Online Distribution Might Be the Key to Unlock China

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

The problems for international producers trying to break into China are many. There’s heavy regulation and censorship, and a whole set of different rules for foreign companies setting up in Beijing or Shanghai. There’s also a completely different structure to the Film & TV industries, when compared to Europe or North America.

For instance, a feature film in China makes on average 64.7% of its revenue from its domestic theatrical release, which makes cinemas the dominant mode of distribution. Contrast that with the U.S. where the domestic cinema release accrues roughly 21.4% of a film’s total revenue. Clearly ancillary markets like pay-TV, home video, and of course international theatrical releases are more mature for U.S. movies. But that’s just the basic picture.

The bigger issue in China is actually one of supply. There are a very limited number of theatrical screens which struggle to cope with high domestic demand. Chinese audiences love to attend the cinema, with its advanced audiovisual experience (compared to the lesser quality of TV or pirated content). But there are only 7.3 screens for every 10 million moviegoers in China. In the U.S., the same number of viewers share 129.8 screens.

The result is that a huge number of movies in China simply do not get the opportunity to be released in the cinemas. And there’s no way of making their money back through ancillary revenues.

In some ways, it could be argued that the purpose of making movies in China is basically to supply theatrical markets. This causes a huge lock on distribution and leaves so much of the industry control in the hands of the theater-owners.

The greatest threat to the current imbalance in the market is online distribution. Having just completed a report on potential changes to the Chinese Entertainment Industry, we discovered that there are surprisingly quite a few websites that are gaining prominence through legal online video distribution.

In China, the Internet has become one of the major video consumption platforms for younger viewers. Many sites such as tv.sohu.com and letv.com have established Hulu-like business models, incorporating paid and advertising-supported platforms. These websites circulate Chinese and foreign copyrighted TV drama series and movies.

Based on China’s market environment, these websites employ distinct operational practices. For example, tv sohu.com offered ‘Wu Xia’, a local blockbuster, for free streaming two months after its theatrical release. The period between theatrical and online releases is much shorter than the U.S. standard probably due to rampant video piracy.

LETV.com is an emerging player to watch out for. They are now regularly paying $1 million for online rights to popular Chinese films, while their revenues for the 1Q this year were $16.1m, a 1319% year-on-year increase according to the company’s financial report. Co-productions, TV dramas and comedies, and western content are now being distributed, or considered for distribution, via these platforms. Of course, they still have to overcome the Chinese censors, but they are private companies – and as their wealth and market dominance continues to grow, it would not be inconceivable to see these video sites turn into the Chinese equivalent of the US studio.

Just consider Tudou, perhaps the largest of the online distributors. They are fast becoming an all-round production and distribution hub, and a recent press release proudly states:

“In 2010, we launched Orange Box , our in-house original content production facility, and Warehouse No.6, a talent recruitment program designed for selecting and recruiting talents for our in-house content production, including actors, directors, screenwriters, editors and producers. These initiatives are aimed at developing and enhancing ‘made-for-Internet’ drama series and other independent ‘made-for-Internet’ content.”

These studio-like initiatives resulted in their first Internet dramas series, ‘That Love Comes’, which debuted in October 2010 – and generated approximately 40 million video views as of December 31, 2010.

Tudou’s website now has a large library of TV dramas and comedies, as well as movies and their own original content. This is where international producers could in the future take serious advantage.

After all, they even have a copyright policy on their website!

 

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A Little Place Off The Edgware Road

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

A psychological thriller, based on the short story by Graham Greene, starring Paul McGann, Owen Brenman and Ronald Pickup.

Written and Directed by Tim Hewitt for A-Z.

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faulty

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

One flatmate finds himself in an embarrassing situation of asking his female flatmate if she could check his manhood to stop him worrying…

Directed by Tony Hagger and Written by Matt Wheeler.

Starring Sarah Solemani and Mike Bailey.

* explicit language used in video.

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pastoral

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

A brief romantic comedy where a rooster determines which way a coupleʼs relationship goes.

