As the UCFTI (U.S. China Film & TV Industry) kicked off its inaugural expo and conference on Sunday, the event marks the continual effort of both the U.S. and China to collaborate in cinema and TV. The panel speakers make up a good swatch of the film industry, including lawyers, financiers, and insurance people along with the Hollywood and Chinese entertainment big wigs, and all have been invited to participate in this expo for the purpose of bridging the cultural and political gap that has so far deterred the two superpowers from collaborating on more joint media ventures.
The few points reiterated by both sides are not unlike what is needed to have a successful marriage: the need to establish trust in the partnership, having patience and perseverance in the process, and basing the partnership on love rather than money; i.e. producing a story that both parties care about and wish to tell. While achieving all these points would be ideal in the symbiotic nature of the partnership, both American and Chinese producers are still looking out for themselves first.
Let’s compare West vs. East:
So far the global media presence of Hollywood as well as its long history as such gives it the leverage of experience and a certain established level of expertise that China is still in the process of cultivating. Whatever can be said about tinsel town, it does have an infrastructure filmmakers can rely on when they go into production. As box office sales in fact make up over 90% of total revenue from movies in China, Hollywood can also help establish the VOD and DVD markets on the mainland.
China has the leverage of having the fastest growing movie industry, soon to surpass the U.S. in box office sales as well as the deep pockets to produce more content. Shooting in China is more cost effective than in Western countries and labor is cheaper.
The competitive spirit of both sides certainly was on display when addressing the issue of co-production. Some of the Chinese speakers encouraged the idea of Chinese companies being the sole producers of projects who would nonetheless hire an international crew, and during a Q&A tried to persuade a hopeful film student to return to China after finishing her studies in the U.S. in order to bring her expertise back to the mainland.
As the Chinese government has mandated that all productions done on the mainland must be in co-production with a Chinese studio, filmmaking in China inevitably becomes politically charged, both creatively and logistically. All scripts must be officially approved and investors shy away from public announcements lest they become targets of scrutiny by the Chinese government and come under investigation. Thus American producers wishing to shoot a film in China must consider the Chinese government as a sort of executive producer who calls the shots from behind the scenes; they must also acquaint themselves with the different tastes and sensibilities of the Chinese audience before they may make a film that resonates on the mainland.
While on the outset the restrictions on content seem to discourage creativity, once all the bureaucratic hoops are jumped through, Chinese companies are in desperate need of content which can allow for much creative leeway. Since China’s film industry is still in its relative infancy, without a set infrastructure or business protocol, it possesses all the excitement of a new adventure which no government can hold back. And once American and Chinese producers learn to get along and play nice for the benefit of both, their artistic collaboration may yield more fruit than just cinema.