CANNES: Top Executives Demystify China’s Growing Film Market

Demystifying China’s growing film market was the key task of senior executives assembled Friday in Cannes at The International Film Finance Forum.

The annual event is organized by Winston Baker and sponsored by Variety.

“China’s BO market potential is a mystery, but the way that the system operates is not,” said Jeffrey Chan, COO of Bona Film Group. “With the exception of the import quota, the distribution system is basically the same as everywhere else.”

Producer David U. Lee, head of Leeding Media, helpfully explained why box office records are being broken with such regularity. Audiences are rising in line with the growing number of cinemas being built, but as the supply of imported films remains limited the numbers for each movie get bigger. “In fact average box office per theatre has been flattening out for the past two years as cinema expands to third and fourth tier cities [where ticket prices are lower],” he said.

Li Yansong, president of iQIYI Motion Pictures, was on hand to explain how the online video companies are changing the Chinese film business.

“When we release a trailer two or three months out and we get 10 million views, it gives us great information as to which regions are responding,” Li said. “Big data allows us to mitigate risk when developing or own projects.

IM Global’s David Jourdan said that global interest in the growing Chinese marketplace does not – yet – translate into equivalent international interest in Chinese-language movies. “Pre-sales potential is still limited, so we can’t use the same production finance model as on English-language movies.”

That gap does not mean a lack of cash for film-making in China. “There is no shortage of film finance in China. Rather there is a shortage of good projects,” said David Lee.

Another panel heard executives discuss the growing array of Sino-foreign corporate alliances. The Weinstein Company’s David Glasser said TWC had spent much of the last three years trying to learn the fast-changing market before hatching deals. “We’ve just done a picture with Wanda,” he said, a reference to the Antoine Fuqua-directed “Southpaw.”

“We see China as an amazing source of movies for European viewers, we want to help Chinese movies be seen in more and more countries,” said Wild Bunch’s Vincent Grimond, before letting the audience in on what he joked was a “dirty secret.”

“We also see Asia as a potential partner to get married with Europe and do some kind of counter-power to the United States.”

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