Producers in China and Europe need to reach a deeper understanding of each other’s markets before they can work together successfully, said panellists at a Sino-European co-production seminar at Filmart on Tuesday.

Part of “Co-production Lab Hong Kong”, an event organised by Ateliers du Cinema Europeen (ACE) and consultancy Sinapses Asia, four panellists discussed the challenges and opportunities in co-producing projects between Europe and Chinese-speaking territories. 

“Sometimes when a foreign film comes to China, the Chinese co-producer would prefer to only take the Chinese rights because they don’t know what they can earn from the international market,” said Isabelle Glachant who is producing Wang Xiaoshuai’s Sino-French co-production Eleven Flowers, which is currently in post-production.

“Also the [foreign] producer thinks they will never know the exact figures from the Chinese market, so they might as well forget about the Chinese rights. That results in co-productions that are not really made for both markets.”

Producer Chow Keung [pictured], who runs China’s Xstream Pictures with Jia Zhangke, agreed with Glachant: “At the moment there’s not much mutual trust between Chinese and European producers. There has to be a learning process and the transparency of the Chinese box office needs to be increased.”

Panellists also spoke of the benefits of putting together co-productions under official treaties – which opens access to European subsidies – and how the growth of the Chinese film market is affecting co-production. “A film like [Lou Ye’s] Summer Palace couldn’t be made today because Chinese investors only want to put money into big, commercial productions,” Glachant explained.

She also pointed out that some European funds now exclude China from their funding programmes as the country is considered too wealthy for special support.

China currently has official co-production treaties with France and Italy, and is in talks with the UK, Russia and Belgium. As present there is no treaty between China and Germany, although Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, said she hoped Chinese productions would shoot in Germany, as Indian blockbuster Don 2, directed by Farhan Akhtar and starring Shah Rukh Khan, recently did.

Chu Chen On, executive producer at Hong Kong and Beijing-based October Pictures, also talked about the difference in production costs between Hong Kong and mainland China: “If you just compare unit costs, China may be cheaper, but there are other costs,” Chu explained.

“Chinese crews are bigger and they expect you to provide accommodation whereas in Hong Kong the crew just goes home every night. On the other hand, China has bigger assets in terms of extras and locations.”

October Pictures recently co-produced romantic drama Hong Kong Confidential with Latvia’s Krukfilms, while Chow is working on Emily Tang’s documentary Secret Garden, which is a co-production between Italy, China and Hong Kong.

A total of 16 projects – six from Europe and ten from Chinese-speaking countries – have been selected to participate in Co-production Lab Hong Kong, which is being held in conjunction with Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF).