3 months ago
As the coronavirus pandemic takes over the western world and focus shifts to Europe and America, what of the East? The virus originated in a Chinese city in December and since then the country has been working around restrictions and fully-fledged lockdowns to continue to earn a living. China is slowly starting to re-open, so LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with the co-founder of production house P.I.G to hear first-hand his views on the situation.
LBB> How are things in China at the moment?
Nick> Things are improved and still improving, we are able to go out and restaurants, bars and malls are open. Movie theatres briefly opened for about four days but they shut them down again because they’re afraid of that second wave coming back.
LBB> What’s the current situation in China with production?
Nick> Production is kind of coming back to normal right now. In the past week there’ve been a lot of shoots after we saw a few in early March, then some more mid-month. There were a lot of restrictions but fewer and fewer now compared to in March when we could apply and get a permit to shoot in a public location, but if any of the local residents felt unsafe , they would call the cops and shut us down. No questions asked. Now it's mostly getting better and we can pretty much shoot from anywhere.
LBB> Did you come across any interesting ways to get around the restrictions?
Nick> We started developing more remote shooting where clients and agencies would remain in China and a crew would shoot in, let’s say, South Africa and everything would be watched live back over here.
Now it's been completely flipped around in that foreigners are not allowed to enter China at the moment – even if they possess a green card. At the moment we’ve got jobs confirmed with foreign agencies, production companies and clients who they can’t shoot where they are, so they will shoot in China remotely. We’re getting more of these requests, which are basically in a living room in the West and on the set here in China.
LBB> Is this way of working going to be a boost for the Chinese industry while other countries are still dealing with the effects of lockdowns?
Nick> Not really because it was really really busy before the pandemic and China has been busy for years now. Arguably you have more work that you have to shoot in China than you have qualified people to execute it. Our company does serving for foreign companies and also production for local clients so for us, the whole remote shooting thing was great. In February we could offer remote shooting to our local clients and now we can offer it to our foreign clients. Considering we’re just reopening now, it’s busy.
LBB> How do you think the industry will fare in China throughout the year?
Nick> The issue we may have, if China has not reopened in three to four months, is that we won’t be able to shoot here and those who are not nationals will not be able to enter the country if they leave. So all of the shoots we’re doing remotely will have to be done somewhere else in the world, which will affect the production service side of things. But, in terms of local clients and local projects, there’s no reason why they would be affected, but if anything maybe they’ll be affected by the global recession that may hit us. There’s not much we can do about this, everyone is trying to be competitive but we’re all in the same situation.
LBB> What can companies around the world learn from China’s experience of Covid-19 and coming out the other end of it?
Nick> You’ve got to make yourself small, if you’re not working you have no revenue so you have to weather the storm. Just keep your chin up because eventually things get better. What allowed us to get out of that first wave so quickly is that it literally came down with a hammer and everybody was wearing masks in public and shutting down public transportation. It was literally ghost town all over the country.
You always have opportunities in these times and the opportunity to test new technology and find new angles. I hear a lot of foreign clients are trying to produce homemade films where they’re asking the agencies to find ways for people to take selfies. Long term that’s probably not that viable. What we offer foreign clients right now is to shoot films over here for them and they direct from abroad. In the West they’ll come up with new ways of running sets, I think there’ll be quite a bit of remote work that’ll happen way past the pandemic.
LBB > Are there any interesting trends or styles that are popular with Chinese agencies and consumers – what’s the key to telling film stories for the Chinese audience?
Nick> It's really talent driven and influencers, stars, and pretty much anybody who’s anybody in China will endorse 30-40 brands. It's not about the creative anymore as much as it is about the face that you’re going to put in front of the camera. At the same time there are more and more better storytelling campaigns being made in China which are, right now, the dominant trend probably
It’s almost full on celebrity driven with almost a talking head or it's actually these beautiful stories that can be films of two to three minutes where the quality of the script has meaning.
LBB> Do you think CGI is going to grow during the pandemic?
Nick> Yes and no. You have campaigns where it makes sense to have them in CGI and others where it feels forced. At the same time you can only work from home for so long. If it’s too heavy on VFX, you don’t have too many people who have that rendering power at home.
Animation will benefit, in that a lot of people have looked into it during this time, and found out that there’s some really good studios all around the world that do some really good work at competitive prices. I don’t think that overall animation will take over part of the live-action campaigns.
LBB> And finally, Nick, what is next for you and what are you working on?
Nick> We were a bit lucky because the two to three weeks during which nothing was done here, we were in the middle of a fully 3D animated film that was done in France. Right now we’re pitching on 12 projects – local and foreign. All the foreign ones we sent them a test of remote shooting to show them how good it was.
P.I.G. China, 3 months ago