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BEIJING — Hollywood independent studio Phoenix Pictures and Beijing-based cultural promoter Shinework Media are joining forces to make movies for the world market, Phoenix chairman Mike Medavoy told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday.
Producer of the upcoming Weinstein Co. World War II spy thriller “Shanghai,” Medavoy will work with Jonathan Shen, founder and chairman of Shinework, the company best known for making the nightly “World Film Report” for China Central Television’s dedicated movie channel.
The yet-to-be-named Phoenix-Shinework venture is taking shape at a time when Hollywood is cash-starved and China is cash-rich. Its nascent filmmaking community is being encouraged by the government to make movies that might export a positive Chinese image and import foreign filmmaking expertise.
Medavoy, who formerly served in top jobs at United Artists, Orion and TriStar, and who has has been involved with films ranging from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to the current “Shutter Island,” said the new venture will focus on both Chinese stories and making money.
“So many have come to China before me and failed to engage, and I could end up in the same bag,” Medavoy said, harboring no illusions about the challenges of working in the fastest-growing movie market in the world, where boxoffice jumped 43% in 2009 to $909 million but where few locally made films succeed overseas.
“But I know enough about how Hollywood works that I think can help China find a route to making the kind of films that will make it into the world market,” said Medavoy, who was born in 1941 in Shanghai.
Shen said the new company will make “movies featuring Chinese culture made to international business standards, on an international business model.”
“The Chinese domestic market is important to us, but even more important is the overseas marketplace,” said Shen, who helped arrange the publication here of Medavoy’s books, “American Idol After Iraq: Competing for Hearts and Minds in the Global Media Age” and “You’re Only as Good as Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot.”
Medavoy was in China looking for backers for the new venture and traveling with Shen on a tour to promote his books. On Tuesday, they are bound for Shanghai, a city that Medavoy said “saved” his Russian Jewish refugee parents and where he recalls first going to the movies.
After his climb to power in Hollywood he advised the first Shanghai International Film Festival, which is going into its 13th edition this June.
Asked what hope he held out for an opening up of China’s distribution sector, controlled largely by a few state-owned companies despite a World Trade Organization ruling against the virtual monopoly last November, Medavoy said: “The market will open up when it opens up. I think the Chinese government has every right to decide how they go about doing business. If they want to do it, they’ll do it. If they don’t want to do it, they won’t. I don’t see somebody imposing it on them, nor do I think anybody can.”
Of the forthcoming “Shanghai,” which stars John Cusack and Gong Li, Medavoy said he thought Harvey Weinstein and director Mikael Hafstrom had made “a good movie.”
“The audience will not be disappointed,” Medavoy said. “It’s a little bit like an old Bogart movie, with narration. I had less to do with it than I would have liked, but it’s a movie I was proud to put my name on.”
About an American intelligence official who investigates a friend’s death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the movie was blocked from shooting in China but finally cleared censorship for distribution, with little explanation and reportedly uncut, and is set for release in China on June 17.
Medavoy says that China had the money to become a global moviemaking player as long as the establishment recognized that it was foolhardy to try to stop consumers from viewing content they can get illegally on the Internet.
“These days, everybody knows what everybody else is watching. (China) can do well at movies. As long as they don’t get in their own way, it can be done,” he said, reflecting that, in his view, “Hollywood is always going to be the center of the entertainment world. There is no doubt in my mind.”
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