China halted all of its film releases, closing every one of its 70,000 movie theaters, over the Lunar New Year holiday due to concerns about the fast spread of the novel coronavirus. The deadly virus reportedly first surfaced in the city of Wuhan in late December and presently has a 2 to 4% fatality rate in Wuhan and a 0.7% fatality rate outside of Wuhan.

In China, schools are closed, and many industries are taking a serious financial blow due to the virus: tourism, aviation, shipping, oil and gas, manufacturing, and entertainment to name a few. Essentially, the whole country is shut down.

In 2018, China pulled in $9 billion at the box office, and 2020 started out with hopes for another booming year. In fact, the film distribution and exhibition sectors predicted profits of a billion dollars over the course of 10 days during the Spring Festival holiday; Chinese New Year normally boosts tourism rates, and crowds typically flood to movie theaters. However, due to the virus getting out of hand, the Chinese government ordered the entertainment industry to be shut down. Subsequently, China’s first quarter saw a loss of $2.5 – $3 billion in ticket sales. 

Those who purchased tickets from the site Maoyan were notified they’d receive a refund. And many movies were made available to the public through the internet. Variety’s co-editor-in-chief, Andrew Wallerstein, told CNBC Television, “I believe there are TV networks that are donating rights to TV programming that could come in and, while people are quarantined and not able to leave their home, have some entertainment.”

But film production will continue to suffer for the unforeseeable future in China. “This will reduce the number of productions in 2021. This will be bad for employees in this sector, from post-production or special effects, or crew. Everyone,” stated Tony Lu, a producer of The Wandering Earth sequel, a follow up to last year’s blockbuster science fiction movie. 

China houses two of the world’s largest and newest film studios, Quingdao and Hengdian, which have been closed for business since the end of January due to concerns over the fast-spreading virus. Additionally, hundreds of other smaller studios have shut down. The Chinese government gave instructions to stay away and did not say when employees at the facilities should return to work.

“Nobody can be sure that the authorities truly have their arms around the virus crisis yet. Until then, there cannot be any let up for the production sector. I can’t see there being much real filming before April,” surmised Andre Morgan, a veteran producer.  Some others working in the industry imagined production facilities would remain closed till June. 

All of this comes at a cost, and it’s unclear who exactly will be held responsible for the bill. Unfinished productions hanging in limbo are taking up studio space. The studios recognize the critical circumstances and have indicated they will cut breaks for television and movie productions for sets and equipment. But the rental fees for stages might not be included in the deal. And it’s not clear how long the studios can sustain the financial blow. On top of it, shares of many major Chinese film companies have been dropping. 

If the currently halted productions remain shut down until the start of the summer-shoot season, many projects won’t survive. There’s a set schedule for each movie to be shot, and any delay amounts to loss of revenue because the production is supposed to be completed, allowing it to be shown in theaters and pull in profits.

Currently, reports indicate the novel coronavirus has sickened over 80,000 people across the globe and killed at least 2,700 in 35 countries. The White House is expected to request $1 billion to benefit local, state, and federal agencies to prepare for the coronavirus response in the United States as well as encourage the creation of a vaccine. 

 

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