Orb Media Group and China-Hollywood Society jointly hosted the “China-Wood” Screenwriting Workshop that focused on changes that have come about over this past year, as the dust begins to settle, giving way to a new “China-Wood” space. The event brought together over 120 screenwriters and filmmakers from the local film community in Beijing. The key speakers at the event were: founder of Orb Media Group, Peter Shiao; renowned producer Tang Xiru; Head of Motion Picture Literary Department at CAA China, Ashley Zhang; and screenwriter Peter Walters. They took to the stage to discuss the current state of the Chinese film industry after a tumultuous year here on the mainland, the present situation for US-China co-productions and what future co-productions could look like after the disappointment of The Great Wall.During the event, Peter Shiao announced the launch of the 2018 China-Hollywood Screenwriting Fellowship, jointly organized by Orb Media Group and Hollywood script competition platform, ScreenCraft. The purpose of the program is to look for and help develop cross-border screenwriting talent. Alongside mentoring the fellows, Orb Media Group is actively seeking high-quality co-production ideas that have the potential to be relevant to audiences on both sides. Last year’s inaugural screenwriting competition was completely successful, with nearly a thousand applications received across both sides. One of last year’s winners, Marcus Sun, the writer of Winter’s Night, was in attendance at the screenwriting workshop. The Beautiful Country, another winning script from 2017 written by writer-director Patrick Bieseman, is currently at an advanced stage of development with Orb Media Group.“In view of the current shortage of talent, Chinese investors are more inclined to invest in large sci-fi co-productions or at least those that are heavier on the visual effects side, so as to make up for potential shortcomings of directors and screenwriters. They are willing to cooperate with teams that are well-matched on both sides and that share a common international vision in producing these large-scale projects,” said Ashley Zhang, Head of Motion Picture Literary Department at CAA China, the world’s largest entertainment and sports agency. Zhang not only offered her unique insight into the recent trends of the US-China co-productions, but also shared her experience with investment difficulties. Some of the problems that US-China projects frequently face are due to the fact that the focus of local investors is not purely on the US-China co-production space. Their focus is often pulled by co-productions between China and other nations, that they believe stand a better chance in the domestic market. “The first step of any project development, whether it’s a co-production or a domestic project, is the quality of the script, which has to meet our standards here at CAA in order to be successfully selected.”Story and creativity are the core of all projects that are in development. Renowned producer Tang Xiru shared an anecdote from the beginning period of her screenwriting class highlighting that story and creativity are the core of all projects that are in development. “Currently, the entertainment industry is in a state of extreme hunger for talent. The capital bubble and the lack of industry standards has created chaos that has made it incredibly difficult for writers to concentrate on writing. In order to write a good script, one must first be humble and let go of your pride, and to treat the film as a branch of knowledge to be explored and understood. It is not a matter of where your pre-existing knowledge lies, but rather it relies on a mixture of innate talent and enthusiasm.”
A successful screenplay requires a combination of talent, creativity and skill. Peter Walters, screenwriter and instructor at the Beijing Film Academy, also pointed out that most of his students love to write stories about their dreams and personal experiences, which in his opinion, are sometimes too narrow in scope, and thus readers or potential audiences may find it difficult to connect with the story.The Great Wall has been subjected to the most pressure to perform as a result of being the first true large scale co-production. Despite its disappointing results, there are plenty of lessons to learn from this movie. Peter Shiao was at the helm of the very first US-China co-production and so knows all too well what is required to make a movie work on both sides.
“The word co-production is just that, a noun, but the most important thing is the story itself. To create a successful co-production, the movie has to consider three main factors. Firstly, the team has to know their territory and remain resolute in their direction once they’ve established which sphere they will operate in. Secondly, the integration of both language and culture is required. Thirdly, and most significantly, is having a team that is capable of bringing the project to fruition.”Tang Xiru offered her opinion on why the emphasis on the financial and operational structure of co-productions can get in the way of creating meaningful and entertaining movies. “Unsuccessful co-productions are essentially unsuccessful films. The concept of a co-production exists to serve an operational process, but when making films the process should begin by going back to the idea itself, yet currently many of the co-productions are actually putting the cart before the horse.”
Orb Media Group was founded by Peter Shiao. It is a cross-border company that focuses on film development, production and financing and has collaborated on various co-production projects. Peter Shiao previously founded the annual US-China Film Summit at AFM and co-hosted “Co-Production Night” with China Film Co-Production Corporation.