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Hollywood insider on China's film industry

ROBERT Pisano, president and chief operating officer of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), is a veteran of the entertainment industry, an insiders' insider.

He served as national executive director and CEO of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001 to 2005. From 1993 to 2001, he was executive vice president, then vice chairman and consultant to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc (MGM).

Pisano was invited by the 13th Shanghai International Film Festival to address workshops and forums with Chinese film makers.

On his China trip, he also spoke with Shanghai Daily, sharing his views on the future of Chinese cinema and many possibilities of cooperation with the US film industry.

While the Chinese film market has huge potential, it still is immature and notably lacks protection of intellectual property rights, observed Pisano.Q: How can China's film industry collaborate with Hollywood?

A: There are many opportunities to build on the strong history of collaboration and partnership. What started as production assistance has evolved to more concrete cooperation, including producing and financing feature films for global audiences. Sony Picture's "The Karate Kid" - produced by Hollywood superstar Will Smith and starring his son Will Smith Jr and Jackie Chan - exemplifies how Hollywood and the Chinese film industry can work together to produce world-class movies that appeal to both Chinese and international audiences. Many Hollywood studios are considering China as a major film production base because of its fast-growing economy, relatively inexpensive film production sites and the increasing popularity of Chinese traditional culture and art forms such as martial arts. MPAA actively encourages such collaboration. For example, MPAA hosted a US-China coproduction summit last year, the first of its kind, involving leading figures on both sides. Another such meeting is to take place this fall.

Q: What are your views of the Shanghai International Film Festival? And your advice?

A: This is my first time at SIFF. I attend various film festivals and awards year round and I must say that SIFF is certainly in the top league in attracting diverse films and leading industry figures worldwide. It also reflects a city energized by creativity, artistry and commerce, as we can see by the World Expo. I congratulate the festival's distinguished organizers for so warmly welcoming the global film community. This openness will enable China's film industry to continue to prosper as it shares its rich reservoir of talent and culture, and moves toward becoming a powerhouse for international cooperation and coproduction.

Q: China's film market is booming. Is it an important Hollywood market and what are your expectations?

A: In terms of current revenue, China is not a significant market. In terms of potential growth, however, it is very significant. China is now one of the biggest movie markets globally. While the rest of the world is still recovering from the economic recession, China has demonstrated exceptional resilience. This year's box office got off to a record start with Hollywood's 3-D blockbuster "Avatar," which grossed more than 1.3 billion yuan (US$200 million) and 2010 box office is expected to top 10 billion yuan. Beyond contributing billions of dollars to the world economy, the ramifications of a mature China film market include the impact and import of Chinese creativity and ideas. The Chinese film industry will play a critical role in the unfolding of one of the most important spectacles in our industry's creative tradition - the liberation and influence of 5,000 years of China's rich cultural history upon a receptive and enthusiastic global audience. More than ever before, Hollywood studios are producing and investing in movies with a Chinese theme or Chinese language that can later be exported.

Q: What's the trend for Hollywood films? Is diversity a strength?

A: Beyond technological advances such as 3-D, movies as creative art products are increasingly reflect the influence and participation of individuals - not nations or nationalities. Our world more and more resembles a global village and the film industry is no different. The international commercial success of the Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" is a case in point. The director, Danny Boyle, and screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, are British, while the actors, locale and novel upon which the film is based are distinctly Indian. This kind of collaboration demonstrates the appeal of movies that remind us of our common humanity - while celebrating our differences.

Q: How is it possible to maintain a healthy and dynamic market and industry distribution chain?

A: There is no greater inhibitor to innovation than lack of protection of intellectual property rights. This is not an American issue, but a global one. China will never reach its full potential if it does not protect its intellectual capital investments. We regularly talk and work with the Chinese government and law enforcement around piracy issues. This cooperation is very important to both of us because overwhelmingly piracy in this country harms not just US film studios, but China's own film making community - including film makers, movie theaters and retail outlets. So we share a stake in these efforts. For the companies I represent, a second major challenge is the fact that Chinese audiences are permitted to enjoy only a very few US films each year. This drives a demand for pirated products that can only be obtained through the black market - further compounding the problem of piracy and diverting millions of dollars annually from the legitimate market. The two problems are intertwined. The ideal conditions are ones which promote a Chinese film industry and market that is open for moviegoers to see what kinds of films, when and how they choose. And a film industry and market where movie makers know there are enforceable market safeguards that will help protect their investment in creating innovative and world-class entertainment products. This vision is vital if the Chinese film market is to reach its full promise.

Q: What's Hollywood's secret to success?

A: Hollywood's secret to success is similar to that of Silicon Valley, as a catalyst for innovation and new venture creation. It supports creativity, capital flow, and talent and technology development, with no small amount of risk-taking. These conditions exist because of safeguarding intellectual property rights, using technology to expand consumer entertainment choices, supporting fair trade agreements and securing a future for artistic freedom of expression.


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