Hollywood, Chinese Execs Gather for MPAA-Hosted Co-Production Event

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Christopher Dodd, chairman and CEO of the MPAA

A week of dealmaking kicked off at Universal Studios Monday night with Chris Dodd, NBCUniversal vice chair Ron Meyer and the president of China Film Group hosting a screening of Keanu Reeves' 'Man of Tai Chi.'

A week of hobnobbing and eager relationship building between Hollywood executives and their Chinese counterparts got underway Monday night at Universal Studios, as the third annual China International Co-Production Film Screenings was kicked off by hosts Christopher Dodd, chairman and CEO of the MPAA, and NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer.

Put together by the MPA and China’s Film Bureau of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), the series of screenings and gala receptions aims to bring together key players from Hollywood and the Chinese film community, to foster closer working ties and promote future co-productions. 

Meyer gave voice to the consensus in the room that Hollywood’s future will be closely linked to the booming Chinese movie market. The senior executive revealed in prepared remarks that Universal is planning to open its first film office in Beijing, as a base of operations for future co-productions.

"As Universal enters its second century in Hollywood, we look forward to working closely with the Chinese film industry to deliver outstanding movies for fans in both of our countries and around the world," he said. "Our key initiatives include doing more co-productions and establishing an office in Beijing."

Universal's Despicable Me 2 will release in China in early 2014.

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The gatherings in Los Angeles this week are taking place in the shadow of China's increasingly formidable market sway. China's box office take was $2.7 billion in the first nine months of this year, an impressive 35 percent rise on the same three quarters last year. Hollywood is eager to find ways to tap this market, which many analysts expect to overtake North America sometime in the next five years.

The stakes for Hollywood are heightened by the fact that its films have slipped in China this year, despite the surging overall box-office growth. Local Chinese movies took $1.57 billion (9.56 billion yuan) in the first three quarters of this year, up 94 percent on 2012, while box office from overseas movies (made up predominantly by Hollywood titles) fell 5.2 percent to $1.13 billion (6.86 billion yuan).

“This is the third such event that we have hosted in Los Angeles with our good partners at the SAPPRFT, and it reflects the broad and deep relationship enjoyed by the Chinese and American film industries,” said Dodd. “It is our strong belief that co-productions are a tremendous opportunity for two or more countries to learn and benefit from each other and contribute to the growth of China’s film industry. I hope that we can continue to build on the friendship and cooperation we have established over the years to create a market environment that will sustain long-term.”

Following a meet-and-greet gala Monday, Universal screened its co-production with China Film Group and Wanda Group, Man of Tai Chi, Keanu Reeves' multi-lingual directorial debut, starring martial arts master Tiger Chen.

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Tuesday night AMC and Wanda Media will host a community screening of Man of Tai Chi at the AMC Atlantic Times Square in Monterey Park. On Wednesday afternoon, the MPA will partner with China Lion Distribution to host the North American premiere of Finding Mr. Right, one of the big hits of the Chinese box office in 2013. Prior to the screening there will be a reception, and afterwards a conversation with director Xue Xiaolu. On Thursday, the MPA will co-host with IMAX, AMC and China’s Wanda Media a reception and screening of current Chinese box office champ, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, at AMC Universal Citywalk. Finally on Friday, at CGV Cinemas, the MPA will partner with Korea’s CJ Entertainment and CJ CGV Cinemas for a closing night party and screening of China-South Korea co-prod A Wedding Invitation.

Jiao Hongfen, president and vice chairman of China Film Group said, “The screenings will present audiences with the latest Sino-foreign co-productions and offer a forum for industry experts to exchange experiences and discuss future cooperation. With this enhanced cooperation between our film industries, I look forward to a future that includes even more great China-U.S. co-productions.”

China heavily regulates its media and entertainment sectors and historically has not been welcoming to sizeable foreign media presences on its soil, which could complicate Universal's plans of setting up shop in Beijing. Typically, establishing a joint venture with a local Chinese company has been the minimum requirement for access.

This dicey mix of regulatory challenges and un-ignorable business opportunity will dominate the agenda this week at both the Co-Production Film Screenings and the Asia Society’s U.S.-China Film Summit, which kicks off Tuesday.