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Hong Kong eyes bankroll

Fund looking at Australian model for inspiration

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s Film Development Committee is hoping to bridge the gap between filmmakers and banks, with a suggested fund and the prospect of further financing through bank loans.

While the idea is still in its infancy, the film financing subcommittee suggested at a meeting last week that the fund be established through the government, but independently operated by fund managers. It is looking at an Australian model for inspiration.

The idea is to have filmmakers put up 25% of a pic that fulfills criteria important to any investor — cast, director, budget, schedule — with the film fund picking up another 25%. A bank would then give a loan for the remaining 50%.

This is a novel proposal in Hong Kong, where pics are usually independently financed or get coin from co-production partners.

Both bankers and filmmakers need to be educated on this model, says Felix Fong Wo, head of the film financing subcommittee. He added that there needs to be a meeting point for the two because filmmakers aren’t very traditional and banks in Hong Kong aren’t familiar with film financing. “We want to have a platform that is easy to use.”

Already, 10 banks have shown interest, he says.

Fong says however that most Hong Kong lawyers aren’t equipped to write up finance agreements, and film companies won’t be happy to have to allocate more of their budgets for lawyers and accountants.

Fong hopes to meet with filmmakers in Hong Kong in the next week and have a second roundtable discussion with bankers and filmmakers before the end of the month.

But as with all things related to government, these things take time.

The Film Development Committee was created by the government to help support the ailing Hong Kong industry, which has seen its productions continue to drop each year. Members of the committee were appointed by the chief executive of the territory and will serve from Nov. 2005 until Oct. 2007.

Also discussed at the most recent meeting were ways to make it easier for Hong Kong films to be shown in China’s Guangdong province, which is just across the border and shares the same Cantonese dialect.

“Hong Kong is so similar to Guangdong in so many ways,” says Nansun Shi, exec director of production shingle Film Workshop and a member of the Film Development Committee.

Suggestions included having Hong Kong films released only in Guangdong — to be censored locally as well — as opposed to going through censors in Beijing, which approves films with the whole country in mind.

The second point suggested was allowing Hong Kong-made films that aren’t full co-productions to be distributed only in Guangdong. Currently, Hong Kong pics distributed on the mainland need to be co-productions.

And last: Allowing Hong Kong companies to import and distribute films in Guangdong through a joint venture or local business, as opposed to going through China Film Group.

Shi suggested calling Guangdong a “Special Cultural Region” for Hong Kong.