RKO, the once glorious Hollywood studio, is planning to resurrect itself as a foreign-language producer with outposts in China and other parts of Asia.
Speaking during the Shanghai International Film Festival, RKO president Ted Hartley said: "we aim to be involved with three or four pictures a year from China, the same again from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea. We could potentially do more than that in Japan."
Hartley intends to deliver story-driven, local pictures with production values that make them of exportable quantity. "We want to be a friend to local talent, to be able to help them develop pictures in their own language that will travel to the west," he said.
"In their own fashion, Fox, Viacom, Sony and the French have all leaped into the future of film and TV here in China. We need to do things differently, and target opportunities where size is not important. But flexibility and speed of action are," said Hartley. "Films will have to be made for a price and in a fashion that work in their home markets.
"We are prepared to commit resources, but we also want our partners to put up money. We are after joint ventures and to build and RKO family of companies. We are not going to be outbidding other studios for properties."
RKO tried to establish a beachhead in China nearly five years ago, but found that Chinese studios were chiefly interested in servicing American productions and that the timing was not right. Now he says he is getting a warmer reception thanks to greater appreciation of the development process within China and growing acceptance of Asian and sub-titled films among western audiences.
The company says it is in talks with several local studios and other potential production partners and that it is in advanced negotiations concerning a 26-part Japanese educational series. It is also considering remakes and localised adaptations of its library titles and unmade scripts.
"We are known above all as a story studio. Films we would be doing are closer to [Zhang Yang-directed] Shower than Crouching Tiger. Films that illustrate contemporary life are what we like, but many could do with developing the internal relations of NYPD Blue for example," said Hartley.
RKO's China strategy extends to providing p&a support within China. "We can help with two of the three things that will revitalise the Chinese industry. Kodak and others are addressing the third element and are building multiplexes," said Hartley.
RKO, which lay largely dormant since 1956, has recently sprung back to life. Last year it set up a mini-series remake of the Orson Welles family drama The Magnificent Ambersons with production by A&E Network, DeAngelis Group and Victory Media. And last month it signed with Miramax offshoot Dimension Pictures to produce Suspicion, a reworking of the 1941 Alfred Hitchcock classic.