What to some sounded a lot like censorship morphed into a valuable asset as a panel dedicated to financing and distributing films in China today kicked off the 7th annual Produced By conference on the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood. Panelist Ellen Eliasoph president of Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia, explained that Chinese censors helped rewrite the script for a movie her company will be shooting in China later this year.
“The comments that they gave us were exactly the same as the comments we’d given the script writer, because we didn’t like the script either. And now those comments are being implemented, and we’re gonna start shooting in the fall,” Eliasoph said. “And I was so impressed that government officials who are essentially taking the time to read this — they don’t get a producing credit, they don’t get anything for doing it — they’re just trying to help filmmakers and also to protect the integrity of the marketplace.”
Moderator Hawk Koch initially had some difficulty getting panelists to talk about censorship. When Koch asked Eliasoph about censorship, she replied in Chinese with a proverb that begins, “Use the West as a tool.”
Jeffrey Chan, director and COO of the Chinese company Bona Film Group, offered that China is actually “pretty open” even though China allows only 34 American films to be shown there each year, and many of those are censored to some degree. For Chinese filmmakers, Chan said, “Nothing is banned in China … unless it touches on sensitive subjects.”
Until a few years ago, horror films were banned entirely, Eliasoph pointed out.
Noting that government filmmakers in China need government script approval before shooting, East West Bank head of corporate banking Bennett Pozil added that once the movie is made, you also need approval to be released. “We had a situation that a movie we financed, where one of the actors was arrested … I won’t say why. You can probably figure it out.” And the government, he said, wouldn’t allow the film to be released until after the actor completed his jail time.
Asked afterward why the Chinese actor had been arrested, Pozil told Deadline it was for smoking marijuana. The lesson, he said, is “don’t smoke pot in China.”