Not Yet Confirmed Whether Filmmakers Will Apply For Official Co-Production Status
Hollywood’s push for a place at the Chinese box office grows stronger by the week, as Viacom, Inc.’s Paramount Pictures announced on Tuesday that it will be partnering with China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises in a “Cooperation Agreement” to produce Michael Bay’s action flick Transformers 4.
“This is the beginning of a new era of collaboration with the Hollywood studios,” said Yan Xiaoming, Chairman of China Movie Channel, a company operated by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT). The press release states that the film will feature both locations in China and Chinese actors, which are two requirements that must be fulfilled for the film to gain the elusive status of a “co-production” from Chinese authorities.
The Paramount announcement does not confirm that Transformers 4 is planning to apply for official co-production status, a move that would allow the film to override the fierce competition for 34 yearly foreign film spots in China’s theaters upheld by a government-enforced quota and give American producers a much higher cut of box office revenue. In order to gain this status, producers would have to apply through the China Film Co-Production Corporation, which is authorized by the state to determine whether films are worthy of the co-production label.
The Transformers 4 announcement comes as an increasing number of American film companies have been attempting to find ways to tap the enormous Chinese film market, which is expected to surpass the United States as the world’s largest by 2020.
However, the Chinese state has not necessarily made it easy for foreign producers to use co-production status as a loophole to avoid the quota, since films are expected to comply with a strict set of standards to qualify. While Yan reportedly has a reputation for openness to the approval of more co-productions, other officials have expressed a desire to crack down on co-productions that they believe are not doing enough to fulfill the criteria for the designation. In an August 2012 article in China Daily, Zhang Pimin, deputy head of SARFT, complained that “a complete American story with a small Chinese element and a Chinese actor,” should not actually be labeled a co-production.
Iron Man 3 previously appeared to run into this difficulty after teaming up with Chinese media company Dynamic Marketing Group (DMG) for production. Marvel and DMG, who originally planned to make the film a co-production, decided not to apply for the status and have instead recently announced the decision to release a “special China edition” of the film featuring Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who will be cut from the American version.
It has also been tricky for films with co-production status to have dual appeal to mass audiences in both the United States and China. For example, the DMG co-produced American film Looper did not perform as well in China as expected, and pulled in much more revenue in the United States than in China.
Although the Transformers films may not be well-known for high-quality writing, their creators may have found a formula for Sino-American financial success. The previous Transformers installment raked in $165 million during its China run two years ago, demonstrating that the key for translated success may simply be more action and less dialogue.