Movie makers flocking to booming Chinese film market

Fan Bingbing is one of China's most famous actresses Credit: Reuters

The eyes of the cinema world are being cast east to China.

This week's Beijing Film Festival is attracting Western movie makers desperate to tap into a market which looks set to eclipse that of North America.

Iain Smith, the head of Applecross Productions in the UK, is one of those here this week looking for business opportunities:

“I think we are seeing something happening in China at the moment, across all industries that’s beginning to open up the windows and doors of the Chinese house, and film and media is very much at the centre of that", he says.

"I mean, when we are seeing the kind of growth that’s happening in their domestic film market, there is nothing to compare with that in the West.

"And we want to be connected to that, particularly from the British point of view, we have created a co-production treaty to begin trading with China and hopefully that will produce results for the mid to long term".

Twenty-two new cinema screens a day are opening in China, a phenomenal growth rate that is being driven by a 50% increase in box office sales in the last year.

For the first time this year China’s cinema takings overtook North America.

But any film made or released in China is subject to strict regulations, something Iain Smith knows only too well.

He was refused entry to the country after making Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt - its narrative was deemed offensive by the Chinese Government.

They monitor the content of films for anything deemed disrespectful, and that goes beyond sex, violence and foul language to how Chinese culture and politics is portrayed.

The number of foreign films released is also limited to 34 a year. Iain Smith says this is where the British Film Industry’s co-production treaty comes in.

“Chinese caution has put us off a little bit, particularly because having 34 films a year is nothing in terms of our productivity but of course having a co-production treaty enables you to come in underneath that", he says.

"If a film qualifies under a co-production officially then it’s a Chinese film and so it should, at least in theory, enjoy full access to the Chinese market".

Oscar-winner Natalie Portman is at this year's film festival Credit: Reuters

Kung Fu Panda 3 is a recent example of the East and West working together in this way.

It was animated simultaneously in Shanghai and California in Chinese and English respectively for the two different audiences.

How a film will do in China is now part of the production planning process in Hollywood but we visited a set on the outskirts of Beijing to meet famous Chinese Director Zhang Jinzhan who told us it works both ways.

“It’s a common goal for Chinese movie makers to want to get their films accepted in the global market, everyone is aiming for the international market not only to improve their reputation but for big profits", he says.

"Up to now, there are not many Chinese movie in the international market that have a good reputation.

"It might be related to a different culture, and other factors but now there are Chinese film makers are looking for more ways to get into the international market, such as co-productions".

Kung Fu Panda 3 is an example of East and West working together Credit: Reuters

Zhang Jinzhan has worked on various joint ventures including Kill Bill and a film called The Great Wall with Matt Damon which will be released at the end of this year.

He described how the film industry has opened up in tandem with the country’s economy.

“Chinese movies have historically been made and controlled by a propaganda agenda", he says.

" Any Chinese movies entering the market are subject to rules but as China’s economy has opened up, so too have the restrictions on the film makers.

"Now everyone is aiming for the international market not only to improve their reputation but for big profits".

Zhang says that the domestic film market is reaping the rewards of a closer working relationship with Hollywood:

He continued: “I have had around a dozen co-production and joint ventures made.

"Through such ventures it has help globalise the Chinese film industry and make it more professional. It has also helped improve the quality of Chinese movies, it has helped take them to a new level".

The makers of Star Wars, one of the biggest movie franchises in the world, also appears to have woken up to the potential of the Chinese market.

Their latest film Rogue One: A Star Wars story has two Chinese actors.

With a potential cinema going audience of 1.3 billion people, it’s not surprising everyone wants in on the action.

Donnie Yen will star in the new Star Wars film Credit: Reuters