Honoured to be selected as a juror for the 2017 semifinal round of the International Emmys. Pictured with Nathaniel Brendel, International Emmy Judging Director and Chinese star Chung Hon Leung. I was also working with Croton Media, China’s biggest production company and got to address their directors and execs about the different approaches in USA, Europe and China to development.
For those who read Chinese – an in-depth interview in one of China’s main TV industry portals follow Brendan’s recent visit to Shanghai as a member of the International Emmy Jury and to work on a new series with Croton Media, China’s biggest TV production company.
布兰登·福利：我写的书《Under the Wire》的主角，是一个拥有极富戏剧性人生的人物Bill Ash, 而且他还是史蒂夫·麦奎因主演的经典电影《大逃亡》的原型。出于责任感和冒险精神，他和他的同志们想出了最聪明的方式逃离战俘营，尽管他们知道这可能会使他们的生命付出代价。我很佩服他们对纳粹的反抗，我喜欢带有高度张力的戏剧。不是一切都要生死攸关，但我喜欢有着切切实实的东西要失去或获得的戏剧故事。我不太热衷于展现人们因为烤焦了面包而有了一个坏早晨或类似的浅层面的故事。风险和回报必须是真实的，对我而言，这个比故事设置在二战还是现在都重要。
电视剧鹰眼：您创作的《Flying with Byrd》和《Shelldon》在80多个国家播出，您觉得怎么样的故事及如何讲一个故事可以吸引到不同的群体？
布兰登·福利：实际上，书籍和电视剧是非常不同的，我认为保持真实的小说的精神和灵魂比尝试“拍一本书”更重要。在看改编作品时，我倾向于收集所有具有影片化的时刻和形象，然后将其纳入关键的主题。加拿大的项目《Tunnel Kings》中一部分受我的那本畅销书《Under the Wire》启发。为迷你系列剧决定书中的什么该保留、什么该舍去是一个很有趣的过程。同时，我最近也在和来自芬兰的Luminoir做一部关于SOS的生态冒险惊悚系列片，这部片基于芬兰作者写的一本叫《The Sands of Sarasvati》的书。不过书里有很多部分是解释气候变化的具体细节，读起来很耐人寻味，但放在屏幕上去看就可能了无生趣了。很明显，制作电视剧跟制作纪录片很不一样，你必须要忠于原著但同时尊重观众和他们期待看到一个复杂的惊险片的需求。
布兰登·福利：在中国，电视剧有40集的量是非常正常的，但在美国和欧洲，12集才是正常的量，而且第一季通常只有6集或8集。在英国，BBC有时只做3集的节目，比如《神探夏洛克》。我很高兴能与华策克顿合作，尤其是蔡俊荣（Gary Tsai），我们已经合作了几个系列项目。其中一个是以西方重述的方式讲述混合中欧创意的神话故事：探索极限动作冒险题材的系列《Age of Heros》。我发现华策克顿是一家非常有活力、动作迅速的公司，制作的电视节目量能让多数的欧洲公司倍感震惊！
在《Age of Heroes》, 我觉得华策克顿展示了他们的才华和智慧，他们在研发的第一天就考虑到了国际观众和国际合作伙伴。这比制作出一部在中国受欢迎的剧并期待它能在国际上获得成功的方式来说更好。能获得成功的电视剧必须是一个很强有力的故事或IP，而且之后依然需要被量身制作以适应当地人的口味和性情。
Nice to get a mention in Variety for Cannes…
It used to be the glamour and the chance to cultivate relationships with Hollywood that drew Chinese film executives to Cannes. But more than ever before, execs from China are arriving in the South of France ready to do business with Europe.
Sino-European co-productions are increasing. So is inward investment into Europe, as the frenzy of China-Hollywood acquisitions cools off.
“The new emphasis on ties with Europe is not a replacement for the relations that have been built by Chinese companies in Hollywood. But it is a sign of the times – and a sign of sanity,” says producer-director Cristiano Bortone, who maintains offices in Berlin and Beijing.
