File photo taken on Jan. 20, 2015 shows the Screen Actors Guild statue in front of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, the United States. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)
by Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, March 30 (Xinhua) -- "Film co-productions can help foster greater cultural exchange and understanding between two different countries, such as China and the United States," Hollywoord film director Julia Pierrepont III said at her home in Sunland, Los Angeles.
Also a producer and writer, the Hollywood veteran impressed Xinhua reporters with homemade desserts and a garden full of beautiful flowers as well as her interests in U.S.-China co-productions.
"Hollywood has a long history of welcoming investment from many sources, including foreign ones. China is no exception and will be welcomed in Hollywood," said Pierrepont, known for films "Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel" and "Ghosts Never Sleep."
Julia Pierrepont III speaks in an interview with Xinhua at her home in Sunland, Los Angeles, the United States on March 16, 2017.(Xinhua/Alan Zeng)
HOT TOPIC IN HOLLYWOOD
Having been doing business in China for more than five years and developed excellent relationship with many Chinese producers and investors, Pierrepont has two co-productions with Chinese filmmakers in pre-production.
One of the films is "Defenders of the Gao," an exciting superhero action movie in which ancient Chinese Shaolin warrior monks team up with modern day American and Chinese videogame champions to defeat a dreaded demon intend on destroying mankind. The film will be shooting at Wanda Studios in Qingdao and to be chosen by China Film Co-Production Corporation at the Beijing Film Festival as an appropriate U.S.-China co-production.
Another is "Orson's Final Cut," a low budget thriller about a Chinese actress doing her first Hollywood movie on location in Mexico during the Day of the Dead Festival who unwittingly unleashes an angry Aztec Demon who pretends to be the famous Orson Welles.
Pierrepont is not alone in her journey to China which has the world's second-largest box office next to the North America and is on track to be the world's biggest box office market by the end of 2017.
Co-production has been one of the hottest topics among Chinese and American filmmakers for years. There are Chinese films related award ceremonies, panel discussions, cocktail parties all year around in Hollywood, organized and supported by different groups and people.
Taking the annual Chinese American Film Festival as an example, it is organized by the Los Angeles-based media firm, EDI media, and supported by China Film Bureau, MPA and PGA.
After 12 years of devotion, it has become one of the most important film events between the two largest box offices in the world. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez commented that "the movie we watched only showed China in Americans' eyes, but Chinese American Film Festival showed us a whole new China in Chinese perspective."
Ten or 15 years ago, it was very hard to have A-list Hollywood filmmakers gathering around for a Chinese event, even though the venue was only a few minutes away from their offices.
But in 2016, all of the major Hollywood studios sent their executives to Ricardo Montalban Theater, to receive awards from Chinese American Film Festival. As Jack Ledwith, SVP of International Distribution at Universal Pictures said on the stage, "China is very important to us."
Hollywood studios have turned to the country as a rare growth area for their prospective blockbusters. By far China is the biggest single export market for U.S films, while some films have received even better revenues in China than at home.
The Oscars-nominated war film "Hacksaw Ridge" grossed 16 million U.S. dollars on its debut and a total of 70-million-dollars box office in China.
"I had never expected such a huge success in China," said Bill Mechanic, producer of the movie and another Hollywood veteran, who is also looking for opportunities to co-produce movies with China.
The success of "Hacksaw Ridge" in China's box office is just one of the latest emblems of how Chinese market is changing the map of film industry and the mind of Hollywood.
EVER-INCREASING PRESENCE OF CHINESE ELEMENTS
As the co-productions are giving American studios the opportunity to come to market in China, the approval of cultural content by the Chinese in these American films becomes imperative. In the last decade, there has been an ever-increasing presence of Chinese elements in Hollywood films.
"Initially the Chinese characters and story lines in these American films were essentially trivial 'tack ons,' but as the Chinese market rapidly expanded, Hollywood studios have attempted to make Chinese creative elements more integral to their film's story," said Professor Michael Peyser at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
The professor agreed with Pierrepont, who pointed out that there are some successful films with Chinese elements, like "Iron Man", "Kung Fu Panda" and others.
"It is natural that the Chinese investment community would want to have Chinese elements, Chinese actors and Chinese situations in the films that they invest in. It is an important form of 'soft power' that shares Chinese culture more broadly around the world. But it is key to introduce Chinese content that is commercially viable in the world market, because there are cultural differences that need to be understood and respected to do this properly," Pierrepont told Xinhua.
Nowadays, an important way for Chinese filmmakers to become influential in the world film market is to participate in Hollywood and international films.
"A Chinese company might be the biggest success in China, but if they have no footprint in Hollywood or internationally, then they will not be influential in the rest of the world," Pierrepont added.
The ties are strengthening in both directions as the American and Chinese film industries are getting increasingly closer in recent years. As Hollywood studios are setting up officers in China, Chinese investors have been buying American film assets as well.
Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group has already bought AMC Theaters and Legendary Pictures studio. Alibaba Picture Group also announced a strategic partnership on co-production with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners to become a bigger film business player.
China is tring to learn more from Hollywood and to make movies for global audience while the Hollywood studios are attracted by the scale of the market and the growth opportunity in China.
NEW JOURNEY OF HOLLYWOOD TO CHINA
After years of explosive growth, the Chinese box office finally shows signs of slowing down. China's domestic ticket sales increased just 2.4 percent last year, compared with a 49 percent jump in 2015.
Some doubt that the golden age of Hollywood in China is coming to an end after the recent setback of Wanda's effort to buy Hollywood's Dick Clark and the underperformed box office of "The Great Wall" -- the most expensive Hollywood-Chinese collaboration ever -- in both China and North America. The opportunity to make great films that embrace both Chinese and American audiences is challenged.
But Hollywood veterans still believe their journey to the Middle Kingdom has just begun and they can pull through with Chinese partners. The latest prove is the strong box office performance of "Kong: Skull Island."
The blockbuster of the Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment roared into China over the weekend, earning a muscular 72 million U.S. dollars, according to studio figures.
"Hollywood is getting smarter about how to reach out and embrace the Chinese audience. I know from my own creative development of projects that there are new found ways to bridge the language gap. It will require cinematic magic and clever craft. Even more so it demands dynamic storytelling and characters we care about that help engage audiences everywhere," said Peyser.
Richard L. Anderson, a Special Achievement Academy Award winner, drew an analogy between film co-production with marriage, "The two companies need to really decide if they can live together and what do they expect out of marriage? What are the children (projects) going to be like?"
"We can talk of art in films, but the reality is that they are a business too and the funding companies need to make a profit or no more films will be produced," said Anderson.
He said that "Kung Fu Panda" worked because it was a story that was completely Chinese in setting. But the novelty of seeing a few Chinese scenes or actors in a Hollywood film would wear off and the Chinese audiences would insist on good pictures with good stories, regardless of where they are set.
"Kung Fu Panda" was also successful in the non-Chinese markets because it had a good story and likeable characters, which appealed to all audiences.
"I have already done two co-production films and look forward to more," Anderson added.