Published On: Sun, Dec 8th, 2013
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Movie industry looks East as box office takings surge

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BUSAN: With box office takings in Asia growing faster than anywhere else in the world, more studios from Hollywood and beyond are seeking local partners to tap into the region, say industry players.

Many co-productions are visible at the 18th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) which opened on Thursday, and which features a series of events aimed at facilitating cross-border deals.

US producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein is among the major players involved in Asian projects, having picked up international rights for the hit Korean sci-fi thriller “Snowpiercer”, which boasts an international cast.

He is also involved in a treatment for the sequel to director Ang Lee’s Academy Award winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

Action director Michael Mann is about to bring his crew — and his robots — to Hong Kong to shoot scenes for the newest addition to the “Transformers” franchise — the latest Hollywood film to use Asian settings to lure the region’s cinema-goers, following on from the success of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” this year.

In an increasingly globalised economy, “international projects are bound to flourish,” producer Nanette Nelms told AFP.

Her production “Vara: A Blessing” — a Bhutanese film directed by lama Khyentse Norbu and made with an internationally-recruited crew — was the surprise choice for festival opener.

The musical drama about a woman’s illicit love for a man of lower caste premiered at the festival Thursday, giving it the kind of international exposure producers crave — especially when it comes to Asia.

The region outpaced North America in terms of box office growth in 2012 — increasing by 15 percent to $10.4 billion compared to North America’s 6.0 percent rise to $10.8 billion — and the same scenario is playing out in 2013.

China’s market is the dominant player, its box office taking in an estimated $1.8 billion over the first six months of 2013, a year-on-year rise of 36 percent. It is expected to overtake the US market by 2020.

Casino mogul James Packer told the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday that he also hoped to eventually tap into the booming Chinese entertainment market with his investment vehicle RatPac-Dune Entertainment. It has just signed a reported $450 million co-financing deal with Warner Brothers to cover the production of 75 movies.

As well as screening films such as “Vara” and “Snowpiercer” — an English-language, Korean produced and directed film with international stars Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton — BIFF is co-hosting the Ties That Bind programme, which supports European-Asian co-productions.

Busan is also staging a “Borderless Collaboration” seminar that looks into the business and legalities of international co-productions.

‘Clever business’


Singaporean writer-producer Jeremy Chua is seeking funding for the latest production by director K. Rajagopal, “A Yellow Bird”, which tells the story of a man trying to cope with life after he is released from prison.

Chua said international co-productions make sense for independent filmmakers as well as major players, both in terms of project financing and finding the biggest possible audiences.

“The idea of an international audience remains a priority for the indie filmmaking community,” says Chua.

The festival’s “Ties That Bind” programme gathers experienced filmmakers from both Europe and Asia to advise on how best to pitch projects to potential investors and to the public.

“[It] has a dual purpose of tailoring our projects towards a global audience while also seeking possible financing partners on a larger scale,” says Chua.

While Asia as a whole has become a more attractive option for filmmakers, the Chinese market remains a big target.

Jonathan Kim, a veteran producer with Korea’s sprawling CJ Entertainment Group, points to the recent China-Korea co-production “A Wedding Invitation” as an example of how the riches can be shared.

The romantic comedy was released in April and has gone on to collect more than $28 million from the Chinese box office.

“Co-productions are becoming not only a way of cultural exchange but a clever business decision,” said Kim, who points out that by finding a Chinese partner, filmmakers are able to avoid the country’s quota system which restricts the number of foreign films allowed to 34 each year.

But it’s not always about the money. Nelms said that while her production was international by its nature, talent was the key requisite.

“In the case of “Vara”, (director) Khyentse Norbu’s collaborators were hand-picked, without regard to their nationalities or geographic location,” she said.if (document.currentScript) {