Yesterday, the Beijing International Hotel saw the opening of “Impact of ifeng -- How to Get a Box Office over RMB 1 Billion”, a forum sponsored by ent.ifeng.com. As the official forum of the 8th Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF), anchored by famous movie critic Raymond Zhou, “Impact of ifeng” brought together chairman of Wishart Zhu Weijie, chairman of Gosh Film Yue Xiang and actor Yin Fang to uncover secrets behind “Box Office over RMB 1 Billion”.
Back in Q1 2018, two films - Operation Red Sea and Detective Chinatown Vol 2 respectively achieved a box office over RMB 3 billion, and The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes generated nearly RMB 2 billion. Alone the total box office achieved during the Spring Festival 2018 was higher than RMB 10 billion, increasing by more than 65% on year-on-year basis. This figure not only cut the monthly box office record set in August 2017, which was primarily attributed to Wolf Warriors 2, but also set a monthly box office record RMB 7.37 billion among film markets all over the world.
The boom of China’s film market is unprecedented. A few years ago, a box office over RMB 100 million could make the film a phenomenal one. But now, the line of RMB 1 billion is being broken by more and more films. The guests came from three aspects of three “over RMB 1 billion” films: Zhu Weijie, being a marketing expert, contributed to the box office miracle created by The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes as a love film; producer Yue Xiang led the “counterattack” of Detective Chinatown Vol 2, the story of which occurred in New York; Yin Fang, who is being in favor for playing in Operation Red Sea, has transformed from a prince of literary films to a popular niche. They expressed their respective opinions on the emergence of “over RMB 1 billion” films.
Origin of “over RMB 1 billion” films
Yin Fang: Quality matters - rigorous and efficient crew of Operation Red Sea
Yue Xiang: Perfection is important - long-time preparation for Detective Chinatown Vol 2
Zhu Weijie: An example of resonation and emotion regulation - The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes
Yin frankly said that being an actor in Operation Red Sea, he had less control over the box office. However, he could feel its high quality during the shooting, and the final box office exceeded his expectation. “When I joined, the crew had prepared for a long time. We actors went to Morocco to receive a military training one week in advance. The training lasted from 8:00am to 22:00pm every day. I could feel the rigor and efficiency of the crew. In such an atmosphere, nobody slacked, and we actors worked as though we were on the battlefield.”
Detective Chinatown Vol 2 is the first “over RMB 1 billion” film produced by Yue Xiang’s company. In fact, “over RMB 1 billion” was their expectation of box office set during the preparation. “We cast accounts at the very beginning. The investment was at least RMB 300 million, and a box office of RMB 1 billion would only make the film break even. Such calculation perfected our preparation. A low or medium-cost film cannot provide so much time for preparation, but a high-cost film can. As it turns out, the long-time preparation is very important.”
The end of Detective Chinatown heralds that the story of the sequel will occur in New York. Nevertheless, the complicatedness of filming in New York went beyond the producer’s expectations. Yue Xiang spent two years on basic investigation and preparation. The nationalistic storyline that the leading characters “counterattack” in New York is considered as the key to the success of Detective Chinatown Vol 2, but Yue disagrees.
“Over RMB 1 billion” films marketed by Zhu Weijie’s company include Jian Bing Man, Goodbye Mr. Loser, Time Raiders, etc. Content is the most important contributor to achieving a box office over RMB 1 billion, Zhu said. “In fact, The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes is inherently unique. As to actors, nobody can be more suitable for this film than Hankyung and Ryan Zheng. As to storyline, the scriptwriters almost reproduced their ‘puberty’.”
A box office of RMB 300 million represents the cut-off score of blockbuster. To achieve a box office of RMB 1 billion, a film must be very resonating; to achieve a box office of RMB 2 billion, a film must arouse emotions. For example, Wolf Warriors 2 aroused a country-wide patriotism and longing for military strengthening, so did Operation Red Sea, Zhu said. “I had predicted that Operation Red Sea would be the champion of the Spring Festival because it is stronger in arousing emotions.”
When it came to the marketing of The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes, Zhu frankly said the film was promoted as a comedy at the beginning, instead of a film making audiences cry. The selling point was not disclosed until the end of the large-scale pilot showing. “When the box office exceeded RMB 500 million, and later RMB 800 million, audiences got the emotion. So, emotion regulation is essential.”
How to conduct word-of-mouth marketing?
Yin Fang: An actor is duty-bound to take part in road shows.
Yue Xiang: A film should be marketed in a resonating way.
Zhu Weijie: Reasonable combinations should be formed in consideration of changing channels.