“There is an expansion of the middle ground between the Hollywood blockbusters and Chinese local productions,” says Bortone, whose Italian-Chinese co-production “Caffe” played in competition at last month’s Beijing film festival. “And there is a growing interest in art-house cinema.
Bortone heads Bridging the Dragon, a two-year-old initiative that connects independent filmmakers in Europe and China through pitching sessions, production labs, conferences and social events. Bridging the Dragon is holding a half-day conference in Cannes on Friday; another seminar on co-production and storytelling, featuring top Chinese executives such as Huayi Bros.’ Jerry Ye, is scheduled for next week.
For Chinese execs, Europe offers an alternative entry point to English-language filmmaking from Hollywood, where budgets are higher and story development takes longer.
Two years ago, Beijing-based Thunder Communications unveiled its first action project with British writer Andy Briggs through London- and Paris-based Poisson Rouge. Thunder has followed up with a corruption thriller with a pair of writers from Leeds, England, and a big fantasy drama with Brendan Foley out of Belfast and London for top Chinese TV producer Croton Media.
“The attractions of working with Europe are multiple: native English speakers, strong creative history, and the costs are much more reasonable than Hollywood,” Thunder founder Charles Lei says.
The Chinese companies’ English-language approach also boosts French players such as Gaumont, EuropaCorp and Studiocanal, which are all producing English-language slates for global consumption.
In terms of investment and acquisitions, China’s Fundamental Films last year acquired nearly 30% of EuropaCorp and is a co-financier of Luc Besson’s big-budget “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” In February, it emerged that China’s He He Pictures was to buy bankrupt sales agency Fortissimo Films, to build off of its art-house brand name.
Last week, U.K.-based production company BB88 revealed the first three films on its slate that are to be financed by the China-U.K. Film Fund.
New Golden Age of TV over? Nope, we’re just getting started.
Sometimes, when it’s over it’s over. There was that Punk’s not Dead gig in Belfast’s Ulster Hall in 1981. It was a great last hurrah for a vibrant musical movement that blew away the cobwebs of the previous decade, but by the time it was declared Not Dead, rigor mortis had already set in and even shock treatment couldn’t make its spiky hair rise again. But not so in TV Drama.
The first Golden Age of TV was in the 1950s, partly because the initial audiences were small and relatively urbane and the writers were great, attracted by the ability to reach ever growing numbers from 9% to almost 90% of US homes in the course of the decade. But mostly it was a golden age because it was a new medium and people were still happy to experiment. Then the actual Mad Men arrived to commodify the ‘box in every living room’ and soon TV drama became the filler between the commercials. Acts were written to be as short as possible in between ad breaks as long and as frequent as audiences would tolerate. Because the stories were chopped up to fit, each act had to start with a bang and end with a cliffhanger, just to stop the audience switching channels or losing the will to live.
By the 1970s, great dramatists were fighting back, albeit within the limits of the medium – shows like Star Trek and Hill Street Blues brought entertaining characters, imagination and a few granules of grit to the screen. Soon these morphed into shows like NYPD Blue where alongside the usual police procedural, we got to know four-dimensional characters like Simone and Sipowicz who evolved and changed with each episode, whether they popped a perp or not.
Then came the game changers – The Sopranos: a saga of a dysfunctional family who just happened to be in the mob, with a small army of wonderful characters seething with ego, resentment, hubris and all the other characteristics which had previously been regarded as too negative to sell tooth paste. The Sopranos gave way to The Wire, a look at a decaying city with the scope and vibrancy of Dickens. Raw, real characters jumped off the screen – like new wave stick up man Omar Little. None of these new shows could have happened first on Network TV. The new cable providers were and are all about getting and keeping subscribers by delivering innovative high quality visual storytelling. It was the same imperative that allowed Game of Thrones to become more than “tits and dragons” as one fine actor observed.
But the wave rippled on, reaching AMC and evolving into Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, the last of which brought questions of moral ambiguity and collective guilt to a series ostensibly about hitting undead brain-eaters with cleavers. New drama was gradually breaking out of being the TV equivalent of arthouse into the mainstream. The major networks – still faced with the challenge of keeping large and diverse audiences watching and entertained – nonetheless started to raise their game to compete. Cop procedurals, family and medical melodramas suddenly became less formulaic and more engaging, such as House on Fox and The Good Wife on CBS.
