FilMart: China Filmmakers Wrestle With Changing Market, Audiences

Cultural currency, identity and big data weigh on creative effort.

Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch

Filmmakers working in contemporary Greater China face difficult choices over how they target their movies.

Hong Kong, China and Taiwan have different cultures, different points of view,” said Abe Kwong, a writer and director from Hong Kong who is now the Beijing-based head of development at Wanda Media. “I no longer consider myself a Hong Kong film-maker.”

Kwong was speaking an informal panel of top executives and directors, organized by Fox International Productions to discuss ‘cultural currency’ in the region.

The company sponsors a prize for Chinese screen-writing at the HAF project market and will this year finance and produce three Chinese-language films.

FIP president Sanford Panitch (pictured) described a conundrum. “What makes a film successful locally can prevent it being international, but the most successful non-English-language films have often been the ones that are most local,” he said. He cited the recent examples of “Intouchables” and “3 Idiots.”

Giddens Ko, the cult Taiwanese author whose first film as director was the school days hit “You Are The Apple of My Eye” ruminated over why big Chinese movies often do not work in Taiwan and why Taiwanese movies can struggle in mainland China. But he also voiced his own conundrum. “I don’t want to be driven by thoughts of the market,” he said, but also said: “Taiwan is smalls and needs to seek audiences outside.”

The difficulty of reading the market in China as it evolves was voiced by nearly all present.

“The market is changing rapidly, and audiences too, they are getting younger and more similar to the U.S.,” said Carrie Wong, FIP’s Greater China head of development and production. “’Tiny Times’ was a social phenomenon in China similar to ‘The Hunger Games’. Three years ago this would not have been possible.”

Matthew Tang, a former Edko production executive now heading Movie Addict Productions, said he simply got lucky with hits “The Cold War” and “Finding Mr Right,” while with “Tales From The Dark” creativity was driven by being deliberately low-budget and knowing that because of its horror theme, it could not get a mainland China release.

Kwong and Wong both spoke of growing access to ‘big data’ and the use of statistical descriptions of audience tastes and trends. “There are many other film-makers who value it very highly. I listen, but only use this for reference. There are better things to focus on.”

“With four or five films per week releasing China is no longer an emerging market,” said Panitch. “The hits are the originals, the ones that are relate-able. Giddens’ films and Matthew’s films are easy to relate to.”