Jeffrey Chan is the executive vice-president of Bona Film Group, one of the leading distribution and production companies in China. He has been responsible for Bona’s investment in Hollywood films such as The Martian (2015), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and The Greatest Showman (2017). In the last year, Bona has produced blockbusters like Operation Red Sea ($350 million at the box office) and Project Gutenberg ($160 million grossed). We chatted to him at the fourth Sino-European Project Lab, hosted by the Bridging the Dragon producers’ association in Beijing from 11-14 November.
After many years of attempts, we are finally seeing the first successful results of collaboration between the Western and Chinese markets. What are, in your view, some of the challenges remaining when it comes to co-producing with China?
Jeffrey Chan: The biggest challenge has always been finding the right story that is organically suitable for co-production. That aside, it’s critical that the teams working together have a thorough understanding of the differences in cultures and business practices, and work together to overcome the hurdles.
Is it possible to make a co-production with China if there is no official co-production treaty in place?
Technically, you don’t need an official treaty to make a co-production with China. The important thing is that the film fulfills some of the criteria to qualify as Chinese with regard to the cast, content and financing. However, treaties are important for two reasons: firstly, they facilitate and enable minority co-productions; and secondly, in a political sense, they are creating a good and encouraging environment for this kind of collaboration to be implemented.
Many people in the Western world are concerned about financing and money transfers. Is getting money out of China an issue?
In principle, if the film is an official co-production, the partners should be able to transfer the money necessary for the production, and the foreign producer should be able to have access to the movie’s revenues. This is another reason why official co-production treaties are so important – otherwise, there might be some frustration owing to cash-flow delay and profit sharing.
During the last few seasons, Bona has been involved in an extraordinary number of successful titles, often action movies with a strong nationalistic profile. Why do you think the Chinese audience is drawn to these stories?
Bona has had a few successes lately because they are stories that have touched the audience, stories that they could relate to. The emotional reassurance of one’s national identity is a universal sentiment, not just applicable to China. And there are other successful Chinese projects that have reflected other human emotions.
You recently started up your own production studio. What kinds of movies are you planning to focus on?
Just Creative Studio is a Bona affiliate that was created to focus more on projects with a Chinese and/or Asian foothold, and those with wider international appeal – primarily English-language projects. International co-production is one of the key elements of the strategy.
– This article originally appeared on Cineuropa.