A co-production film THE MEG, has performed well in the competitive summer market in China. As of mid-September, the film’s global box office has exceeded USD500 million, and is still on the rise. The Meg also indicates that the co-production is entering a higher stage. Jiang Wei, Chinese producer of this film, finished reading the original novel in early 2014. During the four and half years since then, Jiang has experienced a joyful adventure seeing this co-production blockbuster with an investment of USD150 million released worldwide.
The co-production is going through two difficulties, quality and market. Despite that the Chinese film market has already had the ability to become the world’s largest film market, and that the rapid development of Chinese films broke the record constantly, the current development situation and speed of co-productions are far more than this.
In terms of the quality of previous works, awkward cultural merge is one of the most important factors that impair the quality. As a result, the beauty of cultural collision that should have been achieved in the co-production has become nondescript. Over time, the market and audience lose confidence in co-production and have a biased mindset, which in turn constrains the further development of co-production.
However, we can also see that there has been a co-production recently that changed the original identity of co-production with good word of mouth and box office. THE MEG, released in China on August 10, 2018, has performed well in the competitive summer market in China. In the first three days of its release, the single-day box office exceeded RMB100 million yuan and continued to rise. As of mid-September, its domestic box office reached RMB1.048 billion. At the same time, overseas box office of the film also surged to USD140 million, making it the world’s first weekend box office champion, the global box office weekly champion for two consecutive weeks and No.1 in 34 international markets after first release. As of mid-September, the film’s global box office has exceeded USD500 million, and is still on the rise. Based on the above results in 2018, THE MEG also indicates that the co-production is entering a higher stage. Jiang Wei, Chinese producer of the film, finished reading the original novel in early 2014. During the four and half years since then, Mr. Jiang has experienced a joyful adventure seeing this co-production blockbuster with an investment of USD150 million released worldwide.
Two and a half years of preparation – the road to Chinesization of an American novel
THE MEG was adapted from the novel SHARK ATTACK published by the American thriller novelist Steve Elton in 1995. The copyright was acquired by Hollywood soon after the novel was published, but the movie project had never been activated. After two or three times of copyright repurchase and trading, the story had still not hit the big screen. Interestingly, this thrilling adventure story originated in American culture was finally promoted by a Chinese and launched on the big screen in the way of Sino-US co-production.
At the beginning of 2014, recommended by his friend Ben Erwei Ji, another Chinese film producer, Jiang Wei finished reading the original novel. With his decades of experience in project and distribution, Jiang Wei locked the story production as Sino-US co-production from the beginning. “The concept of co-production has been there on the first day, with global vision. This has not changed. I have much experience in making co-productions and I believe this story is suitable for co-production. ” Having the right story is just the first step in film production. Since then, Jiang Wei and his team have come under preparations for two and a half years.
After signing a contract with Belle Avery, one of the filmed copyright owners of the novel and also one of the American producers, in April 2014, the script development team started the film project. At that time, Jiang Wei encountered the first problem that cost of the script development was USD2 million. “When I was making internal proposal in the company, all members felt it was very risky to spend nearly RMB20 million yuan to make a script in 2014. I have no way to do more explanations because it is unprecedented. ”
At the moment of lockout, Li Ruigang, Jiang Wei’s boss and chairman of China Media Capital, made a phone call to ask about the project progress. Jiang Wei said: “I feel there is a chance, and I want to have a try”. After a brief silence, Li Ruigang gave Jiang Wei a reply: “Then have a try.”
Thus, the script development for THE MEG officially began.
There is no Chinese element in the original novel. Therefore, in the film adaptation, Jiang Wei and his team carried out the comprehensive and meticulous Chinesization of the novel story after discussions with the Hollywood script team. For example, the main scientists in the novel are Japanese, while the team of scientists in the film is changed to be Chinese-led, and the story takes place in China. Of course, this is also a reasonable adaptation based on the context of reality, because the current level of Chinese science and technology development is high enough to support Chinese scientists as leaders in the field of scientific research.
Another example is the character and emotional relationships of three generations of the heroine in the film, which is also a portrayal of the Chinese family. “The Americans believe the Chinese are those living in Chinatown, who, in fact, they are not Chinese but Americans.” Jiang Wei said so speaking of the differences in cultural understanding between China and the US. Because of the differences, Jiang Wei’s team dug deep into the script creation by adapting the family relationship in the American context into a real Chinese family story. For instance, the subtle but real Chinese adaptations in the film are evident in such details as the father’s worry about the lifelong happiness of his daughter with single parent, as well as the restrained and implicit emotional expression of Chinese.
The script creation work lasted for one and a half years and was completed in October 2015, when Jiang Wei began to look for partners. He has planned to cooperate with the Hollywood Studios from the beginning. When talking about the reasons he insisted on cooperating with Hollywood, Jiang Wei said: “I cannot be able to produce a global film currently, and one of Hollywood Studios is also a must in making global distributions. Hollywood has spent a hundred years in exploring, so they certainly have a relatively established system and experience in this respect. I think I can learn more by making close contact with a project. ”
Before the Thanksgiving Day of 2015, Jiang Wei sent the script of THE MEG, which had been polished for a year and a half, to Warner. Two weeks later, he received a reply from Warner: “We are interested in this project”, which indicated Jiang Wei and his team overcame another difficulty after the script was recognized. But of course, there are more difficulties after that.
