When New Regency's adventure movie Jumper opened through Fox in Korea in February, Fox co-chairman and co-CEO Jim Gianopulos called New Regency president of filmed entertainment Sanford Panitch to deliver the good news.

The film had grossed $4.8m to score Fox's seventh biggest ever opening in the territory.

But, Panitch recalls, that was not good enough to take the number one spot which was instead filled by local crime thriller The Chaser.

For Panitch, the Korean example neatly illustrated how market share is shifting around the world and nudged him to take a job which Gianopulos and his co-chairman and CEO at Fox Tom Rothman had been offering him for a while - that of president of a new local-language initiative at the studio, Fox International Productions (FIP).

Officially launched at Cannes this year, FIP crystallises the studio's long-term international production and acquisition activities into one unit run by Panitch who spent seven years running production at New Regency after four years in senior production roles at Fox and prior to that at Arnold Kopelson Productions.

Initial focus on four territories

With credits including Mr & Mrs Smith, The Fugitive, Seven and Titanic, Panitch is a Hollywood insider. But he was increasingly intrigued by the talent and movies outside the US and not just the box-office figures for New Regency titles.

Take Shutter, for example, the 2008 chiller which New Regency produced in Tokyo last year. Not only did Panitch buy remake rights to the 1994 Thai film on which Shutter was based, but he worked with Japanese producer Taka Ichise and director Masayuki Ochiai on the new version and shot simultaneous English-language and Japanese-language versions.

The English version opened in the US in March and the Japanese-language version opens in Japan in September.

Indeed, Japan is one of the first markets which FIP will focus on initially, alongside Germany, Russia and India - all territories large enough, explains Gianopulos, that 'if you get it right, you can benefit from the size of the market'.

'Each of these countries has strong, indigenous industries,' he continues. 'In the case of India, you have a population of 1.2 billion people and the fact is that US movies compose less than 5% of the market.'

'The goal is to make the best movie for the local market,' says Panitch, 'and if it's good enough to be leveraged internationally, look at that afterwards.'

And while Gianopulos says that Fox could afford to finance the new initiative out of its own coffers, it is sealing deals with investment funds to provide equity financing for its international films.

'We are very pleased by the interest from equity investors,' he says.

'We will seek out opportunities for local co-financing or co-production as well as using resources from a global fund. We were involved in the distribution of Y Tu Mama Tambien, Alatriste, 28 Days Later and the Night Watch films, but most of these were funded outside the Fox infrastructure - our plan is to have greater creative control and financial interest in the films going forward.'

Local partnerships

Panitch says FIP will have no blueprint for its local production activities, continuing to seek out partnerships with local producers and directors or TV networks such as Fuji TV with which it is co-producing a Japanese remake of 2004 Oscar-winner Sideways to be directed by Cellin Gluck.

'There is a growing affection for wine and the art of savouring wine in Japan and they took an interest in the remake idea,' explains Gianopulos.

FIP continues the close relationship the studio enjoys with Russia's Timur Bekmambetov and his Bazelevs Productions. Bekmambetov is in pre-production on Dusk Watch, the third in his vampire trilogy, and will also produce an effects-driven movie called The Darkest Hour, which Panitch describes as 'Independence Day in Moscow'. Dmitri Kiselev is to direct.

In Germany, FIP has a production deal with Claussen & Wobke, the producer of Krabat, with which it is identifying new properties; and in Japan an ongoing first-look deal with Ichise, the producer of the original Grudge and Ring films.

'We are also exploring places where Fox has infrastructure that other companies don't, like Indonesia, which has a population of 200 million people and $500,000 is the cost of the movies,' says Gianopulos.

Panitch will work closely with Fox's international theatrical releasing operation run by Tomas Jegeus and Paul Hanneman and the studio's executive vice-president of worldwide acquisitions Tony Safford.

He adds that the local managing directors have been identifying opportunities for production in their home territories long before FIP was formally established.

In Los Angeles, he is hiring a small core team; among the first on board is Anna Kokourina, who is named director of development and first charged with overseeing The Darkest Hour. She was formerly a creative executive at New Regency.

'We are not going to presume our process,' Panitch asserts, 'but rather we will learn from the local markets. It's not just that they tend to operate differently from the creative perspective but they have different ways of working - from both physical production and management perspectives.

'On the flip side, some of the Fox resources can help with local production. We have the ability to bring technological and distribution scaleabilities which might be advantageous to them.'

Fox's global resources

The plan is also to leverage News Corp sister companies such as Star TV in India, the Sky companies in Europe, Myspace and publishing giant Harper Collins.

'Fox has the advantage of being able to leverage the property globally, on TV or in the ancillary businesses like Myspace,' says Panitch. 'We have the opportunity to take the fullest advantage of the company's global assets; for example News Corp has Harper Collins which gives us the chance to find local bestsellers first and adapt them into films.'

'It's an important initiative for us,' says Gianopulos. 'We have a long-term commitment to the international marketplace at parent and studio level. The fact we have 20-25 US movies being released globally every year gives us incremental opportunities in local production.'

'A good story is a good story anywhere,' concludes Panitch. 'FIP intends to identify good stories and bring the marketing and distribution leverage to bear to maximise their potential.'