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Balancing Act: Combining Creative and Financial Gains For Co-productions

It isn't just about the money. This was the underlying message spoken by the members of an international panel at the Hong Kong Filmart's Seminar on Cooperation Between Europe and Asia, entitled "Charting the New Silk Road: Asian-European Co-production Partnership" held on the morning of 21 March. Despite financing being the fuel that brings an idea to the screen, both policy makers and producers agree that the most successful film collaborations between different countries are based on strong creative and technical connections.

Moderator Mr Colin Brown is the Editor-in-Chief of Screen International and he opened the seminar by noting both the positive and negative sides of co-productions. "It is not economically viable to make films strictly for a country's domestic market anymore," he said. "The downside is that as films get larger, more partners are required. Producers will look to the same sources for financing, talent and marketing."

The first speaker was Mr Xavier Merlin, Director of the Department for European and International Affairs of the Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC), who noted that France was actively working with 40 other countries on co-productions. He explained that in order to access CNC funding, film projects must be certified using a point system. For example, a co-production with French the dominant language would receive 20 points; a minimum of 25 points is required for certification. Although France is still negotiating with Korea and China on treaties, Merlin felt that co-productions benefit from each country's inherent support system. "One out of two French movies are co-productions," he said. "The reasons are both artistic and financial. Co-productions are easier when there are stories to tell between two countries."

The President of China Film Co-production Cooperation, Mr La Pei Kang explained that in mainland China, there are two types of co-productions. Joint productions are when a Chinese and a foreign producer share the rights and the risks to a film. Then, there is assisted production, where a foreign producer makes a film in mainland China, and China provides compensated assistance. The benefits of co-productions include a corporate tax of 10% instead of 25%, no restriction on percentage of co-production sharing, no restrictions on the location of filming and a 20-day approval process for a project. However, one third of the cast must be from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau, when working with a foreign producer. "Co-productions are enjoying strong momentum in the Chinese market," said La. "In 2005, three out of four of the top films were co-productions."

The next speaker was Jonathan Olsberg, the Chairman of UK-based Olsberg/SPI, one of the world's leading screen industry strategy consultancies. He admitted that since the very generous 1997 tax break for co-productions in Great Britain was established, finance has been the driving factor. New treaties are in the process of being established with China and India. Beginning 1 April, 25% of money spent in productions within the United Kingdom would be reimbursed in tax credits, for up to 80% of the total cost. "Co-productions are about creating stories through film to reflect both countries' culture and heritage," he said. "There are geographical and political links between Britain and China or India--co-productions are not just based on finance."

Kyung Sin Park is the Legal Advisor to the Korean Association of Film Art & Industry (KOFIC) and acknowledged his country's film industry is growing at a rate of more than 10% annually. However, production costs had been growing at a faster rate. Currently, Korea has a free trade agreement with Singapore, and a treaty for television with Canada. Although the market for European films is limited, as 95% of the market consists of Korean and American films, co-productions are still valuable additions to the market. "Spreading the risk is the goal of co-productions," he said.

Originally from the United States, Peter Loehr is a producer and Managing Director of Creative Artists Agency in China. He felt that co-productions benefited from a partnership where each offered expertise to the other, rather than just merely for convenience. "At the end of the day, we are trying to make a better movie," he said. "Asia and Europe are large, complex markets. They have a long tradition of watching subtitled films that doesn't exist in the United States. The strong funding system doesn't exist in the US, either. Treaties are very important, but co-productions should be organic."

Head of France-based Rosem Films for the past 15 years, Sylvain Bursztejn is a producer with 22 movies under his belt; half are not in French. Although a treaty does not exist yet between France and China, France is a market that enjoys Asian movies. "Chinese stories are attractive to a worldwide audience," he said. "China is also very keen to learn the creative aspects of filmmaking from other countries. But the biggest difference is that Asians want to make films very quickly, where the French tradition is to take our time. Co-productions help bring more diverse films to audiences, just as long as one country doesn't dominate in the process."

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