BEIJING — As Hollywood goes hunting for a bigger share of China’s B.O. boom, Sino co-productions are the preferred method. Full co-productions are treated as domestic films, and do not fall under the import quota. They stand a much stronger chance of getting a mainland release, have immunity from blackout periods and generate a greater revenue share for producers and distribs.
But with projects like “Iron Man 3” reportedly still coming up short of co-production status, and with other projects failing to be recognized as the genuine article by an increasingly suspicious China Film Bureau, the designation is becoming more and more difficult to come by.
Zhang Zhao, CEO of the private Chinese shingle Le Vision, advocates avoiding the hassle of seeking co-production status, and will be telling Hollywood shingles at AFM to partner with his company to focus on promoting their films, specifically to Chinese auds.
“I don’t think co-productions are that important; don’t bother getting your business into political turmoil,” Zhang says. “Save your energy for marketing in China. If you give (your film) to China Film to deal with, you’re one of 35. Give it to me, and it’s one of one.”
Le Vision was involved in “Expendables 2” from development and production, marketing and distribution. It bowed Aug. 17 day-and-date in China. Lionsgate and Le Vision tried and failed to have the film registered as a co-production, and the pic bowed against “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Amazing Spider-man” and “Prometheus” — the biggest movies of the year. “Expendables 2” took in 340 million yuan ($54.5 million) on the mainland, nearly 19% of the pic’s global box office. Zhang, who had acquired the Chinese rights to the film, including Hong Kong and Macau, shared in the profits as an investor and distributor.
“With ‘Expendables 2,’ we read the script, discussed the casting with Sly Stallone, and that helped a lot. When looking at the Chinese element, we thought how to position it,” says Zhang, who studied in the U.S.
For the marketing, Le Vision ran a platform campaign that included distributing 1 million souvenir scarves; 2 million fake tattoos; exhaustively using Weibo, China’s version of Twitter; and giving away 200,000 team flags for group auds.
“You need a different marketing approach, and a system to realize this,” Zhang says. “With these souvenirs, we made an action film into a family film.”
Zhang feels the competition for auds in China will be among Hollywood movies, and that every U.S. film needs to be connected to local audiences emotionally, using social networks and small events.
“If you don’t do the localization right, you can’t expect the local box office to be right,” Zhang says. “The China market is huge, but if you don’t market well, it’s just a film.”