France’s Studiocanal has opened a full-time, multi-functional office in Beijing to expand its presence in the fast-moving China market.

That makes it the first major European film group to build a permanent structure in China. It follows the example of the Hollywood majors and a handful of leading independents, such as IM Global, Legendary Pictures and Arclight Films. And it puts it ahead of French rivals Wild Bunch and Europacorp, which is partnering with Shanghai-based Fundamental Films on a slate of productions.

Studiocanal’s Beijing office is headed by Emilie Blezat, a former diplomat who was previously a Paris-based producer at Sciapode with co-producer credits including “Free Fall,” “Mary Queen of Scots” and “Blush.”

Blezat had been a regular visitor to the Chinese capital on Studiocanal’s behalf since September. Just last month, the company received a business license, allowing it to start hiring local staff.

The office has three functions: underpinning Studiocanal’s Paris- and London-based film sales operations by supporting the local Chinese distributors handling the pictures; handling China sales of Studiocanal’s massive catalog of French, British and U.S. movie titles; and involvement in Chinese film production.

“To be involved in production you really need to be on the ground,” said Blezat. “We are open to many options: production of local films; co-financing; or finding Chinese films that could have the potential the work in other territories.”

Studiocanal has direct distribution operations in the U.K. (by acquiring Optimum Releasing in 2006), Germany (acquiring Kinowelt in 2008) and in Australia (acquiring Hoyts Distribution in 2012.).

Foreign companies are not allowed to self-distribute in China, but increasingly major companies are accompanying Chinese releases with marketing activities and p&a support.

China operates a quota system for the import of foreign films, and central regulators control release dates. That requires companies seeking releases in the world’s most populous nation to conduct a painstaking process. It requires the courting of regulators at the Film Bureau and censors, even when a distributor or import agency is interested and agreed to buy a movie.

In the past year five Studiocanal movies have been released in China, which the forerunner to the China operation has supported. These include “NonStop,” released by Bona Film Group; “African Safari,” acquired by Infotainment and distributed by Shanghai Media Group; Hossein Amini’s “The Faces of January,” handled by Lumiere; “Paddington,” released by Stellar; and “House of Magic” acquired by EStars and released by state-owned group Huaxia.

The new bureau will provide distribution and marketing support for two further upcoming releases. Pierre Morel’s crime actioner “The Gunman” is awaiting confirmation of its import quota slot. Animated title, “Shaun The Sheep Movie” has been licensed to Shanghai-based Mister Cartoon, having obtained its quota approval, but it remains currently undated. The “Shaun The Sheep” TV series has run nationwide on China Central Television for several years.

Most of the slots available to ‘revenue sharing’ imports go to the largest movies handled by the Hollywood majors, but other films can obtain ‘flat fee’ deals. Studiocanal aims to strike minimum guarantee agreements with the possibility of earning bonuses when the films perform well.

Studiocanal has one of the largest film catalogs in the world, with over 5,000 titles from Carolco, De Laurentiis Entertainment, British Lion Pictures and Ealing Studios. Packages have been licensed to Chinese video platforms such as iQIYI and Youku Tudou.