Co-productions: China's new plan for international movie success

Xu Fei China Plus Published: 2018-01-03 13:23:24
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Renowned American film producer Mitchell Peck gives a lecture at a master class arranged by the organizers of Silk Road International Film Festival in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, on Nov 30, 2017. [Photo: China Plus]

Renowned American film producer Mitchell Peck gives a lecture at a master class arranged by the organizers of Silk Road International Film Festival in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, on Nov 30, 2017. [Photo: China Plus]

In recent years, with the number of screens and box office growth in China, many countries have set their eyes on China, hoping to grasp the opportunities that the Chinese market has to offer.

Seeing the trend, a renowned American film producer recently came to China offering his insight on how to build movie characters that will resonate in cross-cultural co-productions.

Laiming has more.

Since 2015, the number of co-productions between China and other nations has boomed. More and more countries have come forward to sign film co-production deals with China.

Mitchell Peck is best known in China for producing the movie "Priest."

"I think the opportunity is, for the Chinese film community, to incorporate western characters into Chinese stories to get western audiences to engage with them. I think the same opportunities for western, for Hollywood and European movies, is to have more real and three-dimensional great Chinese characters; the same is truth for both."

In fact, it's quite common for a co-production to have actors and actresses on both sides. For instance, Chinese pop star Jay Chou was cast in a 2016 American heist thriller film "Now You See Me 2".

Chinese actress Li Bingbing was also cast for "Guardians of the Tomb", an upcoming 2018 science fiction horror film which is the largest Chinese-Australian co-production to date.

But according to Mitchell Peck, a co-production featuring familiar faces on both sides is not enough.

"I think the headline is, that I would say, is that you have to have a screenplay that have stories that are relevant and appealing to audiences beyond your local one. It's important to have stories that have international application."

Mitchell Peck was in Fuzhou, joining the Silk Road International Film Festival, where he discussed the future of co-productions with a number of Chinese film industry insiders.

He noted that storytelling is more important than rhetoric. By emphasizing the importance of screenplays in a film project, Mitchell Peck pointed out what he believes the disadvantage the Chinese film industry is confronted with now.

"I think that China needs to prioritize screenplays more. I've heard from the people I talked to here that sometimes it's looked at as an afterthought, like we have all the money; we have all the stars, ready to go, just you know, get us the screenplay and we'll make this movie. You know, as if you snap your fingers and the screenplay will materialize. Whereas in America, they realize that it is the foundation of the process and they make room for it and they prepare to make the time and the expense necessary to cultivate screenplays knowing that it's a labor-intensive, time-consuming process but there's no shortcuts."

The point: what kind of movie does an international audience really want to see? This is the biggest question for filmmakers now.

Although Chinese audiences easily fall in love with historical period dramas, Mitchell Peck thinks this genre of film is much less attractive to international audiences.

In December 2016, a large-budget US–China co-production, "The Great Wall" starring global superstar Matt Damon was released in China. Although the top-notch director Zhang Yimou was ambitious about the film's global release in 68 countries and regions, Mitchell Peck noticed the Great Wall failed to reach its anticipated box office earnings.

Mitchell Peck thinks that's because they set Matt Damon in an ancient period.

"I do like to see a movie with Matt Damon in a contemporary Chinese movie. I think that movie would make ten times as much money, because it's relevant. Does that make sense? I look at a period piece Chinese movie, even a period piece American movie, and I feel oh, its lessons are not so applicable to me."

A co-production can be considered a domestic film in China, enjoying benefits like preferential tax, investment policies and avoid being subject to the limit of foreign films that China imposes every year. Also, according to "chinafilm.com", co-productions are more suitable for different markets, which naturally have more commercial potential for international distribution.

So far, 20 countries have signed co-production agreements with China.

In making a co-production, China should develop its screenplays in connection with its international counterparts as Mitchell explains:

"China has every advantage. It can be the biggest and the most exciting film community on the planet. I think the only thing that's missing, or that's slowing down its progress, which is almost inevitable, is content. It just needs more content that is relevant to the world. That's why you need a fleet of screenwriters, an army of screenwriters, turning out screenplays and getting better and better. Because then, those movies can be made and that's important because that's how you get your culture travelling around the world, is through your movie."

During the Silk Road International Film Festival, a total of 19 international filmmaker representatives have signed co-production agreements with China.

According to a leader with the China Film Co., LTD., the total investments involved in these deals are estimated to reach 2.3 billion yuan or over 353 million US dollars. The anonymous leader believes the signing of these deals will help drive Chinese movies to reach beyond expectations, and facilitate exchanges and cooperation in the movie industry between China and the countries along the Silk Road.

For CRI, I'm Laiming.

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