Yet the real reason the Golden Age is not dead may be as much to do with technology as creativity. A few years ago a very few broadcasting execs were bleating about “over-saturation” of the TV market. In reality, new technology – watching on laptops, watching catch up, binge watching series that took a year to make in a long weekend – has provided an appetite which is generating twice the drama content there was ten years ago. There may also be more in development that does not make it to screen, but for both the writers and the ultimate quality of shows, surely that is a good thing, rather than the same amount of money being spent on flogging dead horses for one extra season.
The market has become more international too. In the last year I have worked with producers and broadcasters in USA, UK, Thailand, China, Poland, Finland and Canada and recently returned from Series Mania in Paris where I had discussions with TV folk from a further half dozen countries including France, Germany, Sweden and Estonia.
The Brave New World is not without problems – good shows have to work hard to find an audience and not to get lost in the crowd. But word of mouth is a wonderful thing, and some shows only catch on after they have been given the hastiest burial since Hamlet’s dad. But the explosion of creativity, the boom in diverse outlets for drama, and the growing appetite for something great has presented all writers with a golden opportunity. If the second Golden Age is gone, it is up to us to make series so engaging that the Platinum Age is just around the corner.
Last night Garry Marshall, my friend and mentor, my first real employer, passed from this Earth, writes Shelly Goldstein. With his passing, the world lost a great man – a man of substance, of love, of infinite humor. A man who dedicated his unequalled Hollywood career to two goals: bringing laughter to the world and being “nice.”
Although his career – which covered Television, Films and Theatre – spanned 6 decades and brought to life some of the most beloved and successful popular culture in the history of show business, his mantra was “life is more important than show business.”
(Shelly Goldstein, @groovyshelly, is a comedy writer who has worked for every major studio and broadcaster since Garry gave her her first sitcom job at Paramount)
Why, despite everything, it’s a great time to be a writer
At a recent script meeting with a broadcasting exec on an ongoing project, he ended the discussion by saying “You know the material, you know where we want to take it. Don’t second-guess yourself, just go and write the hell out of it and take us somewhere new.”
He’s a smart guy. Working writers love to swap horror stories about bone-headed notes from studio executives. Does the character have to be [male/female/young/old/nice/nasty/human]? Does he or she have to do bad things or make mistakes? With Custer’s Last Stand it’s a bit of a downer when Custer gets killed. How about Custer wins? But in truth, a good exec will get more from a writer than he or she would come up with on their own, even if that is just giving him or her a green light to really go for it, rather than to self-censor for the sake of budget or audience timidity. As well as the horror stories and monster egos, there are some smart producers, well-read agents and well-informed execs out there, just as there are smart writers who understand the business and others who would not know a good note if it bit them on the ass.
The experience got me thinking not just about what we write, but the experience we bring to it. I think that the biggest change for writers in the last 30 years has gone by almost unremarked. It is the transition from a lifetime honing one particular area of writing to the ability, or at least the desire, to work in many formats.
The biggest common transition for writers in the past was from journalist to author, and even that was a one-way street. Now it is possible to work between books, print journalism, online, TV, feature film and more, not just in the course of a lifetime, but sometimes in the course of a year, back and forth between closely related skill-sets for different audiences.
My own work has taken me through news journalism, features journalism, PR, advertising, TV documentary, corporate work, TV drama, feature films, books and animation. A few decades ago the relatively short hop from news reporting to features journalism and the time served to gain some level of mastery of each would have been regarded as the work of a lifetime. And there were some good things about that sedate and considered world – a world which blew up at about the same time as the internet was born. Back in the not-so-distant day, when you met someone who had practiced one particular writing skill, be it ad copywriting or poetry exclusively for decades, they really knew their stuff. But I for one do not mourn the demise of the the one trick ponies of the written word, no matter how clever that one trick may be. The downside of that world was that many people got bored doing the same thing endlessly with tiny adjustments, and modern audiences got bored of reading variations on a theme. In the new world for writers as well as readers, there is always a new medium within reach or a new genre to try.
