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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Living the Chinese dream

By Leanne Passafonti 05-09-2017

The emergence of China as a major player in the international animation industry has not been a surprise. With a wealth of artistic talent and the loosening of some key regulations, it was only a matter of time before coproductions were possible and original Chinese shows began to share a platform with those from the US.

With the door to China open, why not find out what’s on the other side?

Once you’ve forged some relationships in China, you’ll quickly realise from your conversations with Chinese producers that you will need to comply with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

If you are looking to sell your fully produced show in China, your delight at making a sale may turn to disappointment upon finding that your pride and joy won’t be granted a primetime slot. Reduced to unusual hours, your series might not, therefore, get the traction you were hoping for to launch a successful licensing campaign in the territory, and might appear a missed opportunity. This is one of the realities of the SAPPRFT regulations that stipulate only Chinese-originated content can air in primetime.

Left Pocket and Tomavision preschool series Emmy & GooRoo

The best way to overcome the primetime hurdle for future series is to collaborate with a Chinese producer or broadcaster from the earliest stages of development, ensuring the concept is devised in China. In doing so, the show won’t be subject to the restrictions.

What is important to note, however, is that even on coproductions, overseas talent cannot be credited in China unless the credits are in Chinese, and then the number of overseas Chinese credits per production is limited to about two. Of course, when the series airs internationally, your writers, producers and other talent will all be able to receive their usual credits.

Of course, in terms of creative, there are also hurdles to overcome. A show that is successful in other regions won’t necessarily work in China. Finding the right kind of programme to work on with a Chinese partner is very important.

Many international comedy properties for 6-11s are too wacky or surreal for Chinese platforms’ tastes. Tom & Jerry is still incredibly popular there, so the comparable content for the bridge age group and up is quite different to what you might find in the West.

Values and integrity are important in Chinese shows, as is relevance and staying true to Chinese culture. It’s perhaps not surprising, therefore, that preschool shows, which naturally require many of these desirable elements for the local platforms, have proved a popular way for international and Chinese producers and broadcasters to coproduce and find success.

Most recently, I worked on the Chinese-Spanish preschool show Emmy & GooRoo. I led the development, story-edited the series and wrote two scripts and was onboard the show throughout its evolution from concept to delivery, overseeing all writing.

Produced by Left Pocket in Shanghai and Tomavision in Barcelona, the series recently launched on major Chinese online platform Youku and became the number one new show. Having previously worked with local broadcasters such as Toonmax and CCTV, as well as producers like A4 Studios, on the development and scripting side, I was coming to the show with prior knowledge and experience in the market.

However, there were still some creative learning curves to be had. Knowing SAPPRFT would need to approve the content, we had to be mindful of the requirements and relied on Left Pocket to supply advice and information to consider in the scripting process.

Additionally, cultural factors, like hugging, were topics for discussion. Chinese kids don’t hug as much as kids might elsewhere and so it became reserved for fitting emotional moments in the series and we found the appropriate compromise. Emmy & GooRoo is all the stronger for overcoming these hurdles and continues to build on its success.

While navigating China may seem overwhelming to begin with, what’s for certain is that starting small is important. Go and meet producers and broadcasters on their own turf and do the groundwork to forge the relationships and understand SAPPRFT.

A certain amount of perseverance will be required as you work through the challenges to find the right relationships, deals and projects to collaborate on. When you do, the results prove to be rewarding and can pave the way for many more successful coproductions and collaborations with China.

today's correspondent

Leanne Passafonti Independent producer

Leanne Passafonti is a leading development and production professional with over 11 years' experience developing and producing internationally recognised original content for the children's media space.

She has worked with some of the industry's biggest players, including Nickelodeon, DreamWorks Classics, Toonmax, CCTV and Red Kite on award-winning and Bafta-nominated shows such as George of the Jungle and Emmy & GooRoo. Leanne has also judged international awards and been invited to speak and moderate at major industry events.