The Future In Chinawood

In spite of a recent S.E.C. investigation into possible bribes proffered by Hollywood studios seeking a lucrative foothold in the Chinese film industry, plans to ramp up China-US co-productions seem to be rolling full steam ahead. For perhaps the first time, the future of US-China co-production efforts has a name, albeit a slightly obvious one. It’s the age of “Chinawood.”

And pretty soon, it’ll have a face, too. According to Clifford Coonan of Variety, a $1.27 billion facility that will serve as a “co-production film financing platform, a co-production service center with post facilities, a facility for 3D conversion and a distribution and marketing center” is being constructed outside of Tianjin. The Chinawood behemoth, which is being built approximately a thirty-minute train ride outside central Beijing,

“is aimed at luring U.S. and other foreign productions and will provide a hub for co-productions, which are exempt from Chinese import quotas. Some 35% of the investment is earmarked for film financing.”

The question of “luring” Hollywood attention to China seems an easy game, as American producers look increasingly to China for box office numbers that elude American releases. The hurdle Hollywood must surpass to produce and distribute in China, of course, is government control of everything from content to distribution quotas, many of which are highlighted in a recent New York Times profile of the China Film Group and its director, the veritable overlord of the Chinese film industry, Han Sanping.

In The Guardian, Andrew Pulver writes of Chinawood:

Chinawood’s main aim will be to service co-productions between Hollywood and China – a move that will no doubt be popular among US producers, to get around China’s strict quota regulations.

By design, Chinawood will provide an infrastructure—both physically and institutionally—that allows both Chinese and American filmmakers to grab their piece of the pie. Certainly, Chinawood represents an immense investment that aims to provide American producers with the technical and political support to rake in Chinese box office revenues and also provide Chinese filmmakers with access to new talent, new audiences, and a new means to export filmmaking as “soft culture.” It’s a win-win, right? In fact, the still rigid guidelines for the distribution of foreign films in China (even Chinawood’s co-productions) portend that those involved in productions in China may still face some formidable impediments in the shape of the China Film Group’s censorship policies. Writing for the Times, David Cieply and David Barboza report:

Co-productions with Chinese companies by foreign producers are subject to the authorization of the China Film Co-Production Company, a China Film Group unit, the report said.

Submission to the Chinese censors, who typically spend 15 to 30 business days reviewing a film and sometimes demand changes, again runs through the film group. Several of the largest theater chains, the commission found, were at least partly owned by the group.

Chinawood is slated to open in October 2012, when the particular dynamics of this co-production giant will become more apparent. The formulas to dual success in the land of US-China co-productions are largely untested and Chinawood may represent one of the boldest attempts to shape this future. Perhaps the elevation of Chinawood is ineluctable, though they might want to reconsider the name.

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