In fact, what originally attracted Warner was the script of THE MEG, instead of the way of Sino-US co-production. Warner also had doubts about Jiang Wei and his team as it was worried about co-productions based on the past experience. However, Jiang Wei insisted that China must take the dominant role. In THE MEG project, Chinese investment accounted for over 50%; from the script creation, filming process, post-production to global distribution, Jiang Wei and his team participated in depth in the whole process and took real master control.
Industrial production: inside story of the high-density creation of a co-production
Industrialization has become a hot word in the Chinese film market this year, and Jiang Wei also aims to learn about the essence of industrialization in Hollywood by cooperating with it in depth through the project of THE MEG. After this cooperation, Jiang Wei summed up what he learned in one sentence as to the industrialization core, “the degree of specialization determines what you call industrialization”.
Highlight at the end of the film was produced in Sanya, Hainan. In a scene of a large number of tourists playing in the sea, there were 1,000 amateur actors and actresses. The crew, with its 500 members, spent two to three months preparing for the scene. According to the Hollywood production rules, all the waders among the 1,000 amateur actors and actresses need to be equipped with rescue measures. So what is the definition of wading conditions? Based on the Hollywood standard, as long as the water is over the calf, it is wading. Therefore, all of the 1,000 amateur actors and actresses are regarded as wading during the filming, so a lifeguard is required for each unit with 10 people. The crew not only looked for professionals from domestic swimming and diving clubs, but also transferred 20 professional lifeguards from New Zealand, to meet the safety standards of filmmaking.
In addition, all the swimming rings for the 1,000 amateurs were customized by the crew. For this scene, 3,000 swimming circles were specially made. At the time of shooting, there were six to eight speedboats, two yachts, tugboats, helicopters, ambulances and others covering land, sea and air, which formed an emergency management team of about 120 people.
Recalling this experience, Jiang Wei was impressed by the following memories: “In Hollywood, every one has the concept that filming is just a job not requiring risking one’s life. So there shouldn’t be any problem during filming, even a scratch. They will not start shooting as long as they believe there are any unsafe details. ” Jiang Wei and his team, through this cooperation project of THE MEG, deeply felt that the degree of specialization penetrated into every detail. “Industrialization lies not in so many special effects, but in the degree of specialization that penetrates into details”, said Jiang Wei with emotion. Before the official shooting started, Jiang Wei and his team had already had lengthy negotiations with Warner. In Jiang Wei’s words, the Hollywood studio was a large and sophisticated machine, and it is also a painstaking process to establish cooperation between a small team and a huge machine.
According to Jiang, there are many business cards stuck on his office board. They are all the business cards of legal personnel in different departments of Warner. Different parts of the same contract will have to make contact with the legal personnel in different departments of Warner. In the process of communication, what Warner gave Jiang was not any PPT, but various data analysis, as well as the reasonable expectations, shooting plans, and operational planning based on the data analysis.
Another example, Hollywood producers reminded Jiang Wei a year before the shooting that the film was expected to be shot in New Zealand where there was good tax refund policy, which can save the cost of shooting. Meanwhile, they also pay attention to the exchange rate changes in China, the US and New Zealand in advance, and lock the exchange rates, as the extreme fluctuations of exchange rate will also lead to great changes in shooting costs.
In the production process of THE MEG project, such details and stories can be found everywhere. Through this cooperation in co-production, Jiang Wei truly realized and learned what film industrialization is, and it was because he insisted on the self-dominant way of cooperation from the very beginning that he had such great gains. It is also the core reason for the success of THE MEG.
The key to success of future co-productions lies in making sure who takes the master control
In Jiang Wei’s view, Chinese filmmakers should always go abroad and open their mind in a broader field – “Since you are a filmmaker, if you have the opportunity to learn about the global film market, why not do it? You will never know if you don’t go out, and never understand if you don’t do it. ”
Although there remain many difficulties, the co-production is still imperative, because whether it is film development or cultural development, openness and communication definitely lead the future direction. Looking back at the factors that determine the success of THE MEG during co-production, the key one lies in the consistent dominant role of the Chinese part. From the moment when Jiang Wei had the idea of making a co-production, he insisted on taking the mater control of project himself – “I have the dominant consciousness at the beginning, and I don’t want to lose this power, so I have been talking about this.”
Looking back at the entire project cooperation, Jiang Wei also summarized his own successful experience: “I dare not say innovation, but there must be improvement which means equality. We and Warner are definitely 100% equal, and we are 100% respected by Warner. The highest degree of specialization of Hollywood is respect for the contract. They just do what is specified in the contract. I didn’t have any discomfort during the whole process of cooperation. There is often dispute but respect is the premise of this cooperation. It is very difficult to make co-productions without equal status of both parts. ”
From the perspectives of in-depth study and cultural confidence, Jiang Wei always insists that he take the master control of project. During the entire interview process, he also emphasized this point many times. It is evident that this is one of the keys to the success of THE MEG, which also makes Jiang Wei and the team proud after the project is completed. “We believe the Chinese also do a great job in the process of cooperation!” said Jiang Wei.
Jiang Wei is very satisfied with the current market performance of the film. As can be seen from the global box office, among the USD146 million box office harvested as of mid-August 2018, USD45 million are from the North American market, and USD50 the Chinese market, and the remaining one third other markets around the world. With such an even distribution of box office, THE MEG has maintained a balanced degree of acceptance among global audience.
In the four and a half years, Jiang Wei and Hollywood really produced THE MEG through cooperation. It is not easy to make a project and is even harder to make the current achievements in the market. This film also allows the market and audience to see that the co-production is on the road, and that there is far greater potential of Chinese culture to be explored.