Industry Report: Focus: Asia & Oceania
US-China Summit: 'Trick is finding common ground'
by John Hazelton
- Zhang was one of the luncheon speakers at the event, staged for the fourth year running by the Asian Society Southern California and Entertainment & Media in Asia. Speaking to an audience estimated by the organisers at 4-500, Zhang urged US and Chinese film makers to get past their cultural differences and work together more often.
“I would like our American friends to do away with your hesitations,” Zhang said. “Just go forward. Let’s join hands so that American and Chinese movie makers can make movies that will take the breath of the whole world away.”
Zhang, who was presented with the event’s Co-Production Leadership Award, said that during the summit’s morning panel sessions, “I heard two groups of people talk. The first group had never engaged in co-production with China. I feel that their talk was really off from what’s actually going on in China. The second group was the people who have been to China and had personal experience of cooperation. They have a better understanding of what is going on in China.”
During a panel reviewing the past year in China, Michael Ellis, Asia-Pacific president and managing director of the Motion Picture Association, highlighted the continuing growth of the market - with box office for the first three quarters of 2013 almost equal to the $2.7bn for the whole of 2012 - and discussed what he said were “myths” about the Hollywood studios having problems with the Chinese industry and government.
Yang Buting, chairman of the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Association, emphasized the increasing popularity of home grown films - with 57% of total box office in the first half of the year earned by Chinese films - and increased screen penetration in smaller cities and rural areas of the country.
Several speakers noted the recent success of lower budget local films but Xue Xiaolu, director of recent hit Finding Mr Right, said that adopting a “low-cost, big box office model” was “like gambling.”
On a panel about the cultural impact of collaboration between China and Hollywood, Ye Ning, group vice president of Wanda Cultural Industries Group, said his company “wants to grasp the opportunity to build a platform for business” between the US and China. The challenge, he said is not just adapting to different business practices: “The real challenge is about understanding and respecting different cultures.”
Charles Coker, managing director of equity fund Dasym Media, which has been involved in two official US-China co-productions, said: “Each side has to learn how to work with each other. The trick is to find common ground.”
Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, said that to help fulfill China’s soft power ambitions, “It’s very important that Chinese films at some point do well abroad.”
Producer Janet Yang moderated a panel on the practicalities of making films in China. In the session, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia CEO Ellen Eliasoph told attendees that “the process of censorship in China is not as daunting as one might think. What is very scary is the fact that China does not have a film rating system. Because that constrains everyone to making movies on about a PG-13 level. It’s something that not only foreign filmmakers complain about but Chinese filmmakers as well.”
Other panel sessions at the Summit covered the media perspective on US-China films relations, opportunities in China in animation and technology and the future of collaboration between the US and Chinese film industries.
The Summit’s gala dinner incorporated conversations with Motion Picture Association of America chairman and CEO Christopher Dodd and actress Li Bingbing.