HONG KONG Fortune Star won’t announce its first film slate until this fall, and for a reason rarely heard of in Hong Kong.
Over the next two months, the production house set up by News Corp.’s Star Group in January is taking two years’ worth of potential movie scripts to distributors and exhibitors across Asia, the U.S. and Europe. With their feedback, Fortune Star will whittle the choices down to a slim four- or five-picture-a-year slate. Then it’ll head into production.
Some film companies are skeptical of this go-slow process, and it’s not only that pre-planning and market research are anathema to the industry: the fear of rampant piracy is simply too great.
However, Fortune Stargeneral manager Peter Poon optimistically expects the planning to pay off in well-orchestrated marketing, better quality pics, wider distribution and, ultimately, better box office results.
“The script is the most important thing,” says Poon, voicing an opinion rarely heard until recently in the Hong Kong film industry. “It’s quality over quantity. We’re obtaining a lot of market info based on scripts to see how a film will travel and see how casting will be affected.”
Rarer still, focus groups might also have a say at the end of the process.
Poon is part of a wave of change taking place in Hong Kong — industry professionals looking to capitalize on renewed interest from abroad to raise the quality of one of the territory’s most famous exports.
On projects targeted for the international market, Poon is employing an American scriptwriter to work alongside a local one.
But some things do tend to stay the same. Despite hoping not to focus on any particular genre, Poon says action films are a consistently good bet. Hong Kong movies are, after all, best known for slow-motion gunplay and manic martial arts. “No one wants to see a Hong Kong sci-fi movie,” says Poon, who was deputy general manager for Media Asia before he joined Fortune Star. “Action will sell across Asia.”
Poon will work alongside Michael Mak, head of Chinese-language production for Star Group. And of course, projects will be Asian-related with Asian casts and directors, since, Poon says, “We don’t want to compete with big brother Fox.”
Keen to capitalize on its 600-title catalog of movies that includes Bruce Lee classics and films starring Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat and Sammo Hung, Fortune Star is developing programming which includes made-for-television movies, a reality show and an infotainment program for local and international distribution.
In July, , Fortune Star starts production in L.A. with Triage Entertainment and West End Stories on “Hong Kong Cafe,” a one-hour series highlighting Hong Kong action and martial arts movies, to be distributed by DreamWorks Television in the U.S. while handling Asian distribution itself.
It has already started production in Malaysia for telepic “An Autumn Diary.”
Best of all for Fortune Star, there is the potential for its products to receive plugs from News Corp.’s network of channels. For now, that means having three people stationed in Malaysia, housed in the offices of News Corp.’s Star. Further expansion means it can set up camp in any of Star’s offices around the region, much like Star’s other channels do.