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China Smokes Out ‘Fake’ Co-Productions

Bizzers at Beijing fest warned that only pics with real local input will get coveted status

BEIJING – Co-productions remain a key vehicle for Hollywood movies to make their way into China, bizzers at the Beijing Film Festival were told today.

But overseas producers need to make sure their projects really do meet the co-production criteria.

There has been a crackdown in the past few months on what Chinese regulators see as attempts to take advantage of the benefits of co-production status by paying lip service to the requirements for significant local involvement and genuine Chinese components.

Last year there were only five official co-productions, according to regulatory body China Film Group, and none came from the U.S.

In 2012  Zhang Pimin, now deputy minister of powerful new regulator the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China, took a hard line on what he described as “fake” co-productions.

He was more conciliatory at the fest, which wraps on Tuesday.

“Co-production is a win-win situation. We pay a lot of attention to co-production because China adheres to multicultural principles, and I hope Chinese movies can go out into the world through co-production,” said Zhang.

Overseas filmmakers want co-production status because pics are treated as domestic films and do not fall under China’s 34-film import quota, and usually involve local investment in exchange for local distribution rights.

They stand a much stronger chance of getting a mainland Chinese release, have immunity from blackout periods and a greater revenue share.

Some movies, such as “Iron Man 3” (pictured) pushed hard for co-production status but did not get it, and the issue has proven divisive as both Hollywood and China try to co-operate more.

French producer Igor Darbo said the theme of co-production was omnipresent at the forums and informal discussions around the market.

“And the talk came not only from big studios and star producers but also from independents,” said Darbo, who announced thesp Stephen Lang had joined the cast of his Sino-Western co-production, “The Dragon Angel,” a family adventure set in China, which will be directed by Pitof.

“I noticed that both Chinese and foreigners are fine-tuning their approach to co-productions now that we can all benefit from past co-pro experiences,” said Darbo. “Visions look more precise now about the requirements for successful co-productions in terms of stories, production structure and marketing. I feel that people realized the complexity of Sino-Western co-productions and are working harder at it.”

There was also a strong focus on technical issues at the fest, including the surge in use of digital cameras.

Keanu Reeves shot his directorial debut “Man of Tai Chi” on an Alexa Studio digital camera. He told a panel he found it difficult to move from film, but the budget dictated he must use a digital camera.

Forest Liu, general manager of Arri China, said Chinese filmmakers were originally slower to adapt to digital cameras.

“It took them about a year longer. But when they did, they switched almost completely. I don’t think there is a single movie being shot with film in China right now,” said Liu.

He said Arri was focussed on building the China market.

“The digital revolution means we are in a different place, and we have made a decision to be present here. That will help us sell more here. Our Asian business is expanding, and now we have a presence in Beijing and Hong Kong we are expanding,” said Liu.

The Chinese market is now the world’s second biggest and a report issued by the Motion Picture Assn. and the China Film Distributors and Exhibitors Assn. (CFDEA) at the fest showed just how important the industry is.

The film and TV biz in China contributed $15.5 billion to the economy and supported 909,000 jobs in 2011, generating tax revenues of $3.4 billion.

CFDEA chairman Yang Buting said massive growth in China in the past five years was driven by auds’ desire to experience new pics and skeins on multiple platforms.

“More people are watching films and TV shows at new digital cinemas and on the latest hand-held devices than could ever have been imagined five years ago,” he said.

Piracy remains a major impediment to expansion of legitimate content in China. Zhu Yongde, chairman of the China Film Copyright Assn. (CFCA) said the report would help raise awareness of the importance of the rights of film and TV makers and copyright owners.

“The Chinese government has made a substantial commitment to protect creative work, and we have made significant progress to ensure that people have access to films and TV shows through the many legal means available to them. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that creative work is fully respected and protected,” said Zhu.

Charles Zhang, founder and topper of China’s giant Internet search engine Sohu, said online content theft was a major challenge to growth.

“We hope to work closely with the rest of the screen community to address these issues and help provide an even brighter future for film and television in China,” said Zhang.

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