“2017 Chinese Films New Journey” Forum, jointly organized by Chinese Film Market and Rongyi Media, was successfully held in the afternoon of April 20, 2017 in Beijing International Hotel. As a special event for film market of the 7th Beijing International Film Festival, “Chinese Films New Journey” has been successfully held for a third consecutive year. Each year the forum will invite the industry’s elite for summaries and discussions of the new changes and new problems in Chinese film market during the past year, and propose expectations of the new trend of future Chinese market industry based on current situation.
Guests gave wonderful interpretations and discussions of such hot topics in Chinese film market as international cooperation of Chinese films, and upgrading of traditional model for Chinese films player terminal.
Guests invited to this forum include:
Wang Yu, publisher and producer of Chinese Film Market, CEO of Guangyan Media;
Ms. Li Xia, famous hostess, film producer and founder and CEO of Rongyi Media;
Chen Kui, former Managing Director of Twitter Greater China, FMBA specially invited instructor of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and EMBA specially invited instructor of the University of Hong Kong;
Mr. Xu Liang, founding partner of Heyi Capital (entertainment fund) and president of DNA Pictures;
Bai Yicong, producer, director and famous screenwriter;
Famous director Wang Yuelun.
Topic I: International cooperation of Chinese films
Which model is most needed for Chinese films’ international cooperation?
Xu Liang: When we look at Hollywood, we see merely its fancy figures, such as the native box office of around USD 10 billion. As we all know, a normal American film of average level has one fourth of its total income from native box office and 75% from international box office plus various kinds of derivatives. As for mentality, Chinese filmmakers are gradually learning that the film pattern should be considered at the development stage.
It is a phenomenon that Hollywood films have more overseas box offices than native ones. Meanwhile, there is no Chinese film among the top 300 North American box offices in the last five years. What should be drawn from our cooperation with Hollywood? As a commodity, film must satisfy the demand of client when it is developed. What about the psychological demand of Chinese audience when they watch a movie in China? What kind of demand should be satisfied? Success is impossible if this question cannot be answered well.
Global film industries all have long value chains including production at the source, issuance, cinema line and cinema. Speaking of production, it also includes many links such as development of screenplay, actors, financing as well as many sub-links. Therefore, film as a commodity has more difficulties in operation, including long value chains, many links and long cycles. The ideal box office should be theoretical box office multiplied by the degree of completion at each link. There are four links. Assume that each link can achieve 80% degree of completion, then there will be nothing left if multiplied by 4 times. That’s why many films are considered to be good product but with no expected high achievement in the end. While excellent American counterparts constantly strive for perfection with 100 degree of completion, which should be learnt by Chinese part.
Wang Yu: Many of my works are co-productions. Films by Jia Zhangke have obtained overseas fund despite that they are not merely co-productions. There are two kinds of films in this market, one is art film and the other is commercial film. Art film in China is under harsh conditions. But how could Jia Zhangke obtain European fund? Most of the non-profit fund comes from enterprise sponsorship and individual contributions, which has cultivated the soil of growth for the entire European art films. However, such soil cannot be found in China. Art film must be put under the competition with commercial one. It is obviously unfair for Hollywood films to compete with art films on the same stage. Possible future trend will be classified screening for cinema lines or regional screening.
The fundamental problem of co-production lies first in market, then the screenplay and actor positioning. I once met with the problem when doing co-productions myself. Did you focus on China or Hollywood? Then it is about actor selection. The domestic fresh faces and stars do not have high recognition on international stage.
Li Xia: It is not possible for Chinese filmmakers to be dominant when making co-productions with others. First in story structure, we do not have global values or international vision. There is a lack of global vision in the topics we focus on and stories we would like to tell. Even for films with satisfying box office, audience in global market may not consider them as good stories.
I believe the Chinese film market should learn more from the story structure in Hollywood. If in Chinese market, the story itself should focus on China, including the selection of actors. It really takes time to make true co-productions. As the Chinese filmmaking level and standard cannot keep pace with Hollywood, the true co-productions cannot be made until we are on the same level. Therefore, in my view, we remain in the stage of making co-productions nominally.
How native Chinese films rival with Hollywood blockbusters?
Xu Liang: Speaking of co-productions, public opinion tends to be negative such as the problems in making them. It is known that when we fail to do it well, there might be something wrong with the strategy or method. But up to now, there have not been co-productions in large quantities to serve as meaningful sample base. It cannot be concluded that the model of co-productions fails to work based merely on the dozens of cases.
