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Massive Chinese film market offers big opportunities
Massive Chinese film market offers big opportunities

Avatar was a monster hit in China, taking more than $200 million and smashing the country's box-office record.

But foreign producers who want to emulate James Cameron and break through the Great Firewall of China into the fastest growing film market in the world will probably need their own avatar.

China has a very strict quota on imported films, with their annual 20-picture limit only recently expanded by 14 for 3-D and Imax movies.

This restriction, however, does not apply to films that are co-productions between China and another country. This is a remarkable opportunity for producers to enter a market that has grown from $630 million in box office sales to $2.1 billion and has seen the number of screens exploding from 6200 in 2010 to a projected 16,000 by the end of this year.

The co-production mantra is being hammered by leading Chinese film investor Sun Ming, who is in Perth for this weekend's at X Media Lab, a three-day conference and workshop aimed at opening the channels between Australian practitioners and producers and the global marketplace.

"Chinese audiences have a great desire to see foreign films but the government is very protective of its cultural industries," said Mr Sun, whose company China Film House has been heavily involved in television drama and is in a joint venture with a Canadian company.

"But it is vigorously supporting co-productions with other countries. The government is encouraging partnerships so our filmmakers can learn from high-end foreign collaborators and it helps bring movies with Chinese subject matter to global markets."

Not surprisingly, cash-strapped Hollywood is leading the way in forging partnerships with China. In February the powerhouse animation company Dreamworks (Kung Fu Panda) announced the creation of a joint venture with China Media Capital to create Dreamworks Oriental.

Mr Sun said WA filmmakers were ideally placed to follow the US lead and take advantage of the boom in co-productions because of the strong business links that already existed between the two regions. He said there was a gross misperception about the red tape faced by foreign filmmakers involved in co-productions and the degree of censorship.

"Apart from certain issues related to religion, such as the situation in Tibet, the Chinese Government is more open-minded than filmmakers outside the country think," he said.

"It can be a challenge. But generally the Chinese Government is very welcoming."

Mr Sun, who is himself establishing a centre in Beijing to facilitate co-productions, is part of a high-powered Chinese business and cultural delegation that will be one of the main attractions at this year's X Media Lab.

The event opens today at the State Theatre Centre with a series of addresses by digital media experts from around the globe.

Among the big names who will talk to local producers are American new media marketing and multi-platform content specialist Louise O'Donnell, Dutch second-screen interactivity expert Jeroen Elfferich and Indian gaming pioneer Rajesh Rao.

Event director Megan Elliott said the booming economies of Asia presented an unparalleled opportunity for West Australians working in traditional media, such as live-action film and animation, and those venturing into new media.

However, Ms Elliott, like Mr Sun, said collaboration and joint ventures were the way to go for WA producers.

"You're not going to build a 400-seat animation studio in Perth. You simply do not have the population to support such a facility," Ms Elliott said. "But you could partner with a company in India or Indonesia or the Philippines or another country in Perth's time zone. You have your key creatives here and your teams just a few keystrokes away."

Generally the Chinese Government is very welcoming." Investor Sun Ming