There are several options for the visas to china:
J-2 Journalist Visa. For a fully ´above board project´ at least some of the crew, particularly cameramen need to have this sort of visa. Costs for full government permission for project start around $6000USD and then go steeply up. All the documentation and permissions will take a minimum of 60 days or more to process. This proves impractical and outrageously expensive for just about everyone except very large projects. If you ask your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate they will insist that this is the only visa and the only way to shoot in China, however in actuality even on an official project only a small percentage of the crew or cast will be on this visa.
Do not talk with the embassy until you know what type of project you want to shoot in China and have information on filling out the forms from one of the production houses here as there are several mistakes you can make that will tie both the embassy and your hands in gaining entry.
F or L Business or tourist visas. Working with local permissions. Generally this works for a project, almost all small projects in China come in on this sort of visa, technically it is a grey area of legality, though even on the official project the majority of crew, cast or contestants will come in on one of these visas. Especially if you are working on a Corporate Documentary project you can get a letter of invitation from that company that will get you a business visa. In reality both visa types are equal but people feel more comfortable with the more expensive business one. There are some problems bringing in large amounts of equipment with this sort of visa and you cannot have it shipped separately so it is better to use a local source for all or most (see equipment) if you are handling the project this way.
Multiple Entry: Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao require separate visas and you will need a multiple entry visa if you plan to leave and travel back to the Mainland. Often the cost for Multiple and Single entry are the same so why not apply to be able to enter several times?
Photography Projects: In our experience we have never had a photographer come on anything other than an F or L visa but again you need help in filling out the visa forms or you can make simple mistakes that will make it impossible to shoot in China.
The Chinese Embassies around the world are each their own quirky fiefdoms with requirements which only a local visa assistance company will understand, therefore it is worth the extra money to go through such an agent to get your visas even if you live in a city with an embassy or consulate. And again you should have chosen a Production Support house and discuss the type of project you have in mind shooting before you call or meet with embassy staff.
Gingerfilms covers ALL of mainland China and specializes in remote or difficult regions.If you need SARFT approval we have good connections there as well. If you are worried about the authorities showing up for your shoot, don´t, they´re already there foraging at the craft service table. For large productions we can work with you on the applications and permissions or on smaller productions on the regional permissions needed if at all.
Our strengths are locations, scouting places where no one has shot yet and turning it into an adventure.