China may be the promised land for American producers looking for deep-pocketed investment partners, but U.S. filmmakers still have a lot to learn about how to make movies with Beijing.
Leading industry representatives from the two countries attending a panel at the U.S.-China Film Summit, held at UCLA Monday, agreed more work needs to be done to properly delineating what constitute a China-U.S. co-productions in the future.
William Feng, the general manager of the Motion Picture Association’s China Office, said American filmmakers are still going through a “learning process” as they try to grasp Beijing’s rules stipulating the requirements for a film to qualify as a co-production.
But China is still bullish about the prospects for international co-productions. Speaking at the panel, Leon Gao, president of entertainment industry research company EntGroup, forecast a total of 13 US-China co-productions to be released in 2013 – a massive jump from five in 2012.
And China Film Co-Production president Zhang Xun, in a pre-recorded statement, was quick to quash what she called "rumors" circulating in the media regarding the co-production status of certain films.
Her remarks appeared to be a reference to earlier media reports which quoted her as saying the co-production status of Iron Man 3 was in doubt because of the amount of the film which has already been shot outside China.
A spokesman for DMC, Marvel Studios’ Beijing-based co-producers for the film, earlier told The Hollywood Reporter that Iron Man 3 is still expected to be made as a co-production.
Zhang's pre-recorded message provided an upbeat summary of the rising number of co-productions, screen numbers and box office figures in China.
While calls for harmony dominated the first panel, sparks briefly flew at the next session which focused on U.S. and Chinese actors working in the other country.
After agent David Unger offered glowing praise of Gong Li – whom he signed to International Creative Management and helped bring to global attention with roles in films such as Miami Vice – Chinese producer Pang Hong bluntly called the actress a “has been.”
Hong said they key to the success of films in China these days was in casting younger faces to suit the youth demographic. He pointed to the success of his latest blockbuster Painted Skin: Resurrection — which generated $115 million at the box-office and featured a substantially younger cast than the first Painted Skin movie.
"When we made the first [Painted Skin] film in 2008, the average age of the Chinese film-goer was 23.6 – by the time we released the new one, it had dropped to 21.3,” he said. “We had (49-year-old) Donnie Yen in the first film,” he added. “I didn’t have him in the second film, and that’s because of the market. It’s brutal."