Shanghai Media Group Says Disney Deal Will Boost Its Quality Content Options

7:08 AM PST 03/09/2014 by Clifford Coonan
Claire Rydell/Newscom
Disney Studios in Burbank

The need to improve scripts and raise production values is driving the increased number of China-Hollywood link-ups.

Shanghai Media Group Pictures believes its freshly minted multiyear deal with Walt Disney Studios to co-develop Disney-branded movies for China and elsewhere marks a major opportunity to learn how to make high-quality films.

While the Chinese film market is booming -- its box office was $3.6 billion last year and is expected to reach $4.6 billion in 2014 -- there is still a feeling among domestic filmmakers that scripts need to improve, production needs to become more professional and the industry generally needs to learn from the Hollywood model.

The SMG-Disney tie-up came at the end of a busy week for Sino-Hollywood relations. China’s Huayi Bros said it was planning to inject up to $150 million into former Warner Bros’ chief Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8 to come up with a slate of movies.

“We are targeting action, adventure and fantasy genre films development and production. The films will be English-language and will be live-action,” said Zhou Yuan, SMG’s director of corporate strategy and business development.

EARLIER: Disney to Develop Chinese Co-Productions With Shanghai Media Group 

“The films are aimed at the global market with a special focus on the China market, organic Chinese stories with local elements,” Zhou said.

State-owned SMG, the cinema unit of China’s second-biggest media group, has already collaborated successfully overseas to import Escape Plan late last year, with the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone action movie notching $41 million in China.

So far, box-office totals for films that SMG has been involved in distributing has been more than $330 million.

Zhou said the deal was much more than a simple film project or stock investment.

“The cooperation with Disney will provide us the opportunity to learn systematically from the most competitive content providers around, and get directly involved in the production of Hollywood films,” Zhou said.

Under the deal, Burbank-based Disney Studios would partner U.S. screenwriters with writers and directors in China to co-develop film projects that are essentially Disney, yet contain "Chinese elements."

“Our content development team will sit down with creative team from Disney to look for the right film themes, communicate with Hollywood scriptwriters and finish the development of the script by continuous mutual study. Only in this way can our creative development be improved,” Zhou said.

SMG is a conglomerate involved in many businesses in China, and its president, Li Ruigang, is also head of the investment fund China Media Capital.

SMG is part of a consortium of three Chinese companies linking up with DreamWorks in the Oriental DreamWorks (ODW) project.

Tony To, executive vp production at Disney Studios, will oversee the co-development program.

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