Bona Looking for North American Opportunities

Newly-listed Chinese Film Group Will Use Proceeds to Buy Cinemas, Distribution

NEW YORK -- Bona Film Group, the Chinese film company listed Thursday on NASDAQ, is looking for additional partnerships in North America, CFO Mason Xu told The Hollywood Reporter Thursday.

Calling the IPO "a historic moment," he said it was move designed not only to tap capital markets, "but also to let U.S. investors and potential business partners understand our business better." He added: "We hope this brings us closer to the U.S. film circle."

The company is already working with partners here. In 2011 or 2012, Bona plans to release Legend of Mulan from director Jan de Bont (Twister) with Zhang Ziyi as Mulan. It has teamed with a Canadian firm as co-production partner and U.S. business partners on the project. Shot in English, it should have "significant box office appeal" for the U.S. audience, Xu said. But Bona also spent a small amount to secure Chinese-language distribution rights.

Xu is particularly looking for creative resources. "The scarce resources are stories and creative talents," he said. "If they are married with our ever-growing marketplace, great business opportunities can be achieved."

Bona is also bullish on China's film prospects. The fast-expanding Chinese sector is experiencing what Xu expects to be "sustainable growth" and will in three to four years become the second largest film market behind the U.S.

"By that time, there will be a lot of opportunities for the Chinese market and the U.S." for further collaborations.

Xu cited an estimated $1.5 billion in box office this year in China to be followed by 50% growth next year.

One big upside opportunity is in cinema visits per year per person, which at 0.3 in China is a mere fraction of the 4.3 in the U.S. "It's one of the pet phrases of our CEO that if only every Chinese person gets to watch one movie a year, the box office would triple," Xu said. "We don't think it's difficult to achieve this per-capita admission goal."

Asked about Bona's strategy going forward, Xu emphasized it will continue to mainly focus on distribution. "Everything else we do serves the purpose of distributrion," he said. "We expanded into the production side just to help us secure distribution rights of certain film titles."

The firm also expanded into operating theaters "to take our distribution strategy to the next sophistication level."

With a theater presence in key markets, "we also have a local sub-branch of our distribution business," he explained. The cinema manager's job is to also interact with local media and monitor and influences film posters and trailers at nearby theaters.

Bona will use its IPO proceeds to further strengthen its position. About 50% will go toward buying 30-40 cinemas across China with another 30% going to securing distribution rights and the rest going to general corporate purposes.