Film Bureau welcomes new productions

China is open for business on international co-productions and is keen to welcome foreign filmmakers, a senior official from China’s all-powerful Film Bureau of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a forum at the Shanghai Intl Film Festival, Jiang Ping was seeking to calm fears that China intends to crack down on co-productions and is too quick to wield the stick with foreign filmmakers when things get politically sensitive in China.

He said that co-productions were entitled to all the benefits of domestically produced films, adding “Co-productions are important for bringing Chinese culture to the world.” Filmmakers are attracted to the country by lower production costs, great infrastructure and locations and access to the fastest growing major movie market in the world.

However, dealing with the authorities can be tricky, especially at times of heightened political sensitivity, such as during the international outcry following Beijing’s crackdown on anti-Chinese protests in Tibet in March.

In February, Mikael Hafstrom’s “Shanghai” for The Weinstein Co. and Phoenix Pictures was refused a permit, even though the pic was three months into development and had spent $3 million.

Co-productions count as local Chinese films and are not limited by the import quota on foreign films, but they do have to meet local censorship rules, which mean project must have approval before they begin.

The other category is “facilitated” co-productions, where Chinese companies offer help with location and assist production. Such projects only have to pass the censors if they are to screen in China.

Jiang painted an upbeat picture of the situation in China. SARFT had approved 180 co-productions in five years, and over 20 facilitated films. Last year 39 co-productions were approved, and eight facilitated films, he said.

“Our policies are becoming much more open. There were reports that there would be some tightening in 2008 but that’s a misunderstanding. We need better communication,” said Jiang, referring specifically to co-productions with Hong Kong companies.

“Chinese movies will not only assimilate the cream of other industries but also make their own mark in the world,” said Jiang.

See-yuen Ng, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, was the first Hong Kong helmer to do a co-production movie in China.

“Hong Kong’s Achilles’ Heel is that it is small. Without the overseas market, film there cannot thrive. Mainland provides great locations for our movies,” Ng said. “When I first came to the mainland, the technical sophistication was very low, we did five or six scenes a day whereas we could do 60 a day in Hong Kong. Now the technical skills are nearly as good as Hong Kong thanks to help from Hong Kong.”

China’s 300 film producers made 402 features last year plus 122 digital films, 22% up on the previous year. For the last five years, the Chinese film industry has grown by 20% a year.

Yu Dong, head of PolyBona, the Chinese distributor which is now working in many areas of the biz, including production, said co-productions were a great risk-management tool.

“To make the co-production cake bigger in China and to spread the risk better is a topic many of us are interested in. With co-production, a film is likely to be competitive not just in one country but in a whole region,” said Yu.

Producer Terrence Chang, long-time collaborator with John Woo and currently working on Asia’s biggest ever movie, “Red Cliff,” said there were was still some key areas where development was needed.

“China lacks deputy directors, good producers and special effects people. The CGI potential in China needs to be better developed — we have 1,500 special effects in this film,” said Chang.

Veteran producer Saturo Iseki urged moviemakers to focus on story first.

“Co-production is not an end, it’s a means. We need to define what we want to shoot. Find the story first, make a film, then sell it. In that order,” said Iseki.

Wang Tianyun, VP of Shanghai Film Group, reiterated the positive message on co-productions, which he said were a central plank in his company’s policy.

“Co-operation for reform and opening wider is our strategy. What would our industry look like now without co-productions?” said Wang.

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