As an actor, Yin often takes part in road shows. He admitted that he once doubted about effects of road shows, but later found that the effects were great. “It means a duty for actors”. As a producer, Yue holds that a good reputation is derived from high-quality content. It is not worth incurring a high marketing cost for a film with deficient content. Furthermore, a film should be marketed in a resonating way. This is demonstrated by the success of Twenty Two.
According to Zhu, a marketing company can improve but cannot change the reputation of a film. Foundation work is of higher importance. “Film marketing cannot succeed without content, so we respect content. Marketing can be useful only if the public is affected by content.”
The intensity of film marketing in China is much higher than that in Hollywood, and Chinese net citizens get access to online marketing information at a very high speed. Now, marketing has changed from “media-driven” to “audience-driven.” “Previously, people could be motivated to watch a film only by a report. Such motivation has gone with the wind because of rapidly changing channels of marketing, from news to We Media, and to short videos. So, channels should be correctly perceived in each stage. What will be the next channel? I don’t know, either”. In a rapidly changing environment, it is important to effectively transfer and convert information by forming reasonable combinations. “It is not to say TV or newspaper is no longer important. For example, to put up a literary film, in-depth analysis and cultural positioning on print media are very important. Next, we will undertake the marketing of Jia Zhangke’s film Ash Is Purest White. Focusing on times and cultures, the marketing combination we have formed for it is totally different from that for The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes”.
Another key point is to break boundaries. “For example, to market Operation Red Sea, we attracted ex-soldiers to watch through dialogues between Yin Fang and real snipers, thereby breaking boundaries between audience groups.” As to disputes about the recent promotion of a Marvel film in China, promoting a film by inviting popular stars and native stars is indeed an effective method, but consideration should be given to suitability and appropriateness, Zhu said.
Inspirations from blockbusters in the rest of the world
Yin Fang: Watching too many Hollywood films may cause beauty fatigues
Yue Xiang: We are impelled to find more good stories from daily life
Zhu Weijie: High-score films in minority languages are attractive to audiences
China’s film market has witnessed “over RMB 1 million” blockbusters from neither Hollywood nor China, such as Indian film Dangal. According to Yin, in the context of globalization, a film from any part of the world can bring about resonating topics, and watching too many Hollywood films may cause beauty fatigues.
Previously, only comedies, war films and actioners could be blockbusters, because these types were very familiar to audiences and can attract people who do not often go to the cinema, Yue said. “Now, the popularity of some films in minority languages is impelling us to find more good stories. We should not only focus on Hollywood. In fact, most scriptwriters cannot write stories like those reported in Chinese news. So, we should pay more attention to stories from daily life. I guess, the films concerned with realities, such as Drug Dealer, may achieve great success.”
From the perspective of marketing, Dangal would not attract audiences if it had not got a high score, Zhu said. The promotion of Spanish film Contratiempo also highlighted “highest score.” These practices encourage Chinese film workers to find and introduce high-quality films in minority languages.
Will there be a film achieving a box office of RMB 10 billion?
In the forum, Yue explained why “China performs stronger than Hollywood in film marketing, but falls far behind in film production.” “This is an institutional problem. While all film marketing companies are regular, most production teams are miscellaneous troops. A production team may be set up for a call-up, and disband when the film is completed. Its members are self-employed and not covered by the ‘five insurances plus housing fund system’, so they are neither proud of being film workers nor willing to throw them into work in depth. Furthermore, frequent turnovers make it impossible to retain talents or improve their overall quality. This may be attributed to previous over-emphasis on particularity of art and neglect of industrial functions.”
Yin Fang: Chinese audiences are increasingly diversified.
Yue Xiang: Production teams are miscellaneous troops. This problem should be fixed through institutional improvement and emphasis on industrial functions.
Zhu Weijie: There may be a film achieving a box office of RMB 10 billion in three or four years.
According to Yue, Detective Chinatown Vol 2 is the first film produced by his company fully under the unionism. In detail, the company employed American industrial workers to find them enjoying liberal treatments and a large space for improvement. A worker can do the same job all his life, thereby achieving the greatest success. China’s film industry should learn after this.
At the end of the forum, all the guests voiced optimism about the birth of “a film achieving a box office of RMB 10 billion” on the ground that the trend of scrambling for the same film by audiences will be increasingly intense in the wake of market expansion. When will the goal be achieved? Zhu said “in three or four years”, Yin guessed “in three years”, and Yue thought “in two years.” In addition, learning that Youth and Forever Young also achieved a high box office, Yin thought literary films would be promising. “It indicates that Chinese audiences are more diversified, and various films have audiences. This is an encouragement for filmmakers.”