Transformers: Age of Extinction almost didn’t see a Chinese opening. After months of filming in China, working with both government and private enterprises, this could have been a serious financial and public relations disaster for Paramount Films and director Michael Bay.
Owners of a Beijing hotel and plaza featured in Transformers 4: Age of Extinction sought to sue parties involved with the film. The owners of Pangu Plaza in Beijing, felt that their property was not given enough screen time and exposure. They also stated they felt cheated during promotional activities for the film’s release. They demanded all scenes featuring the plaza be edited out, and sought government help to halt the film’s opening.
Jiaflix, an American-led, Chinese-based company also involved in the dispute, has said that Pangu’s owners simply seek to create an international incident for their own financial gain. Though Paramount and Pangu came to an agreement, the lawsuit is not over.
Michael Bay and Paramount have been having a rough time working in China. Asides from having to tip toe through heavy regulations on film production, they met with a violent extortion attempt on the first day of Hong Kong filming. And now this lawsuit nearly killed the film’s release altogether.
Michael Bay and Paramount were most likely willing to go through struggles in China to access the Chinese market. China only allows 34 foreign films per year to be seen by the Chinese public. Foreign films can be censored or criticized by the government for any number of reasons, and get pulled from Chinese theaters. Many studios walk on eggshells in China. And many foreign films alter content and casting to please the Chinese government-backed gatekeepers.
But many companies hope to reap extensive financial benefits by working in China. The more that foreign film producers are willing to conform to China’s rules and give up a certain amount of creative control, the higher percentage of money they are allowed to receive from ticket sales.
Was it worth it for Michael Bay and Paramount to release this film in China? Could they have had an easier time of it, and still done well financially, if they had filmed solely in America, or in some other country? Most likely they are following a recent trend in Hollywood: films that do awful in the United States still make out financially in Asia. But America still holds the world’s biggest film market. So perhaps Michael Bay and company were simply preparing to fail.