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China Launches Screenwriting Competition for U.S. Writers

Greetings From Beijing - H 2013

The finalists will be announced in May and given an all-expenses-paid trip to Beijing to meet with producers about making their stories into films.

HONG KONG -- James Cameron did it last year for Titanic 3D, Robert Downey Jr. probably will do it next month for Iron Man 3, and now budding U.S. screenwriters will get a chance to follow the example of Hollywood heavyweights and make a pitch to booming China, the world's second-largest film market.

The Chinese government announced Monday an international scriptwriting contest targeting American writers, for which finalists will be flown to China to discuss having their stories set there made into films.

Zhang Huiguang, director of the Beijing Municipal Government’s Cultural Assets Office, made the announcement that officially launched the 2013 Beijing International Screenwriting Competition for U.S.-based writers. The deadlines for feature and short-film scripts are April 7 and April 20, respectively, followed by a May announcement of the list of finalists, all of whom will be given prize money as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to meet potential financiers in the Chinese capital.

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The competition is the Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to get the country more exposure in international markets through voices that might be more in touch with the tastes and expectations of foreign audiences. The difficulties of getting Chinese stories to transcend cultural barriers were illustrated last month when Lost in Thailand -- the highest-grossing domestic production ever released in China -- flopped in its limited release at the now-Chinese-owned AMC cinema chain in North America.

Zhang will serve as the president of the competition, with film producer Kevin Niu serving as chairman. Oscar-winning journalist-filmmaker Mark Harris and producer Tracey Trench (a former 20th Century Fox executive and now a key consultant to the Oriental DreamWorks animation studio joint venture in China) will be the competition’s grand judges. It is understood that the panel will meet during the Beijing International Film Festival in late April, after which the decision on the list of finalists will be made and unveiled.

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"My hope is that the competition will bring the two cultures closer together through the delicious language of film," Trench told The Hollywood Reporter. "As a judge, I will be looking for the elements of any good feature or short: solid storytelling with fresh characters. And in this case, I will be particularly interested to see how writers weave the hugely fascinating city of Beijing into their narratives."

In a statement, the competition was described as an "unprecedented opportunity for aspiring and established U.S. writers to obtain international recognition," with submissions required to "prominently feature Beijing as a location, conveying in some way the romance, mystery and cultural richness of this great world capital." Niu said the competition "is one of the first established routes for U.S. filmmakers to obtain direct access to the Chinese market."

"I am thrilled that the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition is taking place at this time in history," said Zhang. "The city and people of Beijing are excited to begin a new era of creative and cultural collaboration with the U.S."

The Beijing authorities are backed in the competition by Beijing International Creative Industry Corp., online video providers LeTV and Harvardwood, an organization for Harvard alumni working in the media and entertainment industries.