Better education and more government funding for new Asian film-making talents could be the secrets to making more successful mid-budget Asian films, experts told Filmart attendees at a Tuesday panel.
The region has already had some good news with the Hong Kong government's recent promise to create a $38.4m (HK$300m) fund to support local films and new talents - although much ambiguity still exists about details or structure of the funding.
Lee Beasley, who runs the Media division of Hong Kong-based Standard Chartered Bank, noted that when he worked in London, about 90% of films had soft money attached. 'With a layer of soft money that's non-recoupable, it's much easier to turn a profit. So profitability of mid-budget Asian films is less assured than with the European counterparts.'
Producer Peggy Chiao of the Taiwan Film Center said that getting entrepreneurs to set up film financing funds in Asia would also help (Beasley noted that four international funds were being set up to fund Asian projects currently).
She also encouraged more international co-productions. Along those lines, Peter Poon of Fortune Star Entertainment said that making films targeted for their home market and several other Asian countries can be a smarter move that making huge films for every international territory.
Panelists noted that the definitions of 'mid-budget' varied widely throughout Asia, but that in the Hong Kong industry it might be $4m-$7m (compared with just $1m in Singapore.)
Poon said for his company, that range was 'a black hole,' not a small enough budget to recoup with just local success, but not a large enough budget to attach name cast and create production values sufficient for the international market.
Working with a slate of lower-budget films, such as the Focus: First Cuts series made by first-time directors, has helped Fortune Star reduce risk with a portfolio of films with the potential to break out (as with hit low-budget comedy Crazy Stone).
UK-based strategic consultant Jonathan Olsberg said that regional film-makers should get the chance to make mid-budget films earlier in their careers, citing the example of Stephen Frears getting support in his career in England 25 years ago. 'There aren't enough opportunities for those new voices [in Hong Kong],' he noted.
Olsberg and Poon also said that practical education and training for film-makers (as well as audience development starting with school children) could dramatically help the region build a more sustainable mid-level business.
The market can support more diverse mid-range projects, the panelists predicted. 'Mid-range projects are the perfect place to breed new talents and that will help the longevity of the industry, it's not healthy to rely on just a few talents and the huge-budget films,' Chiao added. 'Now we have 1.5 billion people in China watching films by three people.'