History and Culture

China taps Hollywood writers to create better films for Chinese market

2018-05-22 09:26:00 (Beijing Time)         Xinhua

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Stu Levy (front), who chairs the International Committee of Producers Guild of America (PGA), addresses the opening ceremony of the 13th Chinese American Film Festival (CAFF), in Los Angeles, the United States, Nov. 1, 2017. (Xinhua/Gao Shan)

A new trend is hitting Hollywood. Pundits have noticed the exodus of a growing number of screenwriters and directors heading East... far East. To China, in fact.

Xian Li, a prominent Hollywood studio executive, is impressed by how fast the Chinese film industry has evolved. "But their scripts aren't quite there yet. China still needs Hollywood writers," she told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview Monday, "And they're getting them."

One Belt One Road Productions, a Hollywood film production and writer management company co-owned by producer, Michael Tiberi, is one of the growing number of U.S. companies helping China to bridge that skill gap.

They are doing more deals with Chinese producers looking to do U.S.-China co-productions and hire Hollywood screenwriters to write films destined primarily for the Chinese market.

The company's recent sale to China was an option for a goodhearted, goofy comedy called, "Smith Family Robinson," about two feuding Chinese and American families competing in a reality show while marooned on a deserted island. The combatants have to learn to work together in order to survive.

The company is also negotiating two other script deals with Chinese film companies in Chengdu and Beijing to be written by Gavin Scott, the writer of "Mists of Avalon" and the veteran Hollywood screenwriter who penned great scripts for Hollywood A-Listers, Steven Spielberg ("Ready Player One") and George Lucas ("Star Wars").

"China has a fascinating history rich with stories the West has never heard before. Hollywood writers can work with Chinese writers to help bring that cultural heritage to the world in the most compelling way," Gavin Scott told Xinhua.

AMG Films, a joint U.S.-China production company that makes movies and TV shows in China and the United States, recently co-produced a 40 million U.S. dollars 30-episode Chinese TV show, shot in both countries, written and directed in part by American writer/director, Shaun Picconino ("Call of Duty: Black Ops, "American Fighter") and co-produced with Jun Zhao and Sanping Han, the prolific producer and former head of China's largest film studio, China Film Group.

AMG CEO/producer, Alan Noel Vega, told Xinhua it had been a privilege to work with such talented Chinese producers.

"There is no question that China holds a bright future for the global film industry. But Hollywood has had 100 years to perfect its writing and film techniques, so the best way for China to rise to the top is to tap into Hollywood's talent now and learn from them what makes their films so successful," Vega advised.

Orb Media, another international production company with offices in Beijing and Los Angeles, routinely taps Hollywood writers for their Chinese productions.

Orb CEO, Peter Shiao, told Xinhua, "Currently, we have Hollywood screenwriter, Rita Augustine, on an extended assignment in Beijing to write American-style scripts such as 'Chronicles of the Immortal Swordsman' for my Chinese Company, Immortal Studios."

Augustine's other Chinese-content screenplays include, "Ghost of the Gobi," "Eastside Story," and "It Happened in Beijing."

To promote collaborative script development between China and Hollywood, Orb Media also hosts an annual U.S.-China screenwriting competition to incubate viable cross-cultural projects.

Plucky 'Gen Z-ers' are getting into the action too. Two young, entrepreneurial Chinese producers that are wading into the Hollywood talent pool are Baihui Chen, 25, and Katherine Shen, 26. Both are optioning scripts by American writers to produce in China.

Katherine Shen, from Shanghai, is a graduate of the film directing/producing program at UCLA in California and former Associate Producer at Shanghai Canxing Culture Media Co, one of China's largest TV stations, home to China's version of the hit TV series "The Voice." She is negotiating to option an English-language script called, "The World Revolves Around You," by writer/director Dominique Othenin-Girard, set in China's hit singing-competition TV show, where two competing contestants fall in love despite their families' objections.

Shen told Xinhua, "I've worked in production in both China and the U.S. and I am learning how to combine the best parts of each system to make the most successful movies."

Baihui Chen, also from Shanghai and a recent graduate of the Syracuse University film master's degree program, is optioning "Orson's Final Cut," a thriller about a young Chinese actress starring in her first Hollywood movie who is attacked by a demonic entity posing as the vengeful spirit of one of Hollywood's most legendary directors.

"Hollywood makes great movies and I want to use their writers' skills to improve my Chinese projects. That's a win-win," Chen told Xinhua.

She also plans to hire a Hollywood writer to pen a script entitled, "Iron Destiny," about the thousands of Chinese immigrants who built America's Trans-Continental Railroad in the 1860s, a project proposed by California Assemblyman Kansen Chu, who represents Silicon Valley.

"It's a perfect cross-cultural project that chronicles the Chinese contribution to opening the American West to transcontinential settlement and trade," Assemblymen Chu told Xinhua at the recent U.S.-China Summit in Los Angeles. "Historical collaboration can pave the way for future U.S.-China collaboration as well," he concluded.