Magazine article Screen International

Why the US Studios Are Struggling with Asian Production

Magazine article Screen International

Why the US Studios Are Struggling with Asian Production

Article excerpt

The news that Disney has followed Warner Bros and Paramount in closing down local-language production or acquisition units highlights the difficulties the US studios face in this area, particularly in Asia where a very different filmmaking culture exists.

In a region where filmmaking is fast and furious, rather than subject to long periods of development and risk analysis, the US method of making films has struggled to take root. There have also been many misconceptions and falsely held beliefs on both sides that has resulted in many studio-backed films being lost in translation.

General cost-cutting may also have played a part in Disney's decision to pull back from local-language production, but the studio's experience on one of its recent films, a Chinese version of High School Musical, contains some interesting lessons.

A slam dunk on paper, the film faltered because it used local unknowns, rather than stars, as it was initially believed that the High School Musical brand would be enough carry the film. However, this eventually led to disagreements between the studio and local partner Huayi Brothers on how to market the film and position the actors. With marketing decisions made way too late in the day, the film performed well below expectations.

A common error made by the studios is that they often use their in-country distribution people to head up their local-language production activities instead working with development and production executives. Even though their distribution people are usually local, they're often more rooted in the US studios' global distribution culture than Asian production culture. Being a whizz at marketing Hollywood blockbusters, doesn't guarantee that you can recognise a good local-language script.

The studios have also made the mistake of selling themselves to local film industries as having the ability to push local-language productions through their global distribution networks. In practice, this very rarely happens because only a handful of local hits really have the ability to travel.

However, there are some exceptions. Ironically for a studio owned by a media conglomerate that is not currently renowned for its sensitivity, Fox has had several Asian-language hits by basically going native. …

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