Having plenty of moneybags isn’t always a good thing, say producers at ScreenSingapore’s conferences this week.
They warn against working with inexperienced partners and financiers in mainland China, and against using staff and crew with an inflation of experience because of the proliferation of film being greenlit in the burgeoning market.
“If you don’t own and protect the property, and have someone who can establish chain of ownership, it won’t matter that you can get the film made in China. You will not be able to take it out of China,” said Ellen Eliasoph, president & CEO of Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia (VREGA), China.
“People who say I don’t want to know about all those problems, I just want to make a film because I have all this money […] We meet young talented filmmakers who refuse to work with us because they already have some rich backer, but months later, they show up asking for help because they never came through. Sometimes it’s too late if they have half a bad film made and we can’t help them, sometimes it’s not,” she said.
Nansun Shi [pictured], founder & chairman of Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong, agreed and warned against just taking money on offer and making a film that can potentially damage your reputation and career in the long run.
“In China, there’s so much money you have to turn down. I keep telling people money is just one thing. It’s so time-consuming to find common premises to work on. My “beautiful” is not always your “beautiful”. So it’s better if you have a recognizable property like a book or other material that you can work with,” said Shi.
An Xiao Fen, founder & CEO of Desen International Media, China agreed, “Communication of ideas is most important.”
“So work with people you can trust who know what you and they are doing,” said Shi.
She also emphasized that this also goes for the production teams you work with as China’s rapid growth has also affected quality of production.
“For instance, you can’t find enough qualified ADs,” she said, describing situations with people who ostensibly have worked on three to five films but have not acquired the skills and training they would have had in a more mature industry.
Eliasoph agreed upon the lack of experience in mainland China crews, “It’s a long term thing you cannot learn overnight - or in three years. They superficially look like they are going to be less expensive, but it turns out it will be more expensive because you have to bring other people in [to help and supervise them].”
“It’s not just in production, but the rest of it like marketing materials as well. When we do a big film, it means I have to deliver in over twenty territories with subtitles, and possible changes in censorship, you need people with experience who know how to deal with these situations quickly. Still, the filmmakers are cutting their own trailers, which I don’t think is very professional, and making their own posters. Of course they can have approval but it’s not their area of expertise - you need professionals,” said Shi.
She repeated, “If you want to work in China, the most important point is finding the right partner. The ones with the longest experience are obviously Huayi Brothers and Bona, they have been at it for over ten years now and have a better sense of how to work with outside partners. And then there are others with less experience but who will also likely last 30-40 years, but beware of “flavor of the month” business people who come to filmmaking because they think it sounds good at the time.”
The producers echoed one another in saying that the expertise and understanding of film and a commitment to making good films and getting them shown was more important than just money upfront.
“It’s not just about production either. You want people with experience in exhibition and collection – and I think collecting money in China is an art in and of itself, too,” she said, drawing emphatic laughs from the audience.