scripts attracted financing from
venture capital funds during the festival, he said. Those projects alone
involve investment of 500 million yuan (US$80.55 million).
Scriptwriters in China are increasingly appearing at negotiations
between producers and investors. Those putting up money for films want
to be reassured that they are paying for something that will have box
“Now is the best of times for film scripts to gain attention from
investors,” said Yu Dong, president of Bona Film Group Ltd. “Investors
are interested because making films in China isn’t horribly expensive
yet and promises high returns.”
Last year, China’s box office surged 36 percent to US$4.82 billion, second only to the US.
This year, film receipts are forecast to top 40 billion yuan. It
won’t be long, industry analysts predict, before China surpasses the US
and becomes the world's largest market for films.
Until now, that prospect has been clouded by what were often poor storylines in Chinese movies.
Yin Jie, vice president of ShanghaiTech University, said
screenwriting has been the weak link in domestic film production.
Chinese moviegoers still prefer the drama, action, imagination and glitz
of Hollywood blockbusters.
ShanghaiTech University recently teamed up with the University of
Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to offer a 15-week
screenwriting course. Veteran scriptwriters from the US will share with
Chinese students their expertise in crafting movies that people want to
The local university is hoping some of the more talented students in the course may produce scripts that are turned into movies.
“All successful films have one thing in common — they tell a great
story that people want to hear and can relate to,” said Elizabeth Daley,
dean of the School of Cinematic Arts.
She said China’s colorful and ancient culture must have an abundance of material that could be tapped for movie script ideas.
One hindrance in developing homegrown scriptwriters may be an
education system that doesn’t place a premium on encouraging imagination
“It is important to develop the freedom for writers to imagine stories and tell them,” Daley said.
At a forum held by Shanghai Media Group Pictures and the Walt Disney
Studios earlier this week, celebrated Hollywood scriptwriters shared
their thoughts about how to create stories with universal appeal.
Nicole Perlman, co-writer of the Hollywood blockbuster “Guardians of
the Galaxy,” was among the forum participants. She is now working on an
adaptation of the bestselling novel “Wool” and co-writing “Captain
Marvel” for 2018 release.
She said scriptwriting requires specific skills in organization, research, character creation and the ability to sell an idea.
Michael Arndt, known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for “Little
Miss Sunshine,” told the forum that a Chinese scriptwriter should choose
a story he really loves and get feedback on it from other people.
Domestic writers were also encouraged to recognize the opportunities
of the Internet, which is now emerging as a major player in China's
movie industry and also influences public viewing preferences.
An increasing number of films have been adapted from popular online
novels that cater to the post-90s generation, which is now the major
film audience in China.
More online video-sharing websites are considering a move into
production of movies tailor-made for specific groups of netizens. The
day may come when one movie may have several different endings,
depending on the target audiences.
Renowned mainland filmmaker Li Shaohong said Internet novels have added new genres to Chinese cinema, like fantasy stories.
“Compared with traditional film scriptwriting, online novels are
usually more illusionary and imaginative,” said Li. “But there will also
be new challenges for cinematographers to present really compelling,
In addition to fantasy stories, urban love stories are also popular
with young audiences. Box office hits like “So Young” and “The Left Ear”
were both based on online romance novels.
Zhang Ting, an award-winning scriptwriter, said there is still a
crying need for original, thought-provoking stories. Not all popular
online stories are suitable for movie adaptations, he said.
Zhang said he worries that the influx of “hot money” into film
production will corrupt the artistry, independence and personal
expression of movie makers.
“Many producers and investors care only about the size of a story’s
fan base,” Zhang explained. “A film should be a creative vision.
Filmmaking should not be driven solely by profit.”
Many online story writers are making the transition to film and TV scripts.
Cheng Wu, vice president of entertainment and Internet giant Tencent,
said the new trend is blurring traditional boundaries and filmmaking in
the future will interact with many different forms of entertainment.
“We will invest only in scripts with original content and universal
emotions that will resonate with a large number of people,” he said.
“The flourishing film industry in China has a burning need for talented
For the first time, Tencent has included film scriptwriting in its
annual Next Idea competition to try to discover new writing talent in