Searching for the Formula for Films
The 7th Beijing International Film Festival is on, and one of the main topics of discussion at the event is: How can filmmakers make international coproductions successful?
Coproduction is the new buzzword in the film fraternity after China－thanks to an unprecedented building spree over the past few years－became a cinema powerhouse with more than 43,000 screens in 6,000-plus cinemas.
As for coproductions, 73 movies, accounting for around 10 percent of last year's total output, were jointly produced by studios in and outside the Chinese mainland, says Li Guoqi, deputy head of the movie bureau of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television, at the festival's key seminar, the Sino-Foreign Film Coproduction Forum, on Monday.
The 2016 coproduction figure is around six times the number of such movies made a decade ago, and the number of such movies has seen a steady growth over the past few years, according to the administration-backed newspaper China Film News.
Industry experts say coproductions are popular for two main reasons－one is to dodge the 34-movie import quota set for the mainland market, as the films are treated as domestic titles; and to spread China's influence overseas with the help of foreign partners.
But when it comes to how to make such movies successful, they hold diverse views.
Aamir Khan, a top Indian actor known to Chinese fans for his hit film 3 Idiots, says: "A good character and a good story can help you cross borders."
Khan, who has brought his box-office hit Dangal to China, says he does not look at the market when he is searching for a story. He follows his heart and immerses himself in a script that arouses his interest.
He says that Chinese and Indian filmmakers share a similarity when it comes to culture, which means both sides can learn from each other.
Chen Kaige, a top Chinese director, likens coproductions to a marriage.
"A coproduction is like getting married. If both sides fall in love with each other, both sides will contribute good ideas," says the award-wining director.
Chen is now working on the fantasy epic Yao Mao Zhuan (Legend of a Cat Demon) based on the Japanese best-seller Samon Kukai.
For Ged Doherty, the British producer of the thriller Eye in the Sky, which won acclaim in China earlier this year, the key elements of a successful coproduction are "the story, the partner and the cultural connection".
He says the cultural connection works to bring locals and foreigners together.
But filmmakers from Hollywood, who have been inserting Chinese elements into their big-budget films for a while now, say finding the connections is sometimes difficult.
Rob Cohen, an American producer and director, says: "We are still figuring out the language. I don't mean Chinese or English. I mean a movie language."
He points to the 2003 Sino-US coproduction Warriors of Heaven and Earth, starring Jiang Wen and Wang Xueqi.
But Chinese veterans are unfazed by the teething troubles.
Ye Ning, vice-president of Huayi Brothers Film Co, who has seen China's film industry make rapid strides since 2000, says the country's movie sector is still "a youngster" compared with its Western counterparts.
Ye, who has close connections with Hollywood thanks to his earlier experience of working in Wanda, says: "China's current movie-production capacity now meets only the demands of Chinese audiences."
He believes there is no shortcut to making a good movie. "No matter which country or area a filmmaker works in, the creation and production processes are similar. They are all painstaking," says Ye.