Hollywood switches focus to China’s billions

8 July 2013 9 h 34 min Comments Off

The international struggle to break into the Asian superpower’s burgeoning film market is transforming the industry, reports Olivia Goldhill

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Thin-skinned: nudity led to Django Unchained, above, being pulled in China. Photo: Andrew Cooper

(Telegraph, Jul 07, 2013)Every day in China, 10 new cinema screens are added to the country’s huge collection of 13,000. Home to the largest film studios in the world, at nearly 500,000 square metres, China’s movie industry grew 36pc over the past year and is now worth £1.7bn annually.

Last year, the Asian superpower overtook Japan to become the second largest film market worldwide, far bigger than Britain or India, and closing fast on the international movie giant, the United States. By the end of the next decade, the Asian superpower is expected to play host to the largest film market.

It all means that China’s ticket sales are too big for major western studios to ignore, as films distributed in China can potentially make more than Hollywood productions released internationally.

Last year, China’s comedy Lost in Thailand became the first local production to break through the one-billion-yuan mark, making £136m in total. Over the same period, Hollywood’s Oscar-winning Zero Dark Thirty made £73m, despite being released in more than 60 countries.

But breaking into China’s box office isn’t as simple as dubbing western productions or adding subtitles.

China still has an annual film quota for the number of revenue-sharing foreign films accepted for full distribution rights. Although that rose from 20 to 34 last year, the extra spots are reserved for 3D, Imax or animations, and competition is fierce.

China does allow in a few extra films (76 were imported in total last year) but any film that doesn’t get one of the 34 revenue-sharing slots will receive one payment of a few hundred thousand dollars and no percentage of ticket sales.

Studios hoping to access China must appeal to both the country’s audience and its government, and in a dedicated attempt to break into the box office and gain a coveted foreign film slot, major production companies are now packing their cameras and moving to China.

Legendary Pictures, Paramount, Dreamworks, 21st Century Fox, and Disney are just some of the major studios with projects or companies based in China.

British producers are following suit, with Pinewood Shepperton, home of James Bond, announcing a joint venture with Chinese media group Seven Stars in April.

Chief executive of the British Film Institute, Amanda Nevill, has just got back from Shanghai International film festival, where she met many producers including Bona Film Group, the largest privately-owned film distributor in China, and the Huayi Brothers, one of the country’s largest media conglomerates, founded by siblings Wang Zhongjun and Wang Zhonglei.

Ms Nevill is now looking into a partnership with the Beijing film archive and creating a BFI channel on China’s version of YouTube. She says: “This is not an issue of going in flag-waving or whatever, it’s about going in with an absolute collaborative stance.

“I really felt that we as a nation needed to propel the building up of relationship with the Chinese because I could see the studios were already in there.”

Western film companies based in China stress the importance of being perceived as a local organisation, not a foreign export, in order to succeed.

The Chinese branch of James Cameron’s film company, CPG China, has a joint venture with Tianjin Northern Film Group and Tianjin Hi-tech Holding Group to promote 3D filmmaking and equipment development, and is very focused on their image as a company at home in China.

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