The former head of Focus Features and producer of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” was speaking in Beijing at a set-piece seminar on Chinese co-production at the first full day of the Beijing International Film Festival.
He and other speakers who included Chinese producers Yu Dong and Huang Jianxin, and British producer Iain Smith, argued that co-productions have qualitatively changed as the Chinese film industry has hurtled through multiple stages of development in just a few years.
Two years ago at the same seminar, Oliver Stone embarrassed his hosts by flat out saying that co-productions don’t work, and that China needs to learn to examine its own history more critically.
Schamus, who is involved in a partnership with China’s Meridian Entertainment, offered a perspective that was music to the ears of China’s culturally and economically ambitious regulators and corporations.
“You are building your domestic industry, with 60,000 theater screens (in prospect) and are layering on top a global and international business,” Schamus said.
“China is leveraging every aspect of the cinematic sphere. It is making use of the rise of the theatrical box office. An Italian-French co-production may involve the trading of tax credits. The key leverage for a Chinese co-production is the way it may open up the Chinese theatrical market in a more lucrative way (than an imported film).”
“Co-production no longer means casting an attractive Chinese actress as Mel Gibson’s girlfriend and shooting in Shanghai. That was the old way,” said Schamus. Now China is using capital to infiltrate the studios and more international co-operation which “means making films that are not as Chinese as you think, but more Chinese than you know.”
Yu, who heads leading Chinese distributor producer Bona Film Group, and is a co-financier of a slate of 20th Century Fox movies, said that Chinese companies need to be absolutely clear about their objectives, an area which has regularly tripped producers on both sides of the Pacific in the past.
“Before we start a co-production we need to ask are we shooting in Chinese or English. Are we targeting a domestic Chinese audience or acting as an investor in a global project?”
Smith, who spoke of the U.K.’s symbiotic relationship with Hollywood and the British government’s efforts to build cultural bridges with China, said “The idea of a co-production has to be long term, 10 or 15 year. It shouldn’t be about one project but be done with a view to developing talent over a longer term.”
Schamus, who shares a script credit on “Crouching Tiger,” clashed with Smith as he debunked part of Hollywood’s mythology.
“I’ve lost patience with being asked that question about needing American help for Chinese screenwriting. It is not true. There is a different way of story-telling. It is not true that we in Hollywood have some secret sauce. We don’t. We got there first. That’s all going to change.”
Earlier Smith had argued that it would be good for the Chinese film industry to learn more of the language and syntax of story-telling that is currently shared by European and American film makers.”