China’s subsidized cartoons, comics tickle few (Caixin Online)

8 August 2012 11 h 24 min Comments Off

Animated film, comic book sector all about quantity, not quality

Breaking into the animated film industry usually requires a basic plan for blending colorful images and clever story-telling in ways that entertain the public — and make money.

Since 2006, however, animated film start-ups in China have done quite well with a lot less effort by simply focusing on tax incentives and other forms of government subsidies rolled out by various agencies through a top-down effort to build the industry. Of secondary importance for too many of the industry’s relatively new entrepreneurs, say critics of the heavily-subsidized animated film and comic book companies, is meeting public demand for creative entertainment.

“Seeking profits, some companies don’t research the market or products,” Jin Peng, deputy chief for animation at the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Cultural Industries, told Caixin. “Instead, they diligently research various local government policies.”

And in July, the culture ministry strengthened the industry’s attachment to the government by releasing the first-ever five-year plan expressively designed to set a course for animated films and comics production.

The official Development Plan for the National Animated Film Industry and Comic Books calls for private investment support and encourages companies to raise money through the stock market. Also getting a government green light for financial involvement are culture-focused investment funds, small- and medium-sized enterprise venture capital funds, and banks.

“Existing companies in line to attract this hoped-for private investment have already benefited from up to six years of government support that may have totaled billions of yuan. Agencies at multiple levels have worked hard to develop the animated film industry through subsidies and various reward programs”, said Wang Lei, chief executive of a successful animation company based in Shanghai, called Mister Cartoon Pictures.

The scope of the subsidies is so broad that business owners who do their homework can win enough government support to completely cover all costs for an entire production, Wang said.

A business recruitment agent at Shanghai’s Baoshan Science and Technology Park told Caixin flexible incentives and subsidies can be tailored for specific companies depending on business area, size and development stage. The park is one of many across the country that has become a magnet for animated filmmakers and related companies.

“Shanghai’s subsidies are fairly moderate” compared with those offered in other parts of the country, said Fu Yang, deputy director of an agency that manages businesses in a section of Hangzhou.

“More and bigger subsidies” than Shanghai’s have been made available by “several northern cities eager to develop the animated film industry,” Fu said. And they have a lot of locations to choose from: More than two-thirds of all provinces provide some sort of fiscal support for animated film companies, often through rewards doled out to each film maker after a project is completed and screened.

Hero Waste

A flash point for criticism of the sector’s government support was an animated film released in June called The Heroic Qi Jiguang. It’s a 90-minute drama jointly produced at a cost of 12 million yuan ($1.9 million) by Yuyao-based Zhejiang Hemudu Animation Cultural Development Co. Ltd. and the Yuyao Municipal Propaganda Department. Qi was a general who defended the motherland against Japanese pirates during the Ming Dynasty.

Critics claimed the government spent millions of yuan but in return got a poorly made film with stiffly drawn characters, low-grade sound effects and mistakes in the subtitles.

“At a production cost of 2,000 yuan per minute, a 90-minute film’s production cost would be 180,000 yuan, or generously 2 million yuan, at the most,” they wrote. “How was the other 10 million yuan spent?” – Industry experts ask local officials about ‘The Heroic Qi Jiguang.’

Even before it was released — and apparently to help justify the government spending — the city of Ningbo declared The Heroic Qi Jiguang “a fine art project.” But reactions from professional film reviewers and the public were a lot less favorable than Ningbo’s after the film’s promotional trailer appeared on the Internet in May.

Thirteen industry experts including Guangzhou-based Hecheng Animation Technology Co. Ltd. founder Chen Gelei, Communication University of China’s School of Animation professor Xue Yanping, and Beijing Film Academy School of Animation associate professor Chen Liaoyu co-wrote a letter to local officials questioning the film’s budget.

The letter was sent to the Ningbo and Yuyao governments and their respective propaganda departments. It asked:
— Did the Yuyao city government participate in investing, producing and distributing the film?
— Did The Heroic Qi Jiguang appear on the Ningbo propaganda department’s list of fine arts projects?
— How much government support did the film’s producers receive?

