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China on quest to become global content producer

Updated: Jan 12,2016 8:43 AM

China is now on track to overtake the United States, as the world’s largest film market as early as 2017. And that means the interest in making movies for the Chinese market, is increasing at a breakneck pace. Many producers in China are making a big push to create content for global audiences.

The number of zeros is dizzying when it comes to China’s box office receipts. 2015 was a record year with ticket sales totaling nearly seven billion dollars. And that doesn’t even include Star Wars; The Force Awakens, which is set to open on Saturday.

China’s expected to topple the US as the biggest movie market in the world as early as 2017 fueled by rapid theater expansion. About 20 new screens are added daily. So it’s no great surprise that Hollywood is obsessed with China especially if profits outweigh any losses.

“The obsession is on a P & L when a green light committee of a studio is deciding to spend $200 million to make a movie whether it gets into China or not really often is the difference between success or failure,” said Greg Foster, CEO of IMAX Entertainment.

“Out of the 10 conversations I’ve had with producers and foreign sales agents for the last two weeks, six of them have said bring me a project for China, I need a project for China,” said Lauren Selig, Founder of Shake and Bake Productions.

Lauren Selig has successfully produced hit movies including Lone Survivor and Everest. Her China strategy is to build partnerships instead of blindly jumping into the market.

“We’re used to making big bang movies, big tentpole films and hoping that when we lob them across the pond that China goes, ‘Yay we like it,’ but it doesn’t always work out that way. And I think it’s important for producer or director or someone who’s inclined to make movies for the Chinese market to have a good partner over there or good voices to give them advice on what to make,” Selig said.

But the film business isn’t just a one way street out of Hollywood. China is making a serious play at becoming a global content producer.

Le Vision Pictures is betting big on making films for the international market. The Great Wall, set to release in late 2016, has a budget of $150 million and stars Matt Damon and Andy Lau with legendary director Zhang Yimou at the helm.

“My guess is in the next five years because of the Chinese market booming, you will see many more movies released in North America market. Reason, because you got backed up by this huge market,” said Zhang Zhao, CEO of Le Vision Pictures.

China’s interest in America’s entertainment industry is getting even more fascinating with the impending majority acquisition of US movie studio, Legendary Entertainment by Dalian Wanda Group. The reported deal would be the company’s second big purchase in the US in 2012, Dalian Wanda bought AMC, the second biggest theater chain here in the US, for more than two and a half billion dollars.