Exclusive: Managing Director of Sony Pictures China office, talks about future of global film development amid pandemic
Published: Sep 28, 2021 09:44 PM
Following a month long postponement due to the pandemic, the 11th Beijing International Film Festival finally kicks off in Beijing on Monday. Over 100 Chinese artists participate in a red carpet ceremony marking the opening of the festival.Photo:Li Hao/GT

Following a month long postponement due to the pandemic, the 11th Beijing International Film Festival finally kicks off in Beijing on Monday. Over 100 Chinese artists participate in a red carpet ceremony marking the opening of the festival.Photo:Li Hao/GT

The 11th Beijing International Film Festival is scheduled to end on Wednesday. As China's one of the most important film feasts, the festival offered many topics concerning the global development of film. 

Due to the pandemic, many overseas guests are not able to attend the festival, but as a representative of a major film magnate, the managing director of Sony Pictures in China Hsu-Ling Liao shared his thoughts with the Global Times about the film festival and the post-pandemic future of the global film market. 

From one to two

Liao told the Global Times that the pandemic has divided the global film market into two parts - the Chinese film market and the overseas film market.

Since China has kept the COVID-19 pandemic in the country under control, the film market in China has not suffered as much as the North American market. He gave high compliments to the good performance of Chinese films in the second half of 2020 and the Chinese New Year film period in 2021 including The Eight Hundred and Hi, Mom and added that the box office Sony Pictures' films in the Chinese market such as Peter Rabbit 2 and The Father outperformed other international markets. 

On the contrary, the film market overseas is seriously impacted by COVID-19. For example, the theaters in the Philippines have still not reopened since closing down due to the outbreak of the pandemic. 

However, as the pandemic situation gradually improves in North America, the film studio such as Disney has announced a return to theaters with a shorter 45-day theatrical window, according to reports.

"Most film studios still prefer the theaters instead of releasing the film in both theaters and on streaming platforms simultaneously. But if the pandemic sees a resurgence, it is hard to say whether they will change their plans again," said Liao, adding that Sony Pictures is the only studio that remains 100 percent dedicated to releasing films in theaters.

Good story is key

Chinese films have been developing well in recent years while some Hollywood films in some eye-catching franchises have behaved poorly in the Chinese film market. According to Liao, Chinese moviegoers have gradually become more selective and cannot be satisfied with Hollywood blockbusters that boast only big visual effects but lack good story.

"No matter if it is a Hollywood or domestic made films, audiences prefer films that tell a good story," he said, noting that a film's box office is often highly connected to its word-of-mouth.

"Just like Soul from Pixar, it did not open big at the beginning but went on to sustain very well due to solid word-of-mouth," said Liao.

Learning from each other

In the pandemic era, Liao said it has been challenging implementing a global distribution plan because pandemic situation in each country differs. This will somehow open up more opportunities of international co-productions between studios and local filmmakers and enable a studio to take advantage of a healthy market whenever a global film product is unfortunately delayed due to COVID-19. 

Liao said the marketing methods of Chinese films are seen as one of the "most innovative methods" in the world. As most film companies still use traditional promotion methods that large portion of their marketing budget spent on TV advertisements, China has been heading in another direction. 

"Given China's very advanced digital infrastructure, a film campaign can be very targeted and efficient. Film companies overseas can learn from the local marketing methods of China especially when it comes to digital marketing. There are many innovative ways of digital marketing, such as selling ticketing via livestreaming and creating buzz via short videos."

On the other hand, Chinese film companies still need to improve themselves in two aspects. 

"Chinese film tycoons need to think more about creating super IP that can extend beyond content itself. It is not easy to create a successful IP, the production team needs well-rounded thinking at the beginning," said Liao.

Meanwhile, he pointed out that Chinese film studios should develop more in data research. In North America, they have a very complete scientific system. For example, they invite some people for test screenings and observe their reactions to adjust the content of the film. 

"Establishing a systematic and scientific system is a needed method to commercialize and industrialize movies," he said.

Talking about upcoming releases, Liao mentioned that they will submit Spider-Man: No Way Home soon. The film has created record-breaking views when it launched the first trailer few weeks ago.