Chinese Doc Producers Work to Repay Crowd-sourcing Investors After Takings Fall Short

"No Zuo No Die" raised $810,000 in funding but only grossed $700,000 on opening, far less than the producers EE-Media had been hoping for.

Hong Kong – Producers of No Zuo No Die, a documentary about the trials and tribulations of contestants in Chinese talent shows, are reimbursing investors who backed the movie through crowdsourcing after it performed poorly at the box office.

The film tells of 12 contestants taking part in the 2013 show Happy Boys. It was funded by crowdsourcing, and millions of fans contributed around $810,000, which secured its successful shooting and a nationwide release in theaters on July 25.

The film was liked by critics, but did not set the box office on fire in the way producers had hoped.

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The film in total has made just over $1 million at the box office, including the box office from the people who participated in crowdfunding, so the producers say they will now try and make sure the investors get their money back.

The movie was directed by Fan Lixin, whose documentary Last Train Home won critical plaudits for its realistic portrayal of the annual journey of migrant workers from their urban workplaces to rural hometowns for Spring Festival.

The film won more than 60 prizes in different countries, including best feature-length documentary award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in 2009.

The producers had hoped for a bigger take, but documentaries have proven a hard sell in China, as film distributors and cinemas have shown little interest in documentaries. Securing a nationwide release in China for a documentary was an uphill task for the makers of No Zuo No Die.

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Talent shows focusing on the "super boys" and "super girls" of the generation in China born after 1990 have proven hugely popular, and Fang’s film explored the genre.

Despite the critical acclaim Last Train Home received globally, very few cinemas across a handful of cities showed the film.

Fan made his film as realistic as possible, which may have not gone down too well with audiences.

The movies catchy Chinglish phrase was recently listed in the American online Urban Dictionary, and it is generally translated as “dying while asking for trouble”, although it also means “If you don’t look for trouble, you won’t find any."

Crowdsourcing has been in the news in China since the country’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba, in April launched Yulebao — which translates as ‘Entertainment Treasure’ — a vehicle similar to crowdfunding, that lets thousands of ordinary Chinese become micro-financiers for movies.

However, Alibaba was careful to distinguish Yulebao from a traditional crowdsourcing scheme, which is illegal in China and sometimes seen by authorities as a form of pyramid scheme.

Investors in China are always on the lookout for new vehicles. The stock market is tightly controlled, and the real-estate market has become expensive, plus ordinary Chinese are generally not allowed to invest overseas.

Alibaba says Yulebao’s investors indirectly invest in the film industry, and earn capital gains on insurance and wealth management products.

Twitter: @cliffordcoonan