It requires wisdom to solve the problem of positioning during the operation of films. In Chinese market, positioning includes which kind of audience psychology shall be met, what problems shall be solved and what kind of commodities shall be used to meet the demand. This is the most urgent problem that requires to be solved by producer who should tell the screenwriter about the story, reason or emotion that needs to be conveyed; so that the screenwriter can make up such a story.
To draw an inappropriate analogy, making co-productions is similar to set up a joint venture. During the investment process, what fears me the most is two shareholders in one company, each with half of the total share. Because such a model fails to appoint the decision-maker. As an art of inadequacy, film also seeks for perfection. Imagine that during the film shooting, both Chinese and foreign parties are divided on their views but have to compromise finally for the smooth film shooting. But what the audience favors is nothing but perfect art. Then under what circumstances can the perfection be produced? Only when one party is dominant in decision making, can the values be conveyed the most.
Li Xia: It is not that easy to make a co-production that can be understood by foreign audience. I believe American productions are good for their universal values accepted by all. If we would like to make co-productions that target at Chinese market, it is better to be Chinese dominant and draw something useful from foreign parties. It is once reported that many producers of American filmmaking companies have considered the Chinese film censorship system. Because the Chinese market is so large and tempting for foreigners. So they would consider whether such a film can pass the censorship. This is a good signal for us.
Wang Yu: At the end of 2016, there was a popular blockbuster dominated by Chinese party and Chinese stories, integrating the most excellent Hollywood technologies and A-list actors. But this film also presented a severe problem of piecing together in making co-productions. I believe the Chinese Mainland audience have very high quality and esthetic judgment. But what we have created are nothing but fake blockbuster and fake commercial films due to the low industry level.
I once proposed a theory in my college class about the three categories of film: The first is for visual experience, including Hollywood blockbusters of science-fiction, action and gunfight that can arose the physiological reaction of audience. The second is for emotional resonance. The audience can have the same sympathy of feelings with actors in the film. The third is for family entertainment. Parents take their children for the family movie that has the largest market value.
It should be clear on which one of the three films. When one of the three categories is doing well, it will have huge market across borders. Kung Fu Panda may be the best three-in-one combination up to now. There is relatively less films of such type in the market. If co-productions can reach such level, we will have the entire market share, in my view.
I got the direct feeling when making The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman. Fox came to Beijing to meet us when it saw the film clips and decided to buy the film including 10% investment in the film. We all wonder how could such an insignificant film cooperate with Fox. I also asked the partner of Fox. According to him, among the 100 Chinese films he saw each year, only this film is understood by him; he was so interested that he flew from America to China to see us. From this case, we see that it is sometimes useless to tell complicated stories. The simpler the story, the easier it can be understood. What should be sought is the common and easiest expression of humanity that can touch the deepest inside other’s heart. Be it commercial or art film, or the so-called fans film, it should be considered good as long as it can touch the common feeling of targeted group.
Topic II: Upgrading of traditional model for Chinese films player terminal
Wang Yu: As young Internet users are getting active, they have huge demand for contents. But personally speaking, the Internet will co-exist instead of rival with film. Going to see a film is an immersive experience and a lifestyle. So there should be more segmented markets as for films watched in cinema or on the Internet. As the Internet is bringing more possibilities, we cannot reject it fundamentally. In an era of tremendous development for Chinese entertainment and rapid expansion of the Internet, there are many opportunities and possibilities; we as traditional filmmakers cannot solve the problem on our own and should make joint effort with the industry.
I become more objective as for the Internet. First, I agree with the opportunity and possibility, such as the model in American drama where some obscure actors would become stars after ten episodes. I am optimistic on this process of making actor into star.
From IP to online drama, then to film and other products, this entire process requires the Internet to serve as bridge and collect contents into one. But the current domestic online films and dramas are at low level, seeking nothing but the so-called hot topic. Thus it is required that the online films and dramas improve their quality to be fine arts. Of course, short video can be a solution for low-end and other groups that need video contents and types.
Li Xia: Some new development directions have emerged under the subversion of Internet on traditional film & TV. Now it is the age dominated by “Entertainment +” concept, or the so-called entertainment across industry. It can be called pan-entertainment industry as all contents relevant to film are important carriers of entertainment. Benefits can be gained from the three aspects of content itself, traffic and content marketing. In this way, only if the commodity is bought by users on a platform, production and operation parties will have their respective share, which also motivates all to make better contents.
Thanks to the Internet, young people have hope on their film dream. Without such platforms, many of them may have no opportunity to enter the film & TV and entertainment industries. More and more talented people can be explored thanks to the Internet, which serves as the strongest impetus brought by Internet for the industry.
