When executives at Paramount viewed the latest cut of the $175 million Brad Pitt zombie film “World War Z,” they were not concerned by the violence or its reengineered ending. They were worried about a minor plot point that involved a sensitive topic: China.
In the offending scene, characters debate the geographic origin of an outbreak that caused a zombie apocalypse and point to China, a Paramount executive told TheWrap.
Normally the detail would not have merited discussion at the top echelons of the studio. But given the fast-rising prominence of the Chinese market, state censorship and the quotas for U.S. releases, the studio advised the movie producers to drop the reference to China and cite a different country as a possible source of the pandemic, an executive with knowledge of the film told TheWrap.
The change was made in recent days in the hopes of landing a deal for one of Paramount’s biggest summer movies to play in China, the world’s fastest-growing film market.
“It’s not a huge plot point,” an individual with knowledge of the studio’s plans told TheWrap. “But it’s safe to say [they’re] going to want a release there.”
China passed Japan as the largest international source of box office revenue in 2012, contributing $2.7 billion, a 36 percent increase over the previous year. And some analysts say the Asian giant will pass the United States in standalone box office revenue by 2020.
While China has loosened its restrictions on the number of foreign films that can screen in the country, its film board continues to wield a great deal of influence, causing unprecedented changes in plots, release strategies, casting and other elements of Hollywood production.
Marvel Studios announced on Friday it would release an alternate version of “Iron Man 3” in China featuring China’s leading movie star Fan Bingbing, as well as offer specially prepared bonus footage made exclusively for the Chinese audience.
Marvel had initially planned “Iron Man 3” as a Chinese co-production, a tactic that has been taken with films like “Looper” and “The Karate Kid,” in part because co-productions are not subject to China’s quota for imported films. Chinese censors must still approve them.
In the case of “The Karate Kid,” censors objected to the Chinese villain, so Sony cut 12 minutes of the film to secure a release, which came later than initially planned.
“If you’re going to shoot a film that will be released in China, [scrutiny] is inevitable,” David Franzoni, the Oscar-winning producer and screenwriter, told TheWrap. Franzoni would know better than most since he wrote the script for a drama being produced by the Chinese government’s investment fund, the Xi’an Qujian Film & TV Investment Group. Antoine Fuqua will direct the 8th century tale of a love affair between a Chinese general and one of the emperor’s concubines.