Americans focus on Fundamentals

Partners want slice of China film pie

SHANGHAI -- Hoping like others before them to get a piece of the world's fastest-growing film market, two American brothers are building a production and distribution outfit here called Fundamental Films.

Seth and Eli Scher and their Chinese partners Mark Gao and Ping Hui have set up shop to tell contemporary Chinese stories on film and distribute film imports to underwrite their local productions.

To get rolling, Fundamental will spend about 15 million yuan ($2.2 million) of its own capital on each project, said Seth Scher, 33, who last year co-produced debut director Mark Webber's SXSW Audience Award-winning "Explicit Ills," a feature about love, drugs and poverty in Philadelphia, where they both grew up.

Speaking on the opening day of the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival (Jun 13-21), the Schers hang out their shingle at a time when China's film industry is shining ever brighter -- selling more tickets at a growing number of theaters -- against the backdrop of a deepening slump back home.

"We're not here to shit on anybody's dream, just to make modern stories about what's really going on in urban China," said Seth Scher, who spent the last 10 years in New York City dee-jaying raves, running restaurants and producing rap music.

Showing up in Shanghai six months ago to live for the first time, Scher was at the festival to network and hunt down better scripts than those fed him by agents thus far -- most of which he called "sloppy and incomplete." "I want to make movies with a three-act structure and clear stories," he said.

Fundamental starts with backing from brother Eli's Shanghai-based GSME Capital Partners, an investment fund he formed in 2006 with Gao, who comes out of the generic drugs-making business in the south China boomtown of Shenzhen.

GSME's first connection to China's media was through its wholly-owned advertising firm MCG Group, which sells ad space to China's giant state-run movie distributors the China Film Group and Huaxia Film Distribution on the dozens of giant LED screens it owns in the subway systems in Shanghai and Beijing.

"One of the things we pride ourselves in is our ability to promote," said Eli Scher, 29, a Princeton graduate who speaks Mandarin.

Earlier this year, Fundamental went to Berlin and Cannes and bought the China theatrical rights to the Michael Douglas film "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" from Foresight in Los Angeles. They're hoping for a November release date from the Film Bureau, after the U.S. release on Sept. 11.

For television, Fundamental also bought a raft of Korean films, including, despite Scher's initial concerns about China's censorship rules, the super violent cult hit "Old Boy." Ping -- who is from Shanghai -- reassured him Fundamental could land distribution on the country's nascent but less tightly regulated IPTV platform.

For its first potential solo film production, Fundamental has teamed up with Hong Kong-born and Beijing-based television commercial director Chan Tak-chung, who hopes to direct his own script about a Chinese artist who falls in love with a journalist from Japan.

It’s early days for Fundamental, said Seth Scher, who keeps an apartment in New York but sees an exciting life unfolding in Shanghai. He plans to study Chinese this summer in Shanghai and said, "Hey, if we make one movie, then we'll make two, maybe three."
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