The writers of the TV version of Game of Thrones, for example had not as far as I know ever worked in TV. They came out of books, then film. What they brought from those worlds made for a more cinematic TV experience that also had the staying power of a good book.
The downside of the occasionally-brave new world is that it can obviously lead to a “Jack of all trades, master of none” level of skill. At its worst it is the extension of the belief that “I can write jointy-up letters, ergo I am a writer” mentality that often views modern life as a game show where first prize is being famous for being famous. Of course anyone who is fortunate enough to have been to school can write, but it takes years to be a good writer, or a good anything else. We devalue that hard-won skill at our peril. Still, I would argue that the cross-fertilisation of so much writing experience gained in different sectors will usually outweigh the benefits of endlessly honing one subset of writerly skills.
Every type of writing in English boils down to endlessly rearranging 26 letters and spaces to capture human experiences and trigger sense-memories in those whose brains are decoding our alphabet soup at the other end of the process. As E.M. Forster put it “Only connect!”
Writers now have at least potential access to readers or viewers around the world – an access to numbers previously only available to purveyors of Dickens, Shakespeare or the Bible. Admittedly it is as hard as ever to get noticed amidst the throng of voices, but since 70 million people can find and watch a cat video on Youtube without any help, the non-felines among us should not despair when seeking an audience.
And then there is research. We can now do more in-depth research online and on the phone in an hour than the best feature-writing journalist could have accomplished in a week 20 years ago. Depth of knowledge makes for good writing, whether in features, news or books.
None of this is to say that the requirement to master the craft skills of each and every branch on the current writing tree will take any less time, alongside endless mistakes and improvements. The structuring skills and stamina needed to produce a great book are very different from the trend-spotting skills and verbal karate needed to produce a good tweet. But it is all writing, all connecting. And the more audiences we address, the more formats we work in, the better we get at shifting gears from film to TV to online to books and back.
Beyond the creative aspects, for many of us there is, at some stage in our career, a simple economic imperative to write what pays the bills. As tastes and employers change, we need more than one string to our bow. In fact, for writers our bow is less like one for archery and more like a violin bow, made of a thousand strands representing a myriad of media, audiences, formats and genres.
Anyone who has sustained a writing career over time knows that one of the key skills is to move with the market. That does not mean writing horror if you hate horror, or replying to an executive who asks what time it is with “What time would you like it to be?” We have to stay true to what we love, but be willing to explore new media or genres to stay fresh. Our ability at least on some occasions to stick to our guns or turn work down depends on our ability to have our skills appreciated elsewhere, and that opportunity is increased by our ability to work across media platforms and genres.
We still face the same problems – being paid for treatments, or indeed being paid at all. There will always be a new, naive army of would-be writers who think that if they work for free they will find a way in to the Promised Land. In reality they will only be taken seriously when they value their own work and have something worth reading – and buying. The Guilds have a big role to play in that and the Writers Guild GB has made a great start with its Pay the Writer and Free is Not an Option campaigns, as well as its commitment to welcome aspiring writers into a category of membership, treating them as the source of the next generation of members, rather than as a nuisance.
Despite all the problems, there are many outlets open to us that were previously barricaded away. Authors can self-publish with a shot at a worldwide online audience. It takes real marketing horsepower, a good book and a vast dollop of luck, but then that applies to books with even the biggest publishers. Short films can now find a worldwide audience online, including agents, producers and studio execs, where just a decade ago similar films languished unloved on unwatched DVDs which made the journey from aspiring film-maker to the bin of a bored PA. While it is harder to get heard in the ever growing crowd of material, it is better than shouting down a well at no-one in particular. Even if many of these sectors do not represent a living in themselves, at least they represent access to audience and a chance to prove interest in a script or manuscript to gatekeepers. Ten years ago, publishers regarded a successful self-published book as having ‘spoiled the market.’ Now they are only too happy to get behind something that has already proven it has potential. Similarly a short or a trailer for a movie that has racked up tens of thousands of views may give a producer or investor comfort that it can find a market big enough to justify its budget as a feature or series.
