EmptyTreaties: Australia, Canada, Italy
Recent projects: "The Diary of John Rabe" (China-France-Germany), "The Secret of the Magic Gourd" (China-Hong Kong-U.S.), "Three Kingdoms" (China-Hong Kong-South Korea)
China's efforts to lure international filmmakers -- along with their money and expertise -- are based not on offering tax breaks but on providing unique locations, cheap skilled labor and the promise of distribution in a fast-growing market where theater-bound imports are limited to 20 a year.
Because of the difficult reputation of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television -- the agency that oversees both the censors at the film bureau and the import officials at the state-run China Film Group -- many producers are ambivalent, finding that making films in China doesn't require treaties.
At Cannes two years ago, Miao Xiaotian, vp at China Film Co-Production Corp., boasted China was on the verge of signing treaties with Australia, Britain, France and India -- but only the Aussie pact came to pass, in August 2007, after three years of negotiations. Still, a number of co-productions are getting made in China by filmmakers from countries still negotiating treaties that, for the most part, would only ever stand a chance of drawing subsidies from governments other than the one in Beijing.
However, a lack of Chinese subsidies has not thinned global interest in reaching the country's boxoffice, up on average more than 30% a year for the last five years, well outpacing the 10% annual growth typical in the broader Chinese economy over the last decade.
As for Australia, its newly minted treaty quickly yielded director Roger Spotiswoode's "The Children of Huang Shi," a $20 million war film that had further involvement from Germany, with which Australia has a treaty but China does not. Berlin-based Zero Fiction co-produced, and tapped subsidies from the North Rhine-Westphalia Film Board.
Elsewhere, the global boxoffice hit "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" was shot partly in Shanghai without U.S. producers Relativity Media accessing any formal treaty or subsidies, as none exist for China.
"I'm bullish on co-productions, with or without treaties," says David Lee, managing director of Xinhua Media Entertainment, a company set up in Los Angeles and Beijing to source, structure and co-produce movies that will appeal to both markets. "It's always been the visiting filmmaker's decision not to go forward with a film in China. The film bureau will never say an outright no. You just have to know how to grease the wheels to get over cultural differences and know how to sidestep blatant and defensive positions."
-- Jonathan Landreth
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