Sunday, November 8, 2009

Square One: Censorship

Six months ago we met a Beijing-based producer. She - I believe - got excited about our writing, and gave us some censorship pointers for the China market. But we have so far failed to come up with something that could run in theaters here.
Today she told us ours seemed like a solid Hollywood-type script. But not for China.
I wouldn't try to write a black family movie without watching everything Tyler Perry ever made, so how could we write a Chinese outline without a comparable education? It seems obvious in hindsight, but we went in figuring we knew something about action movies. But action movies aren't Chinese action movies. Infernal Affairs and Election don't count. That's Hong Kong.
And the censorship issues are almost insurmountable (which is why Hong Kong is the center of Chinese film making, and the mainland comes out with few action movies): the police must solve the crime, if a character commits a crime it's because he was forced to, anyone who commits a crime will go to jail or die, adultery is tricky to include, and the "independent woman" as we know her in the States doesn't exist. In our defense, it sounds like the producer is also still trying to feel out the censorship boundaries. She says a lot of filmmakers from Taiwan are coming to Beijing, this is an exciting time, everyone wants to get in on the market.
On the other hand she has a director who submitted a script several times to the censorship bureau. He's been working on it for two years. The first few times it was flat rejected. The last time it came back with 50 notes. That's considered a good result.
But what's really ridiculous is despite all that censorship for local-made movies, we walked into a few stores today and saw pirated copies of Surrogates, Jennifer's Body, and Michael Jackson This Is It alongside a dozen other recent releases. You'll never see Jennifer's Body in theaters here (horror is a no-no), but you can buy it illegally anywhere. AGEH!
The producer had on ankle boots and a knee-length tweed coat, Chanel bag in hand. She's off to Nanjing this week to scout a location. She'd been having brunch in the upstairs lounge with a cadre of international film-types while we waited in the basement McDonalds wondering what are chances of having a movie made were. Fitting, no?
The good news is we still have the contact, and the company wants to make this kind of movie. Possibly the one we've been working on. It just has to be redone - again - in a way that's really going to get past the censors. So the first order of business is to watch a whole bunch of Chinese movies. And not Johnny To Hong Kong stuff. We have to figure out how it's done in the mainland.
At the very least, it's been a good, emboldening experience. I'm energized and ready to keep scratching away.

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