It’s one of the last bastions of the British film industry, but it’s not about to shut up shop just yet. Pinewood has announced a half-and-half joint venture with Seven Stars Media, which is the largest studio in China and controlled by Bruno Wu – one of the country’s richest men.
So why a tie-up instead of just opening an overseas studio? Well, the Chinese film market is pretty closed owing to tight government regulations about what foreign companies are allowed to do in China. Foreign films are hugely popular there, but the government has strict protections in place for domestic media companies and studios, and doesn’t allow any more than 34 foreign films to be marketed or distributed in China each year.
But the market is growing extremely rapidly: it was worth $3.6bn in 2012 and is forecast to reach around $7.3bn in 2016, so it’s no wonder western companies are looking to elbow their way in. The new company will be called Song Lin, which is Mandarin for ‘Pine Forest’ (Pine ‘wood’, geddit?), and it will create a sort of ‘skills academy’ to train up thousands of actors, directors, producers and set designers. In typical Chinese style, a huge factory for pumping out relevant talents seems to be the order of the day.
Co-productions with foreign companies are not affected by the government limits, so as long as a couple of Chinese actors are in the film and some of the scenes are filmed in China, Pinewood gets to distribute a few more flicks. Wu said: ‘The advantage of doing a co-production in China is that if a project is approved, it bypasses the quota system and the rights owner gets twice as much box office share as a foreign title.’
A good move from Pinewood, as it sounds like Wu could be the next Murdoch…