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MPAA Chief Points to Opportunities in China

Chris Dodd speaks to Variety about how Hollywood can expand in China

BEIJING — Motion Picture Assn. of America chairman Chris Dodd believes opportunities are growing at a furious pace for Hollywood in China and the whole dynamic of the world’s second biggest film market is changing rapidly.

The MPAA chief, who took on the job in March 2011, was in Beijing for talks with Cai Fuchao, the new minister in charge of the expanded biz regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT). He also met Tong Gang, the head of the powerful Film Bureau, which decides what films are approved in China.

“What you’re witnessing is the maturation of a relationship. There are far better opportunities for U.S. filmmakers here,” the former Senator from Connecticut said in an interview with Variety in a Beijing hotel.

There are certainly issues, such as late payments and a problem with blackouts of overseas movies to make way for locally produced product — DreamWorks’ “The Croods” was last week taken off screens early, after a very strong run, to stop it competing with local product.

However, the very existence of these kinds of problems was a sign that access was improving and the market was expanding.

“I’m not saying they are great news … but they are issues we would have liked to have had a few years ago, and I see a lot of this as a reflection that there is a lot more product available overall. I do everything I can to iron out these issues. Things like the blackout seem less (serious) than a year ago; I’m optimistic the delayed payments issue will be resolved too,” he said.

With 10 screens being built a day in China, the demand for content continues to grow, and even signs of an expanding market share for local movies was good news for Hollywood, as it meant a growing audience in China.

“They’d like to develop a product that has a global audience and they realize the maturation of the Chinese film industry has got some growing to do. They realize the most mature filmmaking companies in the world are located in the United States. They’d like to have a close working relationship, offering co-production services without limitations in exchange for the opportunity to learn,” he said.

The lion’s share of Hollywood’s B.O. is now international and China has moved up to the number two spot ahead of Japan, and is expected to move up to number one before too long.

The Chinese government’s decision in February last year to expand the quota of overseas movies from around 20 to 34 per year on a revenue-share basis, including enhanced format pics, had changed the whole dynamic of the Chinese market, but Dodd remains hopeful that one day the quota too would disappear.

“We’d like to have no limitations, no quotas, but we have to deal with the world in which we live. My hope is that one day, not too far down the road when China says come on in and bring your products and we’ll let the audience decide. My hope is that it will happen sooner rather than later,” said Dodd.

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