Producers Talk Growing Need To Bridge Asian & European Funding Systems

The fact that both Asia and Europe are finding it more difficult to finance movies following the pandemic may drive the two regions to start working together more closely, despite the huge differences in their funding systems, said a group of leading producers on a two-session Filmart panel.

In the first session, the heads of major European funds including France’s CNC, the Austrian Film Institute and Berlin Brandenburg Berlin Film Commission explained Europe’s complex web of subsidy funding, while Gary Mak, Secretary General of the Hong Kong Film Development Council (HKFDC) introduced Hong Kong’s new co-production funding scheme.

Called the ‘Hong Kong-Europe-Asian Film Collaboration Funding Scheme’ the new programme offers grants of up to $1.15M (HK$9M) to feature film projects that combine Hong Kong and other Asian and/or European talent. The projects don’t have to shoot in Hong Kong or be filmed in one of the city’s official languages, but need to employ a certain proportion of Hong Kong crew.

“Hong Kong’s film industry has a tradition of working with different cultures, but that’s become less prominent over the past few decades, so we wanted to provide an incentive to encourage filmmakers to look beyond Hong Kong,” said Mak. “We have many new filmmakers, but they’re stuck in their local culture and don’t have much exposure to different film festivals, so we hope through time they’ll have a chance to work with different cultures.”

In the second session, a group of producers experienced in international co-production talked about the opportunities and challenges in co-producing within the Asia Pacific region and between Asia and Europe.

Cristiano Bortone, managing director of Bridging The Dragon, which co-organised the panel with Filmart, said there are more co-production discussions between Europe and Asia these days because film financing in both regions became much more difficult during and since the pandemic:

“There’s this whole new discussion about collaboration now, because there’s less money everywhere,” said Bortone who coproduced films such as The Italian Recipe and Coffee between China and Italy.  

“For the first time, I’m seeing a lot of Chinese, Japanese and other Asian companies, even the bigger companies, interested in collaborating with European partners. Ten years ago, they would have said their box office is great and they don’t need Europe. Now everyone is in the same boat and it’s a different story.”

Korean producer Jonathan Kim, who is setting up an Indonesian production and has also co-produced with China, said Korea has never really had a culture of co-producing, but needs to start exploring this financing model as the local industry is struggling.

“What you see from the outside is different to the reality, because we’re actually having a very hard time producing movies in Korea; the Korean movies that you see are on Netflix mostly,” said Kim. “We used to be number four in world box office but we had a drastic downfall during Covid and never came back. The cinemas decided to recover their losses by raising ticket prices, but the audiences had got used to watching films via mobile platforms and didn’t want to go back to the theatres.”

Asako Nishikawa of Japan’s Bandai Namco Filmworks Inc said that while Japan only has small amounts of subsidy, local producers are also starting to look more seriously at co-production.

“Japan’s box office is very strong for local anime but live action is not doing so well,” said Nishikawa, who produced recent Berlinale title All The Long Nights, directed by Sho Miyake. “The Japanese market for arthouse films is getting smaller and smaller, and we have to survive, so we have to find investors from outside the country and explore new ways to produce.”

Beaver Ming Kwei, producer at CMC Pictures, one of the few mainland Chinese companies involved in co-production these days, said one of the biggest challenges of working with Europe is finding partners to work with: “Going to Canada is easy, same with the UK, France and Germany, but if you need a co-producer in a smaller country like Czech Republic or Finland that you’re not familiar with, you have to do a lot of groundwork and due diligence to find the right partner.”

Commenting on the fact that some co-productions now have as many as eight different countries involved, Singaporean producer Jeremy Chua said the co-production model itself has in-built costs, which results in a need to bring on more partners.

“You always have the need for that last minute fund or just one more country to close your financing,” said Chua, who produced Cannes Camera d’Or winner Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell as a multi-country co-production. “I’m doing a UK co-production right now and we have £40,000 pounds in legals and £23,000 in administration. You could make three films in Indonesia with just this amount of money.”  

Speaking on the first panel, Christianne Krone-Raab, head of Berlin Brandenburg Berlin Film Commission, said one aspect of the Hong Kong-Europe-Asian scheme that might be difficult to comply with is the requirement that six out of ten heads of department need to be from Hong Kong.

HKFDC’s Mak explained the requirement is designed to give Hong Kong professionals more international experience, but agreed it may need to be looked at in more detail: “We’ve had similar advice from others and it’s something we will take into account for the next phase and will either modify or collect more opinions.”

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