The Yuyao government’s official statement response was: “Hemudu Animation raised the 12 million yuan itself. There was no investment by the Yuyao city government. In terms of policy, Hemudu Animation is just like any other cultural enterprise and enjoys policy support stipulated in measures for supporting the development of cultural industries in Yuyao.” A Hemudu statement posted on a microblog said, “The 12 million yuan includes script, production, promotion and distribution costs. The government did not invest in the project.”

Yet the criticism continued. Chen, for example, blasted the film company for a phony “theater release” of The Heroic Qi Jiguang. The film was screened for one day at a movie theater, he said, so the producer could qualify for subsidies and other government perks.
Indeed, Chen said, it is possible that the government before the “release” did not give the filmmaker any money, as Hemudu said. But afterward, it’s likely the wallet was opened. Indeed, most cities make good on promises for subsidies and other perks only after a work is released, said a Hangzhou source who helps film companies raise funds.

In Hangzhou’s Xihu district, for example, local companies producing an original animated film can get 500,000 yuan for a movie release if the film is “at least an hour long and released in theaters.”

What happened with The Heroic Qi Jiguang “is nothing new,” said Wang. “There are many such companies.”

Perks plentiful

The State Council, Ministry of Finance and other central government departments started pushing to expand the animated film industry nationwide in 2006. A government circular that year called for providing technological innovation funds to technology-based small and medium-sized enterprises, while supporting them through preferential income and value-added tax policies. The culture ministry assumed oversight of the animated film and comic book sectors in late 2009.

Local governments reacted to the central government’s 2006 and 2009 decisions by encouraging animation companies with subsidized office leases, tax breaks and outright payments for finished products.

Between 2006 and 2010, the industry’s financial value grew an average 30% annually, according to the culture ministry. The animated film and comic book industries were worth more than 47 billion yuan in 2010, the ministry said. Total television cartoon output rose to about 3,666 hours from 1,333 hours over that period, the ministry said, while the number of animated films increased to 46 from 12. In 2010 alone, the producers churned out 2,166 hours of animated films combined.

Wang said that “objectively speaking,” such growth would have been impossible without government subsidies. And today “many companies with good creative abilities are continuing to create original material and exist,” thanks to subsidies.

Today, every provincial capital city has a business park for animated film and comic book companies. Prefectures and counties have built production centers as well. As of late 2010, more than 40 government-supported animation industry “bases” were operating nationwide.

Research and development for culture-related industries cost governments and companies a combined 14.3 billion yuan in 2010, said Liu Yuzhu, director of the culture ministry’s Department of Industry. The largest single portion — 1 billion yuan — went into the animated film and comic books sectors.

Speculators, not long-term investment sources, are chasing government-subsidized businesses and producing low-quality films. And because output quality is poor, the industry has a hard time attracting investors and professionals. Despite all that money, argue critics, the results have been thin.

“There are so few works worth being called animated film coming out of the bases,” said Fu. “Most projects boost government performance evaluations. They hoard land in the name of animation policy and get preferences and subsidies.” And companies initially attracted to subsidized industrial parks often pull up stakes as soon as the incentives expire. Afterward, Fu said, land for business parks “acquired at a low price or for free is then turned over for real estate development.”

Meanwhile, Fu said, the industry has been beset by other problems such as a lack of private financing and a shortage of high-end talent.

Wang said the sector is struggling in part due to a lack of professional staffers. Original productions are particularly hard to make because “there’s a shortage of people who can tell stories.” Thus, Wang said, the animation industry has found itself in an awkward position. Speculators, not long-term investment sources, are chasing government-subsidized businesses and producing low-quality films. And because output quality is poor, the industry has a hard time attracting investors and professionals.

The culture ministry’s new five-year plan may help lure more private investment.

Wang’s company, which is older than most filmmakers in China, is best known for the popular 2009 animated film Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf — proof that Chinese filmmakers have the capacity to entertain and make money, too, even without subsidies. Huang Yong, an associate dean at the Beijing Film Academy College of Animation, is among those calling on governments to re-focus animated film industry support and help animators who need and deserve it.

