China Film Summit Kicks Off With Hollywood Wary, but Reliant on Asian Market

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 1.11.57 PM

Backers say summit will help improve relations between East and West sections of the movie business

The fourth annual U.S.-China Film Summit kicks off Tuesday at a time when the film business is becoming increasingly reliant on the People’s Republic for ticket sales.

After all, last year China surpassed Japan as the second largest market for films and is expected to eclipse the United States as the dominant source of box office grosses by 2020. Indeed, the continued strength of foreign markets, which now comprise nearly 70 percent of the theatrical film business, have help off-set the declines in DVD sales.

All that growth hasn’t been without setbacks –chief among them, a protracted standoff between the major studios and the Chinese film authorities over a tax on box office receipts that end up playing out in the media.

The event is sponsored by the Asia Society and the summit’s backers say that controversy and commerce are intersecting to make this year’s summit at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel a sell-out event that is expected to draw between 400 to 500 people.

Also read: Hollywood Moguls Attend Secret China Summit Held By Wanda (Exclusive)

“I created this forum because whether it was on the Chinese side or the Hollywood side, I kept hearing that there’s no way for us to talk things over,” Peter Shiao, chairman of the summit and CEO of  the film production company Orb Media Group, told TheWrap. “People in Hollywood often think that the world revolves around it, but it takes very different skills to survive and thrive in China. We’re trying to shorten that learning curve.”

Despite the fact that China has loosened the restrictions on the number of foreign films it lets into the country annually, many producers still find the process of scoring a release to be cumbersome and opaque. Likewise, navigating the intricacies of the country’s co-production rules, a critical component to scoring Chinese financial backing and distribution, require intimate knowledge of the country and can lead to frustration.

“Too often the material doesn’t work or producers try to make something a co-production by adding in one or two Asian characters,” Shiao said. “It takes more than that.”

Also read: ‘Thor: The Dark World’ Poised to Fill China’s 2013 Foreign Quota (Exclusive)

To that end, Shiao and the summit’s organizers have assembled an eclectic East meets West group of speakers that includes Dreamworks Animation CFO Lewis Coleman, MPAA chief Chris Dodd, IMAX Entertainment Chairman Greg Foster and China Film President Zhang Xun. The topics range from the growth of digital media in the Asian giant to an examination of the media’s perspective on the often fractious relationship between the two countries’ film industries.

They have also expanded the events from half a day to a full day of discussions, and will host a gala dinner.

“There’s been astronomical growth in the Chinese marketplace, but to be successful in that market people need access to a broader range and depth of information,”John Windler, executive director of the Asia Society Southern California, said.  “The relationship between the U.S. and China is a complex one, but the key is to give people the tools to make the relationship more successful for both parties.”

For the record: An earlier version of this article misidentified John Windler’s title with the Asia Society and incorrectly stated that he was a partner at Arnold & Porter.