So, for both practical and creative reasons, and despite the high walls and deep chasms that await us every day, this is a great time to be a writer. And for those who just want to wallow in the almost operatic awfulness of crappy script notes, unreturned phone calls, failed pitches, bad payers and people who regard being a writer as only slightly more acceptable than being the piano player in a house of ill repute, it’s time to remember the words of kindly old Mr Hyman Roth in Godfather II: “This is the business we have chosen”.
Brendan Foley. Twitter: @foleyfilm
Breaking in – the art of the possible
Brendan Foley was asked by training network STAGE32 to give suggestions for people aspiring to work as writers, actors, directors and producers in film, TV and online. Here’s what he said:
History does not record if Otto Von Bismark was twirling his waxed Prussian moustache when he declared “Politics is the art of the possible”. He meant that dreams and ideals are nothing if we don’t grapple with the real world, and work through real problems to get from where we are to somewhere closer to where we want to be.
For those trying to make their way in the film or TV world in the 21st Century, I would say movie making is the art of the possible. For every thousand people who like the idea of making their living as a writer, producer, director or actor, there is one actually making a living at it. Yet every day, people succeed. They go to work on a set, they sell a script, they persuade a financier to cough up, and a thousand other little victories.
Here are a few guidelines that may be useful to those trying to break in to the business.
- Overnight success is horse-sh*t
Just because someone wins the lottery, it does not mean buying a scratch-card is a viable strategy. Very few people write and sell their first spec script. Very few actors turn up at their first audition and get a big role. Employing new people is a risk. Give employers a reason to give you the gig. It might be that you can show how good your work is through past writing or a great showreel. Plus it might be that someone with a good reputation is willing to endorse you. Plus you might be very good “in the room”. Plus, plus, plus. You should constantly be looking at ways to whittle the odds down from a thousand to one to 100-1. It might then take 100 chances to ‘get lucky’ but when you succeed it will be because you have followed the advice of auto racer Bobby Unser: “success is where preparation meets opportunity”. Every time you hear of an overnight success, scratch the surface. You usually find a lot of time and work has gone into the victory.
- You want it? Earn it.
I feel very sorry for some of the current generation just emerging into the work market. There is a lot of talent out there but also a lot of people who have been fed on a diet of celebrity, of talent shows, and people being famous for being famous. I’ve met some who want to be writers or actors in order to become rich and famous. Ha. Writing and acting are rarely routes to financial security, and most of the greatest and most successful have spent years just scraping by at some point in their careers. If you want to be a writer for example, do it because you love writing and you love it so much that financial security or buying shiny things is secondary. That’s not a small ask, but then no one asked you. It is your choice and the results are your responsibility.Yet the flip side is also true. If you go into it for the right reasons, then the work you produce tends to come from the heart. That’s not to say that you should spend your time in an attic writing obscure tracts, or refuse to go to any audition that isn’t for Hamlet. Do anything to pay the bills, but pay the bills in order to do what you love. That means that when you get a good gig, don’t blow the money or immediately start living large. Use that money as a war chest to see you through lean times. One minute you’re a rooster, next you’re a feather duster, and so make sure you can stay the course.Success is cumulative, incremental, gradual. Lots of people who win the top prize in big screenwriting contests never get a script sale or a movie made. Others, who may have only placed in the same contests, carve themselves a career. That’s because they know that their broad skill set might include writing, pitching, self-marketing, communications skills and generally being a positive and amiable human being. Which leads me to:
- Don’t be a dick.