Source: Caixin Online (07/08/2012)

Related posts:

Comments are closed

Other News

  • China (mainland) film Brilliant future expected for Chinese cinema: interview

    Brilliant future expected for Chinese cinema: interview

    Jiang Wen (R), a well-known Chinese director, walks down the red carpet with his wife Zhou Yun at the opening ceremony of the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Aug 29, 2013. [Photo / Xinhua] (Xinhua, 04 Sep, 2013)Chinese films have achieved over the past few years very positive results in terms of both quantity and quality, and will drive their technology-led development, 70th Venice Film Festival president Alberto Barbera told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview. This venerable [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) film Cloudary extends script to movie industry

    Cloudary extends script to movie industry

    (, 26 Aug, 2013) Cloudary Corp – an online literature platform owned by interactive media giant Shanda Group – said on Friday that it reached a film script agreement with the Chinese movie firm Seven Stars Films. Seven Stars Films, a movie production and investment firm owned by Chinese media entrepreneu r Bruno Wu, will link Cloudary’s literature with the world’s movie industry. Wu, who is married to popular TV host Yang Lan, founded Seven Star Films in 2012. The [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) film China’s movie market booms with local content

    China’s movie market booms with local content

    ( Agencies, 23 Aug, 2013) In “American Dreams in China”, Cheng Dongqing is giving a lecture in an abandoned factory in Beijing . Snow falls through the damaged roof and a power cut sends students reaching for their flashlights. The movie , about how young Chinese in the 1990s tried every means to learn English so they could study overseas, is part of a boom in domestic productions that is outpacing foreign film s at the box office in China. [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) film Fast forward with film

    Fast forward with film

    (China Daily, 23 Aug, 2013) In the past year, Chinese films have galloped ahead like a dark horse, beating Hollywood imports. It is hardly surprising that most of these domestic hits are comedies. Comedy is mostly local. When Hollywood sent scouts to recover the secret formula, many of them reported that these Chinese movies were not particularly funny. Of course not. When you translate every line into English, you have lost much of the fun, leaving only a few sight [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) Digital Mobile game firms looking abroad

    Mobile game firms looking abroad

    (China Daily, 21 Aug, 2013) Intensifying domestic competition is driving Chinese mobile game developers into overseas markets, said Google Inc, owner of the world’s most used smartphone operating system. Japan and South Korea may become “sizeable” money-spinners for developers in China in the coming years, it added. “Tapping into South Korea and Japan makes sense for Chinese developers, because both countries have a large smartphone user base and high sales volume in the mobile gaming sector,” said Ben Zhang, China [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) tv PPTV denies buyout rumors

    PPTV denies buyout rumors

    (, 14 Aug, 2013) Online video provider PPTV has denied rumors it will be jointly acquired by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Hunan Satellite TV. “We have noticed related media reports. PPTV is operating independently, well, and we have nothing to announce at present,” PPTV told China Daily on Wednesday. A report from IT industry portal said on Wednesday that the prospective deal is almost closed, with the transaction reaching $400 million. It cited venture capital sources [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) film Film industry needs long tail to grow

    Film industry needs long tail to grow

    (China Daily, 15 Aug, 2013) The domestic film market registered record half-yearly box office returns of 10.9 billion yuan ($1.77 billion) in the first six months of this year, up 35 percent year-on-year, and there have been excited voices saying that the Chinese film industry is about to boom in the international market. However, box office success is just part of the industry’s chain, and without the further development of licensed movie merchandising, the Chinese film industry is still in [...]

    Read more →
  • Breaking news China (mainland) Digital New WeChat game becoming painfully popular

    New WeChat game becoming painfully popular

    (, 15 Aug, 2013) A new mobile phone game on WeChat, a social network app in China, is proving so popular that it’s causing hand injuries for many Chinese users. The game, which was recently introduced to WeChat’s 400 million subscribers, allows users to compete online with their friends in aircraft battles. Within two hours after the release of the game on Aug 5, there were more than 180 million downloads. But Zou Cheng, an orthopedic doctor at Hangzhou First [...]

    Read more →