February 17, 2023
BEIJING – Gao Haitian, 32, who works as an extra in movies and television, spent most of this year’s Spring Festival holiday hurrying from one shooting location to another in and around Hengdian World Studios.
The complex, known as “China’s Hollywood” and the world’s largest film and TV center, is in Dongyang’s Hengdian township, Zhejiang province.
Except for two short stints during the seven-day holiday period, Gao didn’t have enough time for a proper rest. “Sometimes, we would travel to shooting locations as early as 3 am and wouldn’t finish shooting until quite late at night,” he said.
“Many movie and television crews have been catching up on their schedules,” Gao said, since China announced the relaxation of COVID-19 control measures in early December.
The bustling worksites and the thousands of creative and technical staffers who chose to stay during Spring Festival are sure signs of a strong recovery for the movie industry, said Liu Xiaohong, deputy director of media development at the Hengdian Group, which owns and operates the center.
Some 22 crews continued shooting during the Spring Festival period, while over 40 were getting ready to shoot. They cover genres ranging from historical dramas to fantasy tales, with 30 or so filming centers and over 100 studios at the Hengdian complex operating at full capacity.
More than 6,000 actors, actresses and crew members celebrated Chinese New Year at “China’s Hollywood”, and the festivities were the most boisterous ones in over three years, Liu said.
“A crew, whether in film or television, usually wraps up shooting before Spring Festival, which is a time for family reunions,” Liu said. “But it takes a lot of time and resources to start a project, especially large ones, and the overall schedule can be disrupted once a project is put on hold, even for a few days. Many cast members decided they would not stop working during the holiday.”
Ma Depeng, another extra pursuing his acting dream in Hengdian, said that “large crews are definitely on the rise”. A notice recruiting over 100 extras caught his attention the other day. Ma said it was the first time in his four years working at the studios that he had seen so much demand for workers right after Spring Festival.
“Movie investors are bullish, which means opportunities for us,” Ma said. “The year 2023 is going to be an optimistic period.”
Sun Qiyang, head of the Dongyang Qiyang Film and Television Equipment Rental Co, which rents equipment for crews, said he is busy, too.
“The vast majority of our props and gear is currently in use at various shooting locations in Hengdian,” he said.
Sun said he had a frenetic holiday last month, as his company served seven crews simultaneously. He said he has plans to set aside at least 10 million yuan ($1.47 million) to expand his business this year.
With many highly anticipated blockbusters filling screens during Spring Festival, China’s movie theaters saw 129 million tickets sold from Jan 21 to 27, grossing over 6.76 billion yuan in revenue, representing year-on-year growth of 11.89 percent, according to the China Film Administration.
Box office revenue was the second-highest for the holiday and the number of cinema visits was also only slightly below the 2019 level, before the pandemic hit, Fitch Ratings said.
Among the top-earning movies were the sci-fi action hit The Wandering Earth II and the animated film Boonie Bears: Guardian Code, both of which received investment from the Hengdian Group.
The rising tide lifted the boat of tourism as well. Full River Red, a chart-topping film during the holiday, is reported to have brought over 50,000 tourists to the Yue Fei Temple in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province.
The historical mystery, directed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, took its title from a lyrical poem composed by Yue Fei, a loyal general framed and executed during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), and was inspired by his story.
Hengdian World Studios, a national 5A tourist attraction itself, was the most visited place in Zhejiang during the holiday. Some 800,000 people visited the theme town from Jan 22 to 27, a nearly sixfold increase over the same period in 2022.
Li Long, a 33-year-old extra from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, who is working in Hengdian, said he decided to work through the holiday. Although unable to return home, he said, “with the film industry having gone through the COVID-19 challenge, we should value the opportunities more”.