Chen Kui: Actually on the international stage, short video has become a field of strategic importance. As domestic conditions become mature, social media under rapid development and platform itself in perfect improvement, it has become a trend to watch contents on video terminal, thus providing fertile soil for video development.
Short video with good contents and refined production will change gradually into charge model with IP incubation and become the upper stream of film & TV industry. And long videos can be our opportunity to test the water as they are not politically sensitive but with more interactions with social lifestyle. Therefore it has lower risk and small investment and does not matter even if it is not popular. True short videos can cash in its change into e-commerce in segmented markets. Super-short videos in film & TV can be a dispersion platform for lower stream. Cross-border cooperation will definitely bring chemical reactions and produce added value.
As for China, our platform remains similar to those in the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, without a dominant platform like Netflix in America, and all platforms will use various methods to attract the audience. Under this circumstance, the platform and film & TV industry will depend on each other, with good contents under constant promotion as well as further incubation and expansion by film & TV. The relationship between the two will develop by supplementing each other.
Nowadays, workshop instead of industrialized production system, is dominating in China’s film & TV industry. Actually the Internet is very industrialized. The “Internet +” concept is to transform some traditional unindustrialized industries and improve their efficiency, which is only one aspect. The film & TV production is forced to be transparent and industrialized with more and more cooperation with the Internet.
The so-called Internet model is for win-win results, which is also an inspiration for film & TV. Besides focus on auction calendar and box office, contents can be put on a platform for everyone to participate in for win-win results. Meanwhile, there are concerns about lower quality and higher paycheck for actors who have brought more network traffic. But there are also opportunities for us to find more development room from other aspects.
Topic III: What considerations should traditional film and the Internet platform have in the Internet-born age?
Li Xia: In this new age, great impact has been brought to traditional film & TV industry by the Internet. We have different review on contents as the time changes. In this age of Internet-born generation, 80% of the film audience is aged between 18 and 25. What kind of contents do they like? What considerations should traditional film and Internet-born platform contents have?
Bai Yicong: When I started to produce Internet-born contents four years ago, I had a strong intention to get rid of the B2B model and work out more 2C contents. The Internet-born contents are a form for users to have the initiative in selecting contents. As for the audience age for Internet-born contents, it is mainly from 13 or 14 to twenties.
All explosions in recent years have a common characteristic of innovation. We always like to analyze what the audience like to watch. Actually in using these to analyze the data, you will find that the audience have watched and what we all analyze is the same data sample. The audience should be understood, guided and make innovations during the process. The internal core of our company lies in looking for various aspects for innovation constantly and making more chemical reactions with the market.
Wang Yuelun: Among the films with sound box office in recent two or three years, contents innovation is of the first importance as for the successful cases of low-middle budget. Each explosion is no accident. I have always making comedies. Those with satisfying box office in recent years have innovative ideas, distinguishing themselves from past ones.
There has been no clear boundaries between film audience and Internet audience. They are overlapped. They will become more picky in contents selection. Without something new, they will have no interest after watching the first 15 minutes.
Xu Liang: Total clicks of Internet-born contents in 2016 hit 46 billion. The hot online drama of Eternal Love in 2017 has total clicks of over 30 billion. The Internet platform iQIYI recorded a total income of RMB 4 to 5 billion in 2015 and then became the largest domestic video platform in 2016 with a total income of RMB 11 billion. iQIYI was a real success in paid contents. What’s the motivation behind all its success? It is due to such quality major contents as The Mystic Nine paid by the platform that a sound and positive cycle is created, saving capital for better contents.
Levels of a literary work can be divided into four, namely, story, opinion, thought and soul. In the current Chinese market, if a story is told well, it can generate 500 million box office. If an opinion is expressed well, it can generate 1 billion box office. If a thought is conveyed well, it can generate 1.5 billion box office. If soul is given to a film, it can generate over 2 billion box office. Many may feel obligated to publicize after watching a film in this age of highly developed social media.
Wang Yu: Traditional drama is in B2B model while film is in B2C that enjoys common characteristic with Internet-born contents. Why did the general trend of Internet and film go down in 2016? Because the two groups of audience are highly overlapped. The audience will certainly look for way out if the products in cinema are not attractive. The Internet just offers large quantity of shows that fit their aesthetics and taste so they go for it. It is quite normal to see the contest and transition. Because the current Internet groups and mainstream film audience are at lower age, including Post-90s and even Post-00s generation. How can we find the points of interest for them when making contents? I really agree with the view heard from a director yesterday. We do not know how to make a film. Should we use good production, excellent team, good director and actor, or just look for fresh face and fans? It is quite confusing from the perspective of film. It should be discussed to narrow the gap between Internet and film and find more common characteristics.