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Archive for July 23rd, 2011

The Golden Rock - The Internal Memo Edition

Everyone thinks of China Film Group’s BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL as THE film celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, but that is actually not true. In the month of July, three more films have been released in Chinese cinemas under the 90th anniversary celebration banner.

WENTIAN is a film by the notoriously patriotic August 1st Studio about the Chinese space program. GUO MING YI is a biopic chronicling 16 years in the life of a devoted party member who is presented as the modern Lei Feng. YANG SHAN ZHOU is another biopic about a party member’s achievements working as the party secretary.

What do these three films have in common? China Film Group is the co-distributor of all three films.

This afternoon, a self-proclaimed film industry insider (who is obviously remaining anonymous, but with over 6,000 followers, obviously influential) posted pages of an internal memo from a cinema chain in China on Weibo:




Of course, I’m not going to translate the whole thing, but here are the essential points

1) 6 (possibly governmental) committees have issued a memo about organizing party members to watch WEN TIAN,  YANG SHAN ZHOU, and GUO MING YI. The essential goal of the memo is to make sure these three “recommended, excellent films” are properly distributed, and to do so with “principles that break the usual methods, but don’t violate the rules”. The memo not only said that admissions for these films can be paid with party and union fees, it also said that these films can be watched together with, and I quote, “imported films such as TRANSFORMERS 3, HARRY POTTER, and THE SMURFS”.

2) Here’s the fun part, so guess what? I’ll just let the memo do the talking:

“The screening period of the party 90th anniversary films coincides with the screening of popular import films TRANSFORMERS 3 and HARRY POTTER 7 (part 2). These two films have two points in common: they’re both major 3D, IMAX films, and they’re both the last film in their respective series. As a sort of a farewell, these films are expected to attract more audiences than usual. Attempts can be made to screen these together with the three excellent recommended films in order to get results that may not be achieve through the usual methods.”

Yes, what this memo is saying is that theaters should try double features, doubling TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER up with one of the three “excellent recommended” films. The memo then details the rules - two tickets must be printed (one for each film), the ticket price for both films cannot be higher than the ticket price for a single film, each film’s share of the price cannot be lower than the mandatory minimum ticket price, the second film MUST screen as long as the audience is still there, and of course, NO REFUNDS.

Now, in consideration of the audiences’ energy, the memo also suggests that the two screenings can be at separate times, meaning the two films will be sold as “group tickets”. The rules about ticket prices and no refund still applies, but this means audiences don’t have to sit around for two films on the same day.

Here’s another part that needs to be quoted:

“The ‘Double Features’ and ‘Group Tickets’ methods of sale are absolutely approved by most audiences, because economically, the audience receive savings from them. However, the possibility of individuals expressing doubts cannot be eliminated. As a result, cinema chains and cinemas (especially managerial and those working at the foundation level) must be honest, and take notice:

1) When cinemas promote “Double Features” and “Group Tickets”, refrain from using the phrases ‘combined selling’, ’sell one get one free’, ‘buy XXX and get XXX for free’, ‘mixed sale’, or other phrases that may cause conflicts or be too promotional in nature. Instead, use neutral phrases like ‘discounted ticket price’, ’steps to benefit the people’, ’sincere recommendation’.

2) When facing provocative ‘questions’ and ‘doubts’, hold to the principle of avoiding direct confrontation. Try hard to not respond directly, emphasizing instead the cinemas’ efforts to promote a variety of choices to consumers with different sale tactics, and that this is a way to explore new ways of promotion for the cinema”

The memo even suggests ways for the cinemas to defend their action, such as saying that cinemas have a responsibility to show “excellent Chinese films”, that such tactics is to make sure both local and imported films both make profits, and my favorite, mental support to help create a “socialist and harmonized society”.

Later, a reporter for Sina Entertainment news wrote a story about the memo and captured a photo uploaded on weibo by a netizen:


The photo shows that this audience member bought a ticket to TRANSFORMERS 3 and received two tickets - one for TRANSFORMERS and one for YANG SHAN ZHOU. The employee even told the netizen that he doesn’t need to watch the second film. The ticket prices for the two tickets: 60 yuan for YANG SHAN ZHOU, and 20 yuan for TRANSFORMERS.

This means that 60 yuan will go to YANG SHAN ZHOU’s box office (to be split by distributors, cinemas, and production companies), while 20 yuan will be split by the same parties for TRANSFORMERS. Yes, that’s another form of box office gouging.

Of course, there’s no official confirmation that the memo or the ticket photo are actually true. The memo doesn’t have any official seals on it, which means it’s not an officially approved memo. The cinema chain’s name is also in the content, with no letterhead on them. With a specific Shanghai-based cinema chain named, this memo may only be applied to one of the many cinema chains in China. The Sina reporter’s inquiry to Paramount AND China Film Group have gone unanswered.  So these are all points of doubt, but if this is true, this is going to be VERY BAD for China Film Group, August 1st Studio, and these so-called “mainstream films” in the future.

For the record: TRANFORMERS just broke the record for the best opening day in China ever with 91.2 million yuan. GUO MING YI made only 200,000 yuan in its first three days from only 441 shows, and WEN TIAN has only made 1.75 million yuan after 17 days.

Back to normal news in the next entry.


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