shanghai content production studio

Interview with founder of world-class photography and media production studio in Shanghai

Rodney Evans has since built a world-class photography and media production studio in Shanghai.

In 2005 he came to China as a photographer. Work was plentiful because the market was undeveloped relative to the West. In 2008, he was on the verge of opening his own studio in Shanghai. Due to the global financial crisis, both he and his business partner at the time agreed to put their plan on hold. However, the following year when visiting a warehouse in Shanghai he regularly shot in, the landlord proposed to rent him the site for use as a studio.

Central Studios Shanghai currently employs about 30 staff. They have worked with Coca-Cola, Old Navy, Apple, Yves Saint-Laurent, Nike, GAP, and Elle. Their studio is over 1,000 square meters and has 3 shooting rooms, VIP rooms, and office space for the post-production team.

Listen to the full China Paradigm episode 118 on YoutubeApple PodcastSpotifySoundcloud, or Ximalaya.

rodney evans
Rodney Evans

Market opening and business journey

Rodney opened Central Studios Shanghai because he recognized the market need for an international standard studio. He was tired of going to different locations to rent different equipment. Central Studios Shanghai was a one-stop-shop for brands who wanted to shoot in Shanghai when it opened. They mostly concentrated on renting equipment and shooting space to brands and did post-production to produce print media, magazines, and other OOH (out of home) channels such as billboards, in-store displays, and posters.

However, now Central Studio Shanghai mostly focuses on post-production, and digital media is the dominant channel they produce content for in terms of advertising. They create images or videos for brands who increasingly are basing their marketing campaigns around China’s e-commerce shopping holidays. The rental of equipment and shooting space now makes up less than 20% of their revenue.

“The internet has totally changed marketing in China, at first, we just did shoots in our photography and media production studio in Shanghai. These were released in clearly defined channels such as OOH (out of home), in-store, online, magazine print, and posters, etc.

Nowadays, it’s majority digital with a little in-store and outdoor. Back then, clients would pay less for digital because the lower level of technology i.e. internet speeds, device resolutions, etc. meant you couldn’t reach as many people. And now, they’ve gotten used to those low prices although digital reaches far more people than any other medium.”

Rodney Evans, founder of Central Studio Shanghai

Location and the rent

Location, according to Evans, is key to a business such as his. When he initially rented the space, there were old houses (老房子) and no metro links nearby. It is a very trendy location now. There are three metro lines and a huge shopping mall.

Many celebrities and globally famous brands have come to their studio in Shanghai. This has helped them with the landlord, who enjoys coming around to see the pictures of various celebrities who have been to the studio hanging on the walls. If the landlord weren’t so inclined, he could easily fetch a much higher price/rent for such a desirable location. Although he stated in the interview, people coming to the studio now only count for 20% of the studio’s income.

Industry overview

In Evan’s opinion, the development of virtual stores potentially has a big effect on the industry. KOLs don’t actually need to visit stores to live stream from them. Also, advances in computer-generated image technology could potentially have a big impact.

The covid-19 viruses had an immediate impact on Rodney Evans’ business for the first two months. They had to go into lockdown. However, clients had begun to coming back by April.

Foreign brands, photographers, and celebrities could not visit the country to work during the pandemic, so they needed somebody inside the country to take care of their marketing campaigns. Similarly, their Chinese counterparts could not leave the country. Many Chinese brands didn’t travel abroad to shoot campaigns this year. The result was a relatively good year for Rodney Evans’ photography and media production studio in Shanghai.

The market structure in China is slightly different from that in the West. Western production companies are more willing to outsource certain jobs or work. In contrast, their Chinese counterparts want to keep as much production in-house as possible. In 2019, Rodney restructured the business to do just this (did more post-production in-house), and the result was about a 25% saving.

Changes in the content production business

Over the last 10 years, Rodney has witnessed a massive change in the industry in China. From being very underdeveloped, the industry here is now on a par with its Western equivalents. There has been a massive rise in the level of professionalism.

However, photography stars in China do not have as much free time to develop their own styles due to the large volume of domestic work available. Despite a uniquely Chinese style, this copycatting has led to most mainstream photographers copying each other’s styles.

“I didn’t think I would start a media production business in China but there was massive room to grow as a commercial photographer because the market was so underdeveloped back then. We were the first international-level photography and media production studio in Shanghai and in China. We received widespread acclaim across China relatively quickly back then.

But over the last 10 years, the industry has gone from strength to strength. The rise in professionalism and the increase in the quality of the local photographers, technicians, the crew, and the creativity. The adoption of new technologies has been breathtaking. It is at a world-class level now. Having a studio for the last 11 years I’ve borne witness to this metamorphosis. We are now far from the only top-level media production business in China but I guess we just caught a wave and have been riding it ever since.”

Rodney Evans, founder of Central Studio Shanghai

Listen to the full China Paradigm episode 118 on YoutubeApple PodcastSpotifySoundcloud, or Ximalaya.