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UPDATED: August 1, 2011 NO. 31 AUGUST 4, 2011
Movies Go Global
Partnerships present new opportunities to Chinese films

HOLLYWOOD CAST: Christian Bale (left), starring in Zhang Yimou's new workThe 13 Women of Nanjing (MYTIME.COM)

A matter of destiny

A few months ago, Mike Medavoy, the producer behind a string of critically acclaimed hits including Black Swan and All the King's Men, came to Shanghai and announced he would participate in the Shanghai Film Group Corp.'s version of A Jewish Piano. The film, based on a book written by Chinese Canadian author Bei La, tells the story of European Jews who sought refuge in Shanghai during World War II. For Medavoy the film is a reflection of his personal history; his Russian-Jewish parents took refuge in the city during the war.

Shanghai-born Medavoy has been involved in the production of more than 300 Hollywood movies including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Platoon, Dances With Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs, and the Oscar-winning Black Swan.

He had described making a movie about Jewish refugees in Shanghai as a personal mission.

"We have found a perfect partner," said Ren of the SFGC.

In order to make A Jewish Piano a success, Medavoy and his Chinese partners have scoured the world to put together a world-class production team. Nicholas Meyer, a famous Hollywood script writer, has been hired.

"Movies are becoming more and more globalized. International cooperation will bring more opportunities for my Chinese colleagues to learn advanced film production techniques," said Medavoy at a press conference in Shanghai. "Because of my love for Shanghai, I must make a marvelous movie this time," he said.


"More film makers are becoming acquainted with China's policy on movie cooperation, and their attitudes are becoming more active," said Zhang of China Film Co-Production Corp., which was founded in 1979. In the past 30 years, 800 movies have been produced in collaboration with other countries and regions, principally Hong Kong and Taiwan. "In the past we had to go abroad to seek partners for films, now overseas filmmakers come to us," she said.

In Zhang's opinion, there are two main reasons for the boom in movie co-production. First, China's movie market is growing rapidly. Domestic box office revenues hit a new high of 10 billion yuan ($1.55 billion) last year and foreign film makers are finding new opportunities in this expanding market. Second, China has further relaxed rules and regulations on movie cooperation. For example, movies can now receive subsidies from both China and their home countries and also be distributed as domestic movies in both markets.

Six countries have so far signed cooperation agreements on movie production with China. They are Australia, Italy, Canada, France, New Zealand and Singapore. The co-produced movies are treated as Chinese films for domestic distribution without quota control, and also protected in overseas markets.

New vigor

"Co-produced movies have displayed unprecedented creativity and vigor recently," said Zhang. Cooperation usually starts right at the beginning with the writing of the screenplay. "Jointly producing a screenplay helps the flow of ideas between two cultures, which is good for the distribution and marketing of the movie," she said.

"China has a great wealth of cultural and philosophical thought," said Christopher J. Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. "We are willing to support the ambitious movie industry development proposal outlined in China's next Five-Year Plan (2011-15)," he said.

Sino-American collaboration in movie production dates back to 1913 when China's first feature film Die for Marriage, co-directed by Zheng Zhengqiu and Zhang Shichuan, invested in by an American company, was shot in Shanghai.

"Of course there have been some setbacks in the history of Sino-American movie cooperation. But the Chinese movie industry has matured, and our cooperation has also made great progress. We can make full use of our advanced movie technology to show Chinese culture to global audience and help Chinese movies go international," said Dodd.

At the Chinese box-office, co-produced movies often bring in more distribution revenue than imported foreign movies. "Profit is the biggest power for Chinese and foreign companies to co-produce movies," said Shi Nan Sun, a well-known Hong Kong film maker.

Last year 47 Chinese movies were sold to about 60 countries. Of those, 46 were co-produced by domestic and overseas companies.

"Co-production is the best way to create business value for movies," said Han Sanping, Chairman of China Film Group Corp. "Co-production can provide more distribution channels for a movie. Chinese companies can distribute the movie on the mainland, in Hong Kong and Taiwan while foreign partners can sell the movie to international markets. So co-produced movies bring more profit and gain for both sides."

In addition to commercial movies, many directors of artistic films are trying to attract investment and produce work with the help of overseas partners in co-production.

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