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Print Edition> Culture
UPDATED: December 23, 2013 NO. 52 DECEMBER 26, 2013
Behind the Scenes
A list ranking China's writers by income revealed that screenwriters earn much more than expected
By Bai Shi

Strong demand produces huge trade. In 2012, all TV stations on the Chinese mainland spent a combined total of 8 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) on purchasing TV dramas, and TV drama income from Internet channels reached 3 billion yuan ($494 million), according to Zhang.

Zhang also expects that the Chinese market for TV entertainment will stay stable in the long term.

For screenwriters, they are benefiting from huge investments into the TV industry. Faced with increasingly fierce competition, every TV drama producer hopes to come across good stories and cooperate closely with established screenwriters.

Long road ahead

Shi Zhongshan, a renowned screenwriter, said "The income list not only reveals the increasing value of screenwriters today, but also the popularity of good screenplays among audiences."

Shi, 49, is a writer of military-themed novels and screenplays. He ranks No. 6 on the list with a total income of 21 million yuan ($3.5 million). As for the income listed by his name, Shi said it was an incomplete number certainly. He said he was glad to see such a list for screenwriters.

"The ranking is not important. The list is a reflection of our work," Shi said.

Though the rewards for writing screenplays have increased a lot, screenwriters are cautiously optimistic of the situation, Shi said.

"Compared with directors and actors, writers are disadvantaged," Shi said. "In order to finish a script, I work day and night. Often, I was paid much less than the directors and actors. For many years, screenwriters went unknown to the public."

The poor treatment of Chinese screenwriters can be attributed to many factors. Most importantly, the professional organization that represents screenwriters is not established enough, said Gao.

Gao is the head of the China Radio and Television Association TV Series Screenwriters Committee, the first professional association for screenwriters across the country. The organization was only recently formed in Beijing back in 2011.

Gao suggests that people take the United States as an example. As early as in 1921, the Screen Writers Guild came into existence in Hollywood. The organization did a lot of work to unite screenwriters and improve their treatment as well as protecting their intellectual property rights. Today, screenwriters have become an important group in the entertainment industry in the United States.

In contrast, for many years, Chinese screenwriters lacked unification. There were many problems, such as poor self-discipline, plagiarizing, difficulty safeguarding legal rights and low wages. It was necessary to establish an organization for screenwriters, according to Gao.

"With the cooperation of more than 200 renowned screenwriters, we founded our organization," Gao said, "The organization is dedicated to regulating screenwriters' behavior, protecting our legal rights, encouraging originality in writing scripts and improving industry standards."

"Our organization is only 2 years old. We have a long way to go and a lot of tasks ahead of us," Gao added.

In addition, TV producers are eager for short-term profit and success, which brings problems. Some TV dramas have found themselves the subjects of ridicule online over their absurd storylines and terrible dialogue.

Yu Zheng, a 35-year-old screenwriter, has made headlines in the past for his TV adaptations of classic stories. He ranked No.3 on the list, with earnings of 24 million yuan ($3.95 million). Over the last five years, Yu has been very productive. He wrote more TV dramas than any other screenwriters on the list and started the careers of a number of young actors and actresses after they starred in shows written by him.

However, Yu's adapted screenplays have drawn criticism for their obvious self-contradictions, violation of common sense and the barely believable relationships between characters. Many critics said that Yu is too brazen to be allowed to handle adaptations of classics, and that his work is an insult to the original authors. Despite the controversy, Yu's stories do well with younger audience and are commercially successful.

According to Gao, Chinese audiences are maturing day by day and he expects they will be tired of watching such poorly written dramas, eventually craving for more substantial entertainment. At present, "the popularity of some terrible stories warns us the number of good stories is too few. I believe, in the next few years, Chinese TV dramas will rise to new heights in terms of quality."

Email us at: baishi@bjreview.com

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