Hollywood exploring market with China's chart-topping metrics

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/4/12 9:29:56

On the heels of China's box office coup in the first quarter of 2018, beating out US grosses and catapulting it to the top of the global box office for the first time, Hollywood is exploring how to adapt to the changing landscape of a "world's largest market" that's not its own.

A recent report by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) revealed that even in the face of mounting trade tensions between the United States and China, whose impact on the entertainment industry is still unclear, the importance of Chinese moviegoers to Hollywood's future is significant.

"The Chinese film market is going to be the largest film market in short order," said MPAA Chairman, Charles Rivkin, a former US assistant secretary of state.

With some blockbuster Hollywood pics grossing more in China than in the United States and China grosses playing a bigger role in the success of American releases, "How to get a piece of the burgeoning Chinese market" is a paramount question of the day in the Tinseltown.

Xian Li, a Hollywood studio executive, believes US-China co-production is a way for indie productions to gain access to China's huge market, but like other American exporters, Hollywood should adapt to the changing market.

"Hollywood studios are not really deep in the co-pro game. They can't adapt fast enough to a rapidly changing market" Li told Xinhua on Friday. "So it's a tremendous opportunity for smaller production companies to take advantage of the vacuum, develop those key relationships in China and grow with the industry there."

"China audiences are changing. They are more sophisticated now, and more open to a diversity of movies, not just Hollywood blockbusters, but Indian, European, Thai, Japanese, etc. That increases the pressure on American filmmakers," she said.

"They aren't just looking for blockbusters anymore, there's room for dramas, films that make you cry, films that satisfy the audience emotionally," she added.

As one of those smaller companies jockeying for position in China's booming market, Leomark Studios, an Los Angeles-based production and distribution studio, is excited by the opportunities it sees before it.

"We were just at the Hong Kong Film Festival and it was electric," Erik Lundmark, CEO of Leomark, told Xinhua on Saturday. "We'll definitely attend Beijing and Shanghai film festivals next."

Both Lunkmark and his writer/producer wife are immigrants to the United States who have worked for years to build their boutique studio from scratch -- but found it rough going.

"It's very difficult for newer companies to really break into Hollywood, but the China market is buzzing, and we feel there's a real future for us there," said Lundmark.

But Li cautioned that it's not going to be easy, "finding that magical co-pro that works in both markets can be something of a unicorn."

A less difficult winning strategy many are adopting is to cast more Chinese stars in Western movies, like Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in Disney's "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" or Chris Wu in Europa's "Valarian and the City of One Thousand Planets."

Legendary Entertainment, now owned by China's Dalian Wanda Group, has adopted this hybrid approach for their popular Pacific Rim franchise, introducing more Chinese actors to the cast, including star Jing Tian. This prompted one ebullient, online fan to rave, "The fighting is great. Jing saved the world in the end. All hail China!"

But, there may be an easier way to break into the China market.

"Scripts," Li summed up. "Hollywood invented the film business and China has come an impressively long way in improving their production skills in a very short time, but their scripts aren't quite there yet. China needs Hollywood writers."

Gavin Scott, writer of the Emmy-Award winning "Mists of Avalon" and veteran Hollywood screenwriter who has penned scripts for the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, is keen on stepping into the breach.

He has traveled recently to China where he negotiated with two Chinese production companies to write Chinese feature films for the Chinese and international market. No stranger to mentoring other writers, Scott finds the prospect of collaborating with the Chinese an exciting one.

"I think it's a great opportunity for writers from two great cultures to come together and collaborate to create the entertainment of the future," he told Xinhua in an interview.

When asked about the challenges of creating "writer-for-hire" commercial cross-cultural fare, he was undaunted: "Both China and Hollywood have great cultural riches to draw on and if writers can find a way to combine them, the whole world will benefit."

For Chinese filmmakers intent on learning Hollywood's winning script formulas who prefer a more high tech approach, they could also get a jump on the competition with a little help from cutting-edge AI.

"We've cracked the code on human interaction and storytelling," said Stephen Greenfield, one of a team of AI software programmers and psychologists who have managed to create an astonishingly robust and nuanced AI program that can provide detailed suggestions for realistic storylines and plot points.

"As fellow artists, our goal is to help writers improve and evolve their stories."

Their breakthrough program, The Storytelling Cipher, apparently works so well that the US law enforcement agencies have been using it to model and predict behavior of terrorist groups around the world.

But Hollywood's future in the China market is likely to hold challenges as well.

The LA Times reported that Jeff Towson, professor of investment at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, said Hollywood's success in China is going to increasingly come under assault by rising Chinese competitors.

"Foreign companies (like Hollywood studios) do well at the top of the market, typically because they start out having superior quality, technology or brand recognition," he said.

"But over time, the Chinese competitors grow and steadily improve their quality. They reinvest, make acquisitions and begin to attack the top of the market," he predicted.

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