An endearing picture of love at a comic crossroad as a city couple sharing a country house has opposite attitudes toward the environment. He hates the bucolic life and is terrified by a threatening rooster; she is at one with the land and with the rooster. Adapted and Directed by Tony Hagger.

 

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mancrush

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Definition:

1. When a straight man has a “crush” on another man, not sexual but kind of idolizing him. Many straight men end up having man crushes on Johnny Depp (I don’t blame them).

2. A man who has a crush on another man without sexual attraction.

“Hey, Ted. I heard you spent the night over at Dave’s.” “Yeah, we played twister and scrabble and watched movies, and spent all night talking, bizzatch.” “Dude, you’re 35, acting like you’re 12, and you’re using his language. You’ve got a man crush.”

3. For a man to have a very close platonic friendship and/or admiration for another man.

“Ben Affleck has had a man crush on Matt Damon for a long time.”

Synopsis:

Playing with the metro-sexuality of the modern male, two guys competitively argue about which of them is “best mates” with their mutual friend, Dave.

Written by Matt Wheeler and Directed by Tony Hagger

 

 

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Chopping Off Heads (Is Wrong)

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

A Monty Python-style Spanish Inquisition comedy about an executioner facing a mid-life crisis. The story is a period comedy. In this world, executioners are celebrities. Every kid wants to be one when they grow up. They have trading cards and the whole bit. And our hero, Angel, is the best damn executioner in this town. The only problem is he’s the one guy who doesn’t want to be an executioner. It’s just not what he wants to do with his life…

‘Chopping off Heads’ has been approved and awarded guaranteed full Single Project Development Funding, selected as 1 of 20 UK production companies to receive it for the development of animation, documentary and drama projects, by the funding body MEDIA.

 

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Mancrush

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

The development of a TV comedy series born out of our short film.

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It’s Not All Glee For Musical Dramas

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

The Indian film industry is full of them. They were once a staple of Hollywood. Now television is trying to embrace the musical drama. With the phenomenal success of Fox’s Glee, and the imminent arrival of the Spielberg-NBC drama, Smash, TV networks are making a concerted effort to succeed with a genre that has traditionally been a ratings challenge.

Now when I refer to musical dramas, I mean solely scripted series where the characters break out into song, either naturally (e.g. a character sings on stage), or unnaturally (e.g. a character sings in a police precinct). What I’m not referring to are the spate of reality competition series, where music clearly is one of the most popular sub-genres. This piece isn’t about X-FactorThe Voice or Idol, it is purely about dramas and comedy-dramas that are musicals.

In the past year, I have been asked on a few occasions by US network and production company execs whether there are any decent international musical dramas for them to snap up the format rights to. This led me to think that there is clearly a growing demand among the creative community to develop hit musicals. However, there are very few examples of successful musical dramas, either in the US or internationally.

Over the last 20 or so years, Before Glee, (or as ‘Gleeks’ would call it, B.G.), there had been several attempts in the US to launch successful musicals. There was Stephen Bochco’s infamous Cop Rock, CBS’s Viva Laughlin (based on the UK musical drama Viva Blackpool), to name but two. Both were ratings disasters.Viva Laughlin was in fact canceled after just two episodes. Even the UK original, Blackpool, which aired on BBC1, had very ordinary audience figures, falling between four and five million viewers – well below the timeslot average for that channel. So why is it that musicals generally struggle on TV?

Television certainly requires a greater sense of realism than cinema. You don’t find the same levels of fantasy, adventure and other pure escapist fare on mainstream TV – most of the highly successful series are grounded in reality. One could argue that the reason the first season of Heroes compared better than subsequent seasons was that it stayed in a world that viewers recognized, whereas later seasons became more typical fantasy, which alienated non-fantasy viewers of that series.

