BEIJING – Movie moguls in China and the United States are looking at co-producing more films, following a boom in the Chinese film market and growing opportunities for both sides.
Last year, box office receipts hit 10.2 billion yuan ($1.53 billion), 64 percent up from 2009's. And over the next three to four years, the number of cinema screens across the country is likely to increase to 13,000 from the 8,000 at present.
Moreover, the number of films co-produced by China and other countries has increased over the past few years as the development of Chinese film market is low cost and becomes appealing to overseas filmmakers.
"In 2009, we registered 74 co-production films and we had 84 this year until November, eight of which are co-produced with the US," said Zhang Xun, general manager of China Film Co-production Corporation (CFCC).
"We can feel the co-production trend strongly and it will certainly become intense in next several years."
In November, a US-China film summit held in Los Angeles attracted many more people than there were seats.
"Many participators had to stand, and the start of the conference was delayed as more people came to ask for translator devices than planned," Zhang said.
A short time later, at the annual American Film Market in Santa Monica, many US filmmakers visited the China stand to talk about co-production issues rather than to buy films, said Zhou Tiedong, general manager of China Film Promotion International, who was responsible for the stand.
Another reason for the surge in co-production interest is that China allows only 20 foreign films a year to be brought in for theatrical release. But co-produced films are treated as domestic, with no limit to the number that can be shown.
"The US film market is relatively saturated. Co-production may be a good option for Hollywood producers who want to enter China market," Zhou said.
To qualify for co-production, the film has to have substantial financial investments from both sides, the copyright has to be shared and a third of the leading actors have to come from China.
Yang Xuepei, head of China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology (CRIFST), said the Chinese film market is likely to reach 50 billion yuan in next five years.
Co-produced films such as the latest The Karate Kid also bring big bucks to its investors. The film, co-produced by Columbia Pictures and the China Film Group Corporation, cost $40 to make and has so far earned $359 million worldwide.
And most co-production films do very well in China. In 2009, eight of top 10 box office films were co-produced and this year, 12 out of the top 15 box office hits were co-produced.
Dany Wolf, executive producer The Karate Kid, said he is committed to making films in China that will be successful "in China and around the world".
"Columbia Pictures and all of the producers of the The Karate Kid were thrilled by the box office results of the film. The film went on to perform beyond our expectations around the world."
"The future of Chinese cinema is very bright and co-productions are the key to making that light shine around the world," Wolf said.
He said a sequel to The Karate Kid is being developed, and Hollywood producers are considering other films to be co-produced with China.
Zhang said China is not just a market for Hollywood filmmakers, but "an investment resource".
"China film's industrial chain has been formed. We have many film shooting bases, good equipment and post-production companies, almost everything needed to make a movie at lower cost than the US," Zhang said.
"Our abundant geographic resources and low-cost of human source are also drew Hollywood filmmakers to come."
Xiao Yongliang, professor of Beijing Normal University Arts and Communication school and a former general engineer of Fox's Blue Sky Studio, said China has a long way to go on film technology, such as special effects. "We shall and are willing to pay to cooperate with Hollywood to learn the advanced technology," he said.
Zhou said China, with its 5,000 years history, could also offer interesting subjects to Hollywood, who is facing the drain of story resource.
Wolf said: "The history, culture and literature of China are full of wonderful stories that deserve to be made into films. The rapid growth of China's film industry, cinemas and box office results are a strong motivation for producers around the world to make films that will perform well in both the East and the West."
Meanwhile, co-production also gives China films the chance to go global. Last year, China produced 456 films, but their influence and box office takings in other countries were small. Total sales of China films in overseas market reached 2.76 billion yuan last year, and up until the third quarter of 2010, it was 2.58 billion yuan.
"Co-produced films are more likely to be shown in foreign countries," said Zhou.
In 2009, among 49 films Chinese films that were shown overseas, 38 were co-produced.