China's film regulator targets high remuneration of stars

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in a scene from the Empress of China.

After imposing a ban on South Korean entertainers' activities in China, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has turned attention to domestic actors and actresses who it blames for receiving exorbitant remuneration.

Recently, the SAPPRFT released a notification on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), claiming that it will instruct industry associations and large film and television production companies to formulate self-discipline protocols in a bid to curb sky-high salaries paid to the country's actors and actresses.

The media watchdog also said that it will direct industry associations to draw up an initial written proposal aimed at "orientating the ideological and aesthetic value of films and television series" and "optimizing the cost structure of film and television production".

Television stations and video streaming platforms will be prohibited from using the popularity of actors and actresses as the criterion of purchasing and broadcasting television series, according to the notification.

The SAPPRFT's notification came after a China Central Television (CCTV) report took aim at the exorbitant remuneration of the country's popular celebrities. The report exposed that the minimum payment for some high-profile Chinese actors and actresses had reached 25 million yuan, with some even receiving as much as 100 million yuan.

The report picked out actor Wallace Huo and actress Zhou Xun, the two leading characters in Ruyizhuan, a television series telling a love story set in the Qing Dynasty produced by New Classic Media, for getting paid to the tune of 150 million yuan combined.

Additionally, the report poked fun at some television operas starring highly paid actors and actresses for failing to gain recognition from the audiences due to lack of quality.

Among the top 20 on the 2015 Forbes China Celebrity List, 16 are actors and actresses, with Fan Bingbing taking the top spot for a third consecutive year with an annual income of 128 million yuan, compared with the World's Highest-Paid Superstars of 2015 List on which the top 20 include sportsmen, media persons, musicians, a writer and a magician, with Robert Downey Jr. the only actor making into the list.

Salary comparison

Olga Rodriguez-Aguirre, the national director of theatrical contracts at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, said that many famous Hollywood stars' salaries ranged from $1 million to $30 million, which basically accounted for 10-30 percent of the production costs.

The remuneration would be higher if the star could bring more box office success or if the broker had wonderful negotiating skills, said the director, adding that the more salary a star earned, the more taxes he or she would pay in the US.

According to the planning director of Descendants of the Sun, a South Korean television series which made actor Song Joong-ki a household name in China, the salary paid to the leading characters occupied 20-30 percent of the production costs.

But in China, Hong Kong film director Ng See-yuen said the fees paid to actors and actresses always accounted for half and even 60-70 percent of the film production costs.

A film starring highly paid celebrities may not ensure matching box office returns.

The box office returns of films starring Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence amount to about 20 billion yuan since 2011, about 10 times higher than that of films starring Chinese actress Fan screened in the same period. But Fan's income between June 1, 2015 and June 1, 2016 before management fees and taxes was $17 million, representing less than a third of what Lawrence earned in the same period, according to the 2016 World's Highest-Paid Actresses List issued by Forbes.

Industry legislation

Last week, Chinese lawmakers proposed that a remuneration ceiling for actors and actresses should be included in a draft film law under discussion, amid concerns that the exorbitant salaries paid to top celebrities would harm the quality of film production because it would leave insufficient funds for other production elements including facilities, crew and post-production.

"Setting limits on the remuneration of actors and actresses would help producers and directors concentrate on making high-quality films, leaving more budgets for facilities and post-production," said Sun Baoshu, a member of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.

Lu Di, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Peking University, called on the government to impose more taxes on actors and actresses' salaries.

The draft also includes a provision regarding a code of conduct for Chinese entertainers who are asked to seek excellence in both professional ethics and social morality, which was echoed by the SAPPRFT's notification, which highly praised a group of old-generation artists who took part in the creation of films celebrating the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) without any payment.

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