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TMCNet:  Finding the right balance in co-productions [China Daily: Hong Kong Edition]

[June 04, 2014]

Finding the right balance in co-productions [China Daily: Hong Kong Edition]

(China Daily: Hong Kong Edition Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager and Nicola Peltz plays Tessa in Paramount Pictures'Transformer 4. Photo provided to China Daily China forges UK film partnership Sydney Film Festival open with focus on China Co-productions with China are of great interest to Hollywood, thanks to the country's booming film market. But in reality, not everything goes according to the script. Liu Wei reports.


An alliance between a robot and a food chain famous for duck necks might not seem like the most likely combination. But in Hollywood, nothing is impossible.

Zhouheiya, a Chinese fast food chain known for their signature spicy duck necks, is teaming up with Transformers 4, the highly anticipated Hollywood summer blockbuster, for a comprehensive promotion campaign.

"Snacks and films are a perfect fit, much like beer and football," says Annie Li, president of Reach Glory Communications, a leading entertainment marketing company in China.

"Zhouheiya will benefit immensely from the association with a movie franchise that has grossed over $2.7 billion across the world." Reach Glory, which handles the collaboration between Zhouheiya and Transformers 4, also undertook the successful product placement campaign of Chinese television maker TCL in the popular movie Iron Man 3.

According to Li, the alliance between Zhouheiya and Transformers 4 includes cinema advertisements and viral videos, and the decoration of some Zhouheiya stores with a Transformer theme.

"Zhouheiya has 400 stores in communities, airports, train stations and other major locations across China, which will work as easy promotion platforms for the film," she says.

"This is one of the reasons why Paramount Pictures, the production company of the Transformer movies, was keen on firming up the alliance." The studio has also incorporated some Chinese elements in Transformers 4, with an eye on the growing audience in China. Some of the fight scenes between the Autobots and the Decepticons (main characters in the movie) were filmed in Wulong, Chongqing. Popular Chinese actress Li Bingbing plays a prominent role in the movie with Mark Wahlberg and four rising Chinese actors selected from a national TV reality show.

China Movie Channel, a TV channel affiliated to the State-run China Film Group, has helped Paramount with production-related work and will also distribute the film in China. However, the film is still not an official co-production.

Photo provided to China Daily China forges UK film partnership Sydney Film Festival open with focus on China Protecting the market China prudently protects its film market. Every year, only 34 foreign films can be imported on revenue-sharing basis for theatrical release. Foreign studios get no more than 25 percent of the box office receipts.

However, a co-produced film acknowledged by the top regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV, is treated as a domestic film and thus exempt from the quota system.

Foreign studios, as a result, can share the revenue as per their agreements with Chinese partners.

Co-productions used to be perceived as an effective way to tap the Chinese market, where box-office receipts rose to 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) in 2013. This year, the revenue has so far reached 10 billion yuan, a 30 percent increase over the same period last year.

But it is not easy to be officially licensed as a co-production.

Since late 2010, SAPPRFT has tightened its control on the licensing of co-productions.

"A completely US story, some Chinese money, a few Chinese faces and some Chinese elements - these kind of films are not real co-productions," Zhang Pimin, the former deputy chief of the SAPPRFT, said in 2012.

Zhang had reiterated that in an officially acknowledged co-production, at least one-third of the lead cast should be Chinese, the story should have Chinese elements and there should be Chinese investors.

According to Chinese film producer Qiu Yan, in the absence of a proper rating system in China, filmmakers have to make sure that an audience aged from 4 to 80 can see the content they produce.

"On top of that, co-productions have to have organically integrated Chinese elements in the story. It takes a long time to get a script approved. Very often, investors are not that patient." Ben Ji, a veteran film producer and managing director of Reach Glory says that very few films that adhere to the guidelines for co-productions are appreciated by Chinese or international audiences.

"Most of the usual prototypes are about foreign missionaries going to China or pilots in World War II - I know at least three projects on that, or stories about Pearl S. Buck, the American writer who lived in China," he says.

"People expect that a co-production is an easy subject that embodies Chinese stories and universal values. Putting these elements together does not necessarily mean it is a successful film."   China forges UK film partnership Sydney Film Festival open with focus on China Hunting for a hit Most official co-productions flop, and very few actually are hits. It is difficult to cite successful instances of a co-production that has captivated both audiences, experts say.

But Hollywood studios certainly do not want to ignore the great potential in the Chinese film industry, while Chinese filmmakers are eager and creative enough to find diversified alternative methods to realize collaborations with Hollywood.

"Today co-production is not a legal term," says Chinese film producer Wang Fan, who is making a film with an international cast and crew.

"For me it could be in various forms. The teamwork of the cast and crew, the co-development of stories, product placement or the co-investment in a project can also be effective co-productions." Product placement is a more popular approach.

In Sony's latest Spider-Man film, Chinese white spirits brand Jiannanchun's bottle and logo are displayed prominently on a billboard in New York City's Times Square. Chinese milk brand Yili and clothing brand Meters/Bonwe were featured in the earlier Transformers film. The milk's name was even mentioned in a conversation.

"To have your product appear in the film for seconds, that's the simplest co-operation now," says Wang Yifei, president of Herun Media, a leading branded content creative platform. "Clients are looking for more complicated projects now." The company helped TCL appear in The Avengers in 2011 and Blue Moon, the domestic liquid soap, in The Smurfs 2.

But its most recent case, the co-promotion of milk brand Mengniu and Rio 2, is a multi-layer cooperation that involves games on mobile phones and tablets, and on-site campaigns to win film tickets.

"It has been widely acknowledged that China will soon replace the US as the biggest film market in the world," Wang says.

"Chinese people are sensitive to any Chinese element in a Hollywood blockbuster." (c) 2014 China Daily Information Company. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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