Disney has partnered with Shanghai Media Group Pictures to develop Disney-branded movies as US-China co-productions, the studio said Thursday.
United States-based action and fantasy writers will work with Chinese writers to develop scripts that fit both the Disney brand and feature Chinese themes.
Disney and SMG Pictures hope the movies will qualify as co-productions because those movies are not subject to China’s quota on the number of imported movies. China only permits 34 movies from overseas to screen in the country every year. Those spots have become even more popular in recent years as China has blossomed into the second biggest market for movies in the world.
“For over 90 years, Disney has built a rich legacy of entertaining families with high-quality storytelling and compelling characters,” Alan Bergman, President of the Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement. “Disney’s collaboration with SMG adds an exciting chapter of new stories for the next generation of global Disney fans.”
Qualifying as a co-production has been a challenge for many producers, who have either stopped trying or searched for new partners. Some companies, such as Village Roadshow, have begun to make movies in Chinese — movies aimed at the Chinese market that will never make much money in the United States.
“It’s getting more tricky to qualify English-language films as co-productions,” Hype Park Entertainment CEO Ashok Amritraj told TheWrap last year. “The rules are fairly strong and one has to be very careful how one qualifies.”
Zhang Xun, who oversees the China Film co-production corporation, spent part of her keynote at the U.S.-China Film Summit in November explaining how movies could qualify so that people could avoid any vexing scenarios in the future.
Disney knows the lure of the Chinese market and the power of the co-production as well as anyone. “Iron Man 3,” which it distributed, grossed $124 million in the territory, the second most of any movie last year. It released a different version of the movie in China, one featuring Chinese star Fan Bingbing.
Tony To, EVP of production, will oversee the co-development program for Disney.