Huahua Helps ‘Star Trek’ Find Its Way in China, Eyes Growing Investment Role

Star Trek Beyond” may be late in getting to China – it releases Friday, some seven weeks after its U.S. and most major international outings – but when it does it won’t be lacking support on the part of Chinese film industry players.

Indeed, in a sector where the government sets release dates for Hollywood imports and requires that they are handled by a state-owned enterprise (China Film Corp.), the release of “Star Trek’ highlights some of the changing permutations of private sector involvement as the studios get more involved in film marketing within China.

The Paramount Pictures film counts Alibaba Pictures Group as one of its backers. So too Huahua Media, a two-year old Chinese company that has a growing role in movie marketing, but next wants to carve out a role as film investor and importer.

For the past week, Huahua has been promoting “Star Trek Beyond” through “Happy Camp,” one of China’s top rating TV variety shows, backed by Hunan Broadcasting. Prior to that scripted elements of “Happy Camp” were produced at Paramount Pictures and exclusive cast interviews recorded.

Hollywood studios frequently attach a local Chinese celebrity to be the brand ambassador for a film. In the case of “Star Trek” Huahua hitched up two, “Happy Camp”’s husband and wife hosts Xie Na (aka Nana) and Jason Zhang Jie. As well as a tabloid-friendly marriage, the pair have a cool 120 million Weibo (social media) followers. Zhang recorded the Chinese theme song for the movie and performed it on a music tour. The power couple and “Happy Camp” were also part of the “Star Trek Beyond” promotional event at Comic-Con.

“There are cultural differences between (Hollywood and Chinese) films. And Chinese audiences have had only limited interaction with foreign stars. So Chinese brand ambassadors can sum up the movie for the Chinese audience and act as a cultural translator,” says Huahua CEO Wang Kefei. Huahua also rounded up close to 100 other local businesses as partners on the movie. Notable among these was China International Broadcasting Network, giving it access to apps, ISPs and streaming services.

Huahua was previously part of the marketing mix for “Transformers 4” and for Dream of Dragons’ “Cloud Atlas.” Both were films where the Chinese box office exceeded the North American numbers, and Huahua has been attached in some fashion to all of Paramount’s titles in China since.

“Our strength is in marketing, but our next moves are into investment in tentpole movies,” says Wang. “We learned from ‘Cloud Atlas’ that Chinese elements and resources can lead to a bigger success. So, we also want to be equity owners and ultimately share in the profits.” Huahua’s plans call for it to be involved in the import of five movies over the next couple of months, including one more Paramount movie.

Others in the pipeline are structured differently and include U.S. and British independent titles. Huahua was importer of Aug. 12 European animation release “Song of the Sea” (garnering some $2 million to date) and it will next bring in U.K. comedy “Absolutely Anything.” Both are flat fee import deals. “Ultimately, we also aim to be more involved. We are looking at investment in three or four movies where we will seek co-production status. And for those, British and American movies are our priority areas,” says Wang.

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