An increasingly hostile trade war with China has Hollywood film financiers and distributors just as nervous as producers and star talent these days.
As the Trump administration continues with threats and prohibitions, the theatrical film business specifically is wringing its hands over the possibility of being shut out of the massive Chinese marketplace — to the detriment of both America and the middle kingdom, top executives said.
“It’s impossible to think about doing things without China,” said Mark Gill, a prolific indie producer behind films like “Shakespeare in Love” and “The English Patient,” who serves as president and CEO of Solstice Studios.
Gill spoke at a panel at Produced By 2019, held on the Warner Bros. lot this weekend, just as reports hit that China has warned American tech giants of “dire consequences” should they obey Trump’s new proposed ban of selling the country technology. A similar and unofficial Chinese blacklisting of U.S. entertainment and media has already begun, Variety exclusively reported last week.
“This is a pretty insane moment to be in,” agreed Jesse Sisgold, president of Skydance Media, whose blockbuster franchises like “Mission: Impossible” and “Terminator” are reliant on China, the second-largest film market in the world, which already caps the amount of American films it allows to play in the country per year. Skydance counts Chinese giant Tencent as an investor in its feature, animation and interactive businesses.
“Tencent and Alibaba are the big ones, but there are a variety of others who are doing very good work,” chimed in Gill. “We need to get past this phase where our government is putting up walls against each other — to nobody’s benefit.”
Gill fired off some staggering statistics about the cinematic demand in China, estimating that moviegoers will continue to grow at a rate of 15% per year, as opposed to 1% to 4% in the rest of the world. In addition to being the world’s second-largest film market, China also accounts for 60% of the world’s SVOD subscribers, according to research published by Ampere Analysis.
Gill and Sisgold were joined by CNN Worldwide VP Stacey Wolf, Macro development chief Poppy Hanks, and the Money Pool co-founder Kip Konwiser. All were anxious about the state of affairs, but not without hope.
“Trust is a big [thing]. We have Chinese investors in our company, and positions where they can win has been a big part of our success,” said Konweiser, whose credits include Andy Garcia’s upcoming “Ana.”
If restrictions on U.S. content are severe enough to reduce the number of U.S. films playing theatrically, China’s film regulators may turn elsewhere for film imports. Two of the most obvious alternative sources of English-language content are the U.K. and Australia.
“We’re at a low point,” concluded Gil. “It will get better.”