When characters start singing, viewers instantly recognize this as a world that isn’t the one they inhabit. This lowers their suspension of disbelief, a key requirement for any drama to sustain itself – especially over multiple weeks and years. New original songs written for the series also reduce the level of familiarity, as do old Broadway numbers, because they aren’t songs most viewers instantly recognize. And then there’s creating a story archetype that satisfies the target demo’s preferences. A show about cops isn’t necessarily appealing to the core tastes of audiences that like musicals.

What Glee does so well is literally overcome all these problems. It uses modern songs that viewers do not feel are dated. (Some of them are in fact exceptionally current). They take a universal situation – the struggles of sexuality and popularity in high school – and ground it in a reality that is the glee club, something that actually exists in American high schools. The problems that the main ensemble of characters face are issues that are easily identifiable, especially to the types of viewers that are potentially attracted to musicals.

These may seem obvious elements to have in any musical drama, but you’ll be surprised how many have (and will) fall short.

We know from the reality competition shows that viewers love to see people sing, but in a drama they need the right context to care about these characters (as none are likely to be competing for a record contract!). If you dig into the library of musical dramas, you’ll notice the odd series that addresses this, e.g. Dennis Potter’s Lipstick on your Collar, which at its heart was about a bored foreign officer worker (played by Ewan McGregor) desperately wanting some fun and excitement to his life as the Brits had handed over global affairs to the Americans, and he had nothing to do at work. This was, however, still niche. Glee has turned the genre into a huge mainstream affair.

For US network execs, the goal it appears has been to find another gem in this arena. However, they will need to be aware of the pitfalls that this genre poses for mainstream audiences – as not all musicals have the characteristics of Glee.

Lipstick on your Collar is profiled in TheirTV, currently in beta phase, our free resource and blog covering trends in international content.

 

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‘A Little Place Off The Edgware Road’ Wrapped

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

16/03/2012

How brief that was. Directing is addictive. With only a four-day shoot, wonderful actors included, you feel as if you’ve only just warmed up before it’s over. When I dabbled in acting, a television director told me that he would much rather direct TV than film as with the latter he would only make one film every two years or so, at best. Experiencing the buzz of directing (with only two films under my belt) I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Perhaps that’s why it’s such a buzz for me, as the writing, the planning, and the assembling of cast and crew are all parts of the process. The act of directing is the rather large, succulent cherry on top. And you enjoy it all the more. Then perhaps (for Clint at least) comes the most enjoyable of all – the editing. Ok, I don’t agree with Clint. Directing is the most enjoyable for me as watching take after take is a little like listening to a stuck record, but as the piece comes together there is naturally  yet another buzz, or after-buzz if you will – an echo of the set.

Working with Paul McGann was like watching a master craftsman. Above everything else, he somehow made my protagonist more mysterious, conflicted and generally more ‘interesting’ than I had envisaged from the written word. This is the sort of thing great actors can do when they lift it off the page. I’ve worked with actors before, as an actor – and therefore I haven’t really witnessed the preparation and deliberation from the beginning to end. What’s so impressive with Paul is how easy it looks. He’s my favourite type of actor in the sense that he doesn’t ‘do’ anything.

But there is so much going on underneath, as if a volcano could quite possibly erupt with no warning. There was a lot of pacing once on the set and his focus was remarkable, as if he were the only one in the room and it pervaded the set with an intensity that surely wasn’t there without him, at least with me jumping around like a kid in a sweet shop. Talking things through with him both before and during the shoot demonstrated, to me at least, the sort of relationship I would hope to have with a leading actor on every film. Mind you, it was only four days (the other thing about such a brief shoot – only being able to hear the abridged Withnail stories, the Alien 3 stories, the Paper Mask stories, even the RADA stories. Maybe more during ADR!). Imagine my excitement when it came to the two dialogue-heavy days, one with Paul and Ronald Pickup, the other with Paul and Owen Brenman (during the latter, I had planned on one section to cut into a close-up of Paul, but his presence during the initial master shot was so electrifying it was already as if he WERE in close-up so I slashed the idea).

My next film (a feature) has a similar leading character. Hmmmm…

Tim Hewitt – writer/ director

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Golden film 2012

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Who will win?

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