The fastest growing film market in the world can be found East-bound in China.
The country is trending to overtake the United States as the world’s largest film market by 2017, according to Mike Ellis, who heads the Asia Pacific operations of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Growth is attributed to American blockbusters like last year’s Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, as well as the country’s growing middle-class. Such tentpole and effects-heavy studio movies are being seen more and more by China’s growing multiplexes, which are said to be multiplying by a rate of twenty screens per day.
Hollywood is certainly taking notice. Most big studio event films are catering to the Chinese market through locations, international storylines, and casting.
Studios and production companies are partnering with Chinese studios, production companies, and financiers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars — and far more than that in some cases — for film financing and funding.
Just last year, Chinese movie studio Bona Film Group invested $235 million in TSG Entertainment Finance, which finances major movies from 20th Century Fox. Bona had a stake in last year’s Best Picture nominee The Martian.
Needless to say, the international film market is making a huge shift. And that shift will showcase China and U.S. companies and audiences at the forefront. Not as separate markets, but as one symbiotic industry.
This shift begins an interesting conversation in regards to where screenwriters — both from China and the U.S. — will find themselves in the mix, and how these two markets can best benefit from each other.
ScreenCraft recently partnered with the Shanghai International Film Festival, producing a 90-minute conversation titled ScreenCraft’s Hollywood Creative Panel: Screenwriting for a Global Audience.
To answer some of these questions, we turned to our new friends at Twilightstar Entertainment, a Chinese production company that is positioning itself well within this developing partnership.
ScreenCraft: How, when, and where did Twilightstar Entertainment come to be?
TSE: Twilightstar Entertainment (TSE) was founded in 2015 by award-winning filmmakers — as well as business and marketing professionals — on the premise of bringing stories everywhere. We are a fully integrated, broad-based production company headquartered in Beijing that specializes in the creation, production, and marketing of original content and their related businesses. Our leadership team hails from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, delivering stories and entertainment experiences that are both universally and locally cherished.
We named the company “Twilightstar” — which is labeled with the Chinese characters 启明星 (qi ming xing) and with the meaning of the shiniest “morning star” in the East — implying that the prospective of the company lies brightly in front of us like the shiniest star, constant and spectacular.
ScreenCraft: What makes a great co-production between China and Hollywood?
TSE: A true cross-cultural co-production has not yet succeeded. To make Chinese films that can be appreciated by global audiences, or vice versa, co-production has to start from the basics. Scripts are very important. Figuring out how to get screenwriters from China and the U.S to work together is what co-production should focus on. There are many talented Chinese screenwriters, but they have to learn from Hollywood when it comes to story and world building. Interestingly, American movies are sometimes made with Chinese audience in mind, knowing they’ll be subject to Chinese government censors. That leads to strategic creative picks.
ScreenCraft: What’s Twilightstar Entertainment’s approach to creating movies that appeal to diverse-cultures?
TSE: The U.S. has had a multicultural industry from the beginning, so by nature the movies were made for diverse audiences. Then Hollywood conditioned the world to consume a story a certain way. We have to learn to merge or create a new system that’s equally global. One of the things about these current hit Chinese movies is most of them are very parochial and just don’t translate. To make Chinese pictures much more acceptable and palatable to the global audience, it must start with developing a really organic story that different territories’ audiences will feel comfortable with. But this kind of project takes a lot of understanding and teamwork. Twilightstar has a great development team that knows Chinese interests and Hollywood styles really well. A team that understands both markets and at the same time has a willingness to accept diversity. Every story we produce combines Hollywood structure with a Chinese story foundation and global audience orientation. We explore the connectivity between themes and make character development fit in both markets.
ScreenCraft: What are the major differences and similarities between China and Hollywood markets?
TSE: The maturity of the Chinese film market is more or less equivalent to the 1980s in other industries. Many Chinese audiences are new moviegoers and their appreciation of those works is not fully developed. They enjoy spectacular visual effects and explosive audio rather than story and characters. Among other considerations, China’s film market is heavily regulated. By comparison, Hollywood has been less vocal on the subject of censorship. China has been learning from Hollywood about how a movie is made and marketed throughout the years, and are becoming more diverse and more influential in the international market. Chinese elements are widely used now.
ScreenCraft: What opportunities exist for talented English-speaking screenwriters in China?
TSE: Hollywood and China are growing more comfortable with each other. Hollywood filmmakers are now more willing to cater to Chinese interests. This means more opportunities for international co-productions and more demand for talented English-speaking screenwriters based in China. At the moment, it is difficult to find screenplays that work as co-productions. Studios in China have trouble finding talent to write international Chinese films that will travel outside the country.
ScreenCraft: What type of projects is Twilightstar Entertainment seeking out?
TSE: The rich cultural history of China is something that hasn’t fully been mined yet. We are committed in producing international Chinese films that will travel outside China. Every story we produce combines Hollywood Structure, Chinese story foundation, and global audience orientation. We develop adapted stories from classic Chinese literature, fairy-tales and oriental mystery. At the same time, we focus on producing high-concept content with high degree of originality and high level of entertainment value.
ScreenCraft: What is the development process like in the Chinese film market, as far as finding and developing scripts, packaging, production, etc.?
TSE: China is not really into development and packaging. The classic Chinese movie that is made is driven by big name directors who say “I want to make this movie, here is the treatment, and I am going to start shooting in September.” And then someone says, “Here is 5 million dollars, go do it.” So the concept of developing screenplays and having someone analyze the marketing potential of a picture was simply not in the system. It’s only until recently, with the commercialization of the Chinese film industry, and in the ability of co-productions, studios begin to shift focus to development and packaging. But the system still has not caught up with the Hollywood development system yet, because developing great writers and marketing specialists doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s happening.
ScreenCraft: What projects are Twilightstar Entertainment currently producing and developing?
TSE: We are currently in pre-production of a 4-quadrant original Chinese science-fiction/fantasy movie called The Cube Walker. Filming is scheduled to start spring 2017 and will be completed summer 2017. The story is about a talented boy who fights his way through — and tries to survive — a cube-shaped universe that was created by a race of hyper-intelligent beings. In addition, we are in development on a high concept web series, which adopted the similar storytelling and structure of American science-fiction/fantasy television shows.
The combined U.S. and Chinese film market and industry are the future of cinema. Aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers should pay keen attention to the development of this international partnership in order to seek out those coveted opportunities that are sure to become available.
To prepare content for this shift, screenwriters should consider including Chinese elements, characters, location, and themes when applicable. They should be not only marketing their work to Hollywood, but to the Chinese film market as well.
The future of cinema is now.