Mechanic tunes up Asia biz

TIFFCOM panelists discuss future of movie industry

Digitization and the changes in store for people under 40 will make Asia the future engine of film industry growth, according to Bill Mechanic, former topper of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

“Only thing is, we won’t call it the film industry in a few years’ time,” he told a seminar Tuesday at Tokyo Film Festival’s Tiffcom market, moderated by Daily Variety‘s Patrick Frater.

Mechanic was cool about Hollywood’s local production initiatives, saying, “We have nothing to teach people (in Asia) about making movies for their own audiences.”

But he said language, themes that were too local and poor storytelling would stop films from crossing international borders.

A successful film probably would fuse multicultural influences, like “The Matrix.” “One day someone will work out how to do anime in English,” he added.

Mechanic was joined on the podium by Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi (“Infernal Affairs,” “Seven Swords”) and Japan’s Satoru Iseki (“Smoke,” “Emperor and the Assassin”), who pointed to the growth in size and sophistication of the Chinese industry and its market as key drivers for future film industry growth.

Suggesting the Chinese B.O. is growing by 50% a year, Shi said, “The results will become very obvious in three years.”

Iseki said Asia was developing its own multinational production principles, which have less bureaucracy than their European co-production equivalents and are still capable of attracting bank financing.

His upcoming co-production “The Battle of Wits” was made through a special-purpose company registered in Hong Kong.

“It is a Chinese story, based on a Japanese manga, with investors from China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea,” he said. “The four put in cash and structured it somewhere between a co-production and a co-investment. We did it in a very Asian manner.”

Shi made an emphatic case for Hong Kong’s pivotal role in the development of the Chinese movie industry, based on the territory’s experience, linguistic and tech skills and the growing freedoms afforded by the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement.

But she also said too many players in the Chinese biz have more money than experience.

“Chinese companies really need to learn to believe in the professionals,” she said. “They need to listen to audiences, not themselves. The great Hong Kong companies that did not last didn’t believe in what audiences were telling them.”

The nine-day Tokyo fest ends Sunday.

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