Asian territories need to work together to create content that can work across national borders and different distribution platforms, said delegates at a TIFFCOM seminar organised by UniJapan and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC).

'Economy-wise, we have Europe, the Americas, and Asia, and we need to try to create an Asian contents bloc - a comprehensive Asian culture community, by promoting exchange and linkages,' said Masahiro Yoshizaki, from the media and content industry division of the Commerce and Information Bureau.

Noting Japan-HK co-productions such as Tokyo Sonata, or ones that involved several countries including Japan and HK, such as Red Cliff, he added: 'Instead of trying to force-feed foreign audiences with what we like in Japan, we should try to learn what the users want. We should pull rather than push into Asia.'

Douglas Glen, CEO & executive director, Imagi International Holdings, spoke of his company's hit TMNT and upcoming Astroboy and Gatchaman features.

'Based on Japanese creativity and ingenuity and characters that are already loved, we focus on archetypal stories. We have top talent in Hong Kong, returning to Asia after working at DreamWorks and Pixar, and who understand and love the culture that gave birth to these characters,' he said.

Panelists took up examples of Godzilla and Speed Racer, which took original Japanese concepts and pushed them into Hollywood molds and formulas without really understanding the core of them, thus failing to thrill audiences.

'To compete [with the major studios], we have to be a little more agile, a little smarter. What would cost $150m - $200m on the high end, we make for one third of the cost in Hong Kong,' said Glen.

'We are in the business of building brands. If you have something archetypal - stories of heroes with drama, action, humour and heart, people will want to tap into that, to buy the TMNT and Astroboy t-shirts and toys, to follow the sequels, to be reminded of the quest for knowledge and wisdom.'

He added that was the reason why companies such as McDonalds, which he called 'the world's biggest toy store', gave away so many free toys. Penguin books and American Greetings were also eager to tie-in with their motion pictures.

Takayuki Matsutani, president of Tezuka Production Co spoke about collaborating with Hong Kong-based Imagi on the production of CG-animated motion picture Astroboy.

'It's a case of taking an well-loved and enduring character, created by Japanese artist, to a wider audience with collaboration with Hong Kong and the rest of the world,' said Matsutani. A popular manga and TV series originally created by Osamu Tezuka, Astroboy is set for a feature-length debut in 2009. The film is to be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros and The Weinstein Company.

'The brand of Hong Kong films is not what it used to be, but Hong Kong filmmakers are used to taking a cosmopolitan view. They need more than the local market to survive,' said Wellington Fung, secretary general of Hong Kong Film Development Council (FDC), saying it is necessary for them to look to Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan and well as mainland China.

Hong Kong has the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with China that grants HK-China co-productions mainland status to bypass quotas, making it more attractive for other countries to work with Hong Kong film companies as well.

He presented his organisation's support programme which provides up to HK$3.6m for selected small- to medium-budget films - i.e. 30% of a budget up to a maximum of HK$12m.

Hong Kong filmmaker Ivy Ho's Claustrophobia, which is currently in the Tokyo International Film Festival's competition, received funding from Japan 's Avex group and also benefitted from the TDC's programme.