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Tapping the foreign film market

2014-04-23 10:31:35

(China Daily)


Although the cameo appearance of a Chinese star in the Hollywood franchise Iron Man 3 caused controversy in China, the movie has still been considered a good example of the collaborations of Chinese and American filmmakers. Provided to China Daily

Yu is aware he can do only one or two such co-productions each year. For regular movies, those in the mid-budget or small budget with no possibility of hiring international talent, he wants to have his teams engage in international cooperation and use that experience to serve the domestic market. "By 2020, China will surpass North America and become the world's largest film exhibition market, and our output will reach 1,000 feature films a year. Only then will we be prepared to set Stage Three as our target," says Yu. "Only then will we be able to make international films with Chinese emotions and become part of world cinema."

Zhou Tiedong, until recently president of China Film Promotion International, a company that is heavily involved in what Yu Dong calls "phase one" of Chinese films' global ambition, offers a different take: "If you do not have a good story, international buyers would not touch it even if it is free. The film industry is built on collecting pocket money from each individual moviegoer. In the US, the average price for a ticket is still around $8 apiece. That means selling your story to millions of such individuals."

According to Zhou, Wolf Totem is no longer a narrowly defined Chinese story. It is about wolves and man's relations with wild animals and nature. So, it is global in its core. "The crux is in the positioning of your story. You can position it for the domestic market or beyond it. Of all the movies made in the US, most are for domestic consumption. There are only 50-some global movies that reach the international market and they represent Hollywood as we know it."

Zhou insists that, to reach a global audience, we should not only tell stories about China, but more about Chinese people. "We have not learned how to penetrate the cultural surface into the depth of humanity. Our products are often made with what I call 'strong cultural discount', and that will hamper the acceptance of foreign audiences. Stories about human nature but with Chinese cultural characteristics, such as Wolf Totem, have the potential to succeed on the wider market."

Zhou uses the analogy of fish to explain his point. If a fish has too many bones, only people who are ardent lovers of fish as food will eat it. But if you remove the bones and make it into fish balls or fish fillets, even those mildly interested may choose it. A Chinese film has to go through a similar process to find a wider audience. "When we make a global film, we must preserve the flavor of fish, so to speak, i.e. the Chinese elements that culturally identify us. But if you examine any film that sells across the world, you'll find it does not contain things that will be stuck in your throat. It can always go down smoothly. Any race, culture, age, language group will be able to relate to it. In that sense, you have to tell a global story or even a story of the whole cosmos."

However, there can be endless gradations between total localization and total globalization in terms of a film's positioning. When it comes to the treatment of a film story and its details, there are thousands of decisions and each one will require a careful balance. Very often there is no right or wrong, but collectively a film may come across as heavy on one end or the other. Occasionally, a film may capture both the domestic and the outside market, but it may also be caught in the middle, failing to appeal to either side.

Debates like the one described in this story, which I moderated, happen every year as we move along - and up - the learning curve.

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