China’s Hollywood: Hengdian World Studios sees boom in film shoots, tourism
Picking up the pace
Published: Mar 02, 2023 10:54 PM
A crew shoots a film at Hengdian World Studios. Photo: Courtesy of Shan Guanding, the Hengdian Group

A crew shoots a film at Hengdian World Studios. Photo: Courtesy of Shan Guanding, the Hengdian Group

On a restaurant set, a young actress stands in front of the cameras and under spotlights, speaking and moving according to the director's instructions. "Cut!" the director calls, giving an OK gesture that says the scene has been successfully shot.

The cast and crew are shooting a rural TV series Blossoms Bloom Again in the Field. Scenes like this are being shot every day at Hengdian World Studios since China optimized its ­COVID-19 measures in December 2022, making "China's Hollywood" quite busy and lively.

Hengdian, Asia's largest film and television shooting base in East China's Zhejiang Province, is making a comeback with a significant increase in the number of film and TV crews and tourists since the new policy changes.

"The whole Chinese film and TV industry is recovering," the producer of Blossoms Bloom Again in the Field, Jiang Fan, told the Global Times between shots.

"The pandemic slowed down the industry over the past three years, and I felt that studios and crews were being prudent," Jiang said. 

"But now, things are getting better."

Returning crews

The return of film crews is a signal that the industry is on the path to a full recovery. Including the crew for Blossoms Bloom Again in the Field, there are 25 crews shooting at Hengdian at present, while 42 more crews are preparing for future shoots there, according to Hengdian World Studios. 

The demand for extras is increasing as well. At Hengdian's Screen Actors Guild, long lines of people were waiting to register to become newbie extras. Registered extras at Hengdian are eligible to temporarily join crews and get paid based on their contributions.

During the pandemic, many veteran extras had to switch to other jobs like vloggers and models to make a living.

Now they are returning with confidence. Chen Qihe, a 30-year-old who has been working as an extra since 2018, went back to Hengdian in early February since he believes the end of pandemic restrictions will bring him more opportunities.

Chen earns 3,000 to 4,000 yuan ($430-574) a month. 

"I like this job. It's interesting and enables me to meet people across the country," he told the Global Times.

The Screen Actors Guild recommended over 30,000 registered extras to the crews at Hengdian in January, according to guild director Li Yuzhen. The guild holds nonprofit performance training to help extras better adapted to the film-TV shootings.

China's box office reached 6.76 billion yuan during the recent seven-day Spring Festival period, a growth of 11.89 percent year-on-year. The robust performance of the box office has bolstered the confidence of China's film and TV industry, observers noted.

Moreover, the relaxation of entry requirements has attracted more overseas crews to come to film in China. Besides Australian film Flying Tiger and German documentary Time of Sorrow, several foreign crews have scheduled shoots at Hengdian in 2023.

Tourists watch a performance at Hengdian World Studios in East China's Zhejiang Province. Photo: Courtesy of Shan Guanding, the Hengdian Group

Tourists watch a performance at Hengdian World Studios in East China's Zhejiang Province. Photo: Courtesy of Shan Guanding, the Hengdian Group

Surging tourists

Apart from a famous film-TV shooting base, Hengdian is also a 5A-level (China's top level) scenic spot that attracts numerous tourists every year.

More than 800,000 tourists flooded Hengdian during the Spring Festival holidays in January, triple that of the same period in 2022. These tourists created some 80 million yuan in ticket revenue at the film base.

Vitality could be felt everywhere during the holidays, as the dozen or so hotels at Hengdian World Studios were almost full. A local grocery store owner said he sold a month's inventory in just three days.

"We shut down at times during the pandemic so there were not many tourists. Sometimes we hardly saw even a few tourists a day," recalled Zhang Yuzhu, a Hengdian employee in charge of an interactive service that allows tourists to put on costumes and experience acting.

"But now we have a steady stream of tourists," Zhang told the Global Times, saying the costumes they prepared for visitors fell short of demand during the recent holidays.

Alan Zhou, a Shanghai resident who went to Hengdian to spend his Spring Festival vacation, said he was quite impressed by the lively festive atmosphere there. 

"There were many more tourists than I had expected," he told the Global Times. 

To better handle this surge in tourists, Hengdian increased some of its popular interactive performances from one to four or five showings a day and advanced the opening times of its attractions from 1 pm to 10 am.

"We are confident and looking forward to seeing more tourists in the near future, when the weather gets warmer," Zhang said.