Barbara Robinson, managing director of Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia says that a studio can act like a local player.

How does Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia (CPFPA) operate'
Our mandate is to acquire, develop and produce local-language films primarily for the Asian market but hopefully with potential to move beyond Asia and perform well in western markets.

We receive submissions of material in all the usual variety of forms: concept pitch, synopsis, treatments, scripts, etc. which we review internally with an eye to our becoming involved at whatever stage. We were lucky in our first year to have several projects brought to us, including Zhang Yimou's Not One Less and The Road Home, in part because Zhang and I had a working relationship of many years standing prior to my joining Columbia. But besides these two films, and subsequently Tsui Hark's Time And Tide and Ang's Crouching Tiger, we were not receiving additional quality material/ submissions at the rate we felt we needed. Therefore, about a year into our establishment, we decided to refocus our efforts on developing projects in-house.

Chen Kuo Fu's Double Vision, which just completed principal photography, is one of the best examples of this. Also on our slate this year is Big Shot's Funeral, which came in at concept stage, Cory Yuen's film was brought to us as a concept, while He Ping's Heroes Of Heaven And Earth was brought in as a treatment. This current slate reflects a wider variety of genres than I think we initially expected to be involved in but it allows us to operate as a more well-rounded production entity and hopefully gives the viewing audience a wider choice as well.

Has the success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon changed that'
Though clearly there is now greater competition for local talent and projects, we are also seeing a significant jump in the number of approaches to us and projects being submitted for our consideration. And if, as we assume, the sheer volume of production in the region goes up, we will also have greater choice on the acquisition side of our business. Our current annual production goal is approximately four to six films per year but this can and will fluctuate depending on the usual factors such as script development progress, talent availability, and the number of potential acquisitions in the marketplace. This year's slate was well underway and in effect greenlit prior to the resounding success of CTHD.

How do you compare your operations with those of the other studios operating in Asia'
We are the only studio that has a fully dedicated production division. We were the first to do so because Sony Pictures Entertainment has long had a strong belief in the viability of local language content and SPE's involvement in local language production, both in features and television, has been in place for some time. CPFPA was only the third feature production operation established, following on our Brazilian operation as well as our German arm, Deutsche Columbia Pictures Filmproduktion headed by Andrea Willson.

What impact do you expect from the current reforms in China, the WTO entry and the changes at China Film Corp'
I think everyone feels there will be broad changes, but the speed and efficacy with which they will be implemented remains to be seen. As the changes that concern the kind of production work we are doing, it's possible that eventually non-Chinese companies can get on-going production licenses but in fact getting permission on a case-by-case basis (i.e. "official co-production status") is not difficult today. Two of our films this year, Big Shot's Funeral and Heroes Of Heaven And Earth are both co-productions, financed by ourselves, a local Chinese partner and, in each case, a different mainland studio.

Fact File
Barbara Robinson started her career teaching at Qinghua University in Beijing. In 1989 she joined Era International in Taiwan as vice president of production and licensing , where she worked on films including Hou Hsiao Hsien's A City of Sadness and Zhang Yimou's Raise The Red Lantern. Before becoming vice president of programming at Encore International in the US in 1996, she co-produced two documentaries. In 1998 she moved to Hong Kong to found Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia. The division enjoyed early success with two Zhang Yimou films, Tsui Hark's Time And Tide and as co-producer of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.