WIN­NING FOR­MULA

Film­mak­ers dis­cuss se­cret to global suc­cess at Sino-For­eign Film Co-Pro­duc­tion Fo­rum

Global Times - - Life - By Huang Tingt­ing

How can a film be­come glob­ally suc­cess­ful? How can co-pro­duc­tions win the hearts of tar­get mar­ket au­di­ences with­out re­sort­ing to the ad­di­tion of awk­wardly in­serted lo­cal “el­e­ments” that end up back­fir­ing at the box of­fice?

Film in­dus­try in­sid­ers and vet­eran film­mak­ers from around the globe sat down on Mon­day at the 8th Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val’s Sino-For­eign Film Co-Pro­duc­tion Fo­rum to dis­cuss these very ques­tions.

Nat­u­rally, the sub­ject of adapt­ing films to the Chi­nese mar­ket was a ma­jor topic of dis­cus­sion. Cur­rently the world’s sec­ond largest film mar­ket, China has be­come an at­trac­tive mar­ket that over­seas film­mak­ers have been striv­ing to en­ter. How­ever, the in­cor­po­ra­tion of “Chi­nese el­e­ments” into for­eign films or co-pro­duc­tions with China hasn’t seemed to work as stu­dios have hoped, judg­ing from the per­for­mance of re­cent flicks such as The Great Wall and Pa­cific Rim: Up­ris­ing.

“The gold rush started about five years ago. We took Hol­ly­wood scripts and changed them to fit in Chi­nese char­ac­ters in co-pro­duc­tions or we sim­ply put Chi­nese ac­tors in a for­eign movie, and surely it doesn’t work,” said Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor Renny Har­lin, who has spent the last four years work­ing in China, at Mon­day’s fo­rum.

“Though the story doesn’t have to be about a Chi­nese story or mythol­ogy, it has to be about themes that Chi­nese res­onate with,” noted Har­lin. The US di­rec­tor is now work­ing on Oper­a­tion So­mali, a Chi­nese mil­i­tary ac­tion flick that is ex­pected to de­but later this year.

Key to suc­cess

So is there a for­mula for suc­cess when it comes win­ning the Chi­nese mar­ket and those else­where? Prob­a­bly not.

“We al­ways ex­pect to en­sure con­tin­ued suc­cess and make money on films, but we don’t have a typ­i­cal for­mula,” said Steven O’Dell, pres­i­dent of In­ter­na­tional The­atri­cal Dis­tri­bu­tion for Sony Pic­tures, at the fo­rum.

“We have seen so many changes in the way our au­di­ences re­act and China is a great ex­am­ple,” O’Dell noted, go­ing on to point out that the re­cent huge suc­cess that In­dian films Dan­gal and Se­cret Su­per­star have had in China is some­thing unimag­in­able for other mar­kets around the world.

The suc­cess of In­dian films in China isn’t some­thing that has hap­pened overnight.

“Se­cret Su­per­star’s big open­ing in China hap­pened be­cause Dan­gal cre­ated the de­mand for Aamir [Khan] and for that kind of film,” said O’Dell.

“And we have to go back to P.K. and Three Id­iots to see the de­mand for In­dian films, which has grown here [in China] and is now grow­ing around the world.”

But what ex­actly are the key el­e­ments that a glob­ally suc­cess­ful film should have? “A good story” was the an­swer that five of the six speak­ers gave at the fo­rum.

“As the fa­mous Chi­nese di­rec­tor Wong Kar-wai said at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val yes­ter­day, a good film is a film made by ded­i­cated peo­ple,” said Jo­hannes Rexin, vice pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Pro­duc­ers Club, at the fo­rum.

“Film­mak­ing is about hu­man sto­ries, how­ever we make it.”

Pre­sent­ing these sto­ries, how­ever, can be a chal­lenge.

“The lan­guage bar­rier is an im­por­tant as­pect that we should take no­tice of and sto­ry­telling is al­ways im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in big-bud­get pro­duc­tions,” Rus­sian di­rec­tor Fe­dor Bon­darchuk said, weigh­ing in on the con­ver­sa­tion.

Also, some speak­ers sug­gested that the suc­cess of Pixar’s Mex­i­can Day of the Dead film Coco in­di­cates that an­i­mated films have the best po­ten­tial to be­come a ma­jor fu­ture trend for in­ter­na­tional co-pro­duc­tions.

“There is a great op­por­tu­nity for an­i­ma­tions and an­i­ma­tors around the world to tell a story us­ing for­eign in­for­ma­tion that has never been told be­fore,” said Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor Rob Minkoff, best known for his Lion King and Stu­art Lit­tle films, at the event.

Sino-for­eign co­op­er­a­tion

Talk­ing about co-pro­duc­tions, James Wang, CEO of China’s Huayi Brothers Me­dia Cor­po­ra­tion, men­tioned The For­eigner as a re­cent ex­am­ple of how to do them right. The 2017 Sino-Bri­tish co­pro­duc­tion star­ring Jacky Chan and Pierce Bros­nan did well fi­nan­cially both in China and the US.

“To en­sure global suc­cess, I sug­gest that over­seas film­mak­ers co­op­er­ate with Chi­nese part­ners not only dur­ing the cre­ative process, but also when it comes to mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion,” Wang said. To en­sure the qual­ity of Si­nofor­eign co-pro­duc­tions, es­pe­cially those fea­tur­ing a Chi­nese story, over­seas film­mak­ers should try to col­lab­o­rate with their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts to bring out “the au­then­tic­ity of the story,” said Minkoff, who pre­vi­ously worked on the Sino-US co-pro­duc­tion The

For­bid­den King­dom a decade ago. Though the num­ber of glob­ally suc­cess­ful Sino-for­eign co-pro­duc­tions hasn’t in­creased dra­mat­i­cally over the past two decades, Wang noted that “the big­gest changes that we can see have taken place within the Chi­nese film mar­ket it­self. As such the sit­u­a­tion now is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what it was 20 years ago.”

With China now one of the most im­por­tant mar­kets in the world, over­seas film­mak­ers should take the time to con­sider what kind of films cater to the Chi­nese mar­ket and seek out op­por­tu­ni­ties for co­op­er­a­tion with Chi­nese film­mak­ers, he said.

O’Dell, on the other hand, sug­gested that Chi­nese films should fol­low in the foot­steps of Coco by telling lo­cal sto­ries that can also ap­peal to world­wide au­di­ences on an emo­tional level if they want to see global suc­cess.

“Coco is a story about Mex­i­can mythol­ogy, but that didn’t mat­ter as its suc­cess was born from the emo­tional chord it struck [with au­di­ences],” he noted.

Photo: Li Hao/GT

From left: Film­mak­ers Fe­dor Bon­darchuk, Renny Har­lin and Rob Minkoff at­tend the Sino-For­eign Film Co-pro­duc­tion Fo­rum in Bei­jing on Mon­day.

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