Entry jobs are often less than glamorous. If you are a runner, be the best runner. Don’t sigh and roll your eyes about being sent for the donuts when anyone with an eye can see that your considerable genius should be employed running the set. If you are working as an assistant, make yourself indispensable by making your boss’s life easier. Very soon you go from being a gopher to something more solid. And be nice to people who are on the way up. We are not in some reality show where you have to screw colleagues over to advance.You can learn a huge amount in these jobs, particularly ones where you get an overview of different skills and departments. Do that, and when you have proven your worth, enquire from some of the people you have helped by doing your job well about the next steps. You can even afford a few sideways moves at this stage in your career – so if something other than your original objectives becomes interesting the more you learn of it, don’t be afraid to take a detour. Some of the best casting agents in the business started out as average actors, but found their true calling along the way.Give smart suggestions if asked, and occasionally offer them if you know it will help whatever collective effort is going on, be it a TV show, movie or webisode. But don’t try to do other people’s jobs for them. They have their jobs because someone decided to pay them. There are few things funnier or sadder than listening to first jobbers giving sage unrequested advice to someone who has worked for years to burnish their skills and experience. Good ideas can come from anywhere, but unless you are the child reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, probably best to limit your advice to the best bits, available on request.On the other hand, don’t be too self deprecating or as Dickens’ character Uriah Heep described himself as “Ever so ‘umble”. People want to know that you have confidence in what you are selling, be it your own writing skill or acting ability. It’s better not to get the odd job because they don’t like your take on something than to not get any jobs because you don’t seem to believe in your own ‘product’.And try not to bitch and moan about people, even when they deserve it. Worst of all, do not become the person who “Smiles up but snarls down”. Karma will catch up with ass-hats soon enough, and people who get a reputation for being snide or bitchy in the shadows rarely make the sort of friends who take the time to give them a boost when the need it.
- Be very good at what you do.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers suggested it takes 10,000 hours to become good at any one activity. He suggests The Beatles were just another band until they went to Germany and played endless sets in tiny clubs for months on end, while also finding themselves a new look and sound. Go and do likewise. If you are making short movies, make half a dozen, each better than the last. If you are a writer, have at least three or four varied feature and TV scripts in your arsenal for when you get an agent who likes your script and who says, “What else you got?” This means time, learning from people who are already good and who may not have much free time because they are in demand. You get better by learning from mistakes, so if you find someone willing to give you the time, be grateful, and don’t go all red and crinkly if he or she suggests that your work needs work, and that perhaps you didn’t hatch from a golden egg as a perfectly formed genius.
- Be able to change horses in midstream
In the past it was enough to be very good at one thing, wait for a lucky break and then do some variation on that one thing for the rest of your career. When I started in print journalism there were armies of sub editors and fact checkers. There were people who spent years becoming proficient as laying our pages with a scalpel and cow gum. All gone. But the smart ones adapted their skill set and learned the advantages of onscreen design. The guys who used to spend days cutting strips of film and holding them to the light could either adapt to computers or head for the hills. This process is endless. So recognize that what you love is the core activity – editing pictures or designing pages, acting or writing. Stay up on changing technology and never think that it is your friend. The world will not care if you spent ten years using one program. If a better one, or even a worse one becomes industry standard, you better be able to be better with it than anyone else.
- Be prepared to pay for the ticket
On their deathbed, very few people ever say, “I wish I’d spent more time at work”. Even when working incredibly hard, you have to find room for home life, and to spend real time with those you like and love. The macho culture of measuring someone’s success by how long they can stay at work is an idiotic hangover from the 1980s. Successful people want to work with people who deliver good work quickly and reliably over time. If you have no outside life or interests your work as a writer, director or actor gets dull from lack of stimulus. You end up rehashing the same tired ideas. This is where your relations with your work colleagues come into their own. If you need something in a hurry, you are more likely to be able to call in favors from those who like and respect you, so you are able to deliver on time thanks to other people’s help.On the other hand, you have to give it 100%. TV and film is not a world that is forgiving of laziness or of an employee mentality. There are always 100 younger, smarter keen-beans on the other side of the door, waiting for their big break.Sometimes the price of the ticket to work in this business is emotional – having to balance domestic and work life. At other times it is purely financial. I have met graduates so shocked at the idea of living on a small income for years that they simply can’t believe that is a possibility. They should change direction now, as they will not survive in this business and some may not even deserve to. At other times the price of the ticket may be time – time not spent doing other things, be they social or other work. At such times you have to be committed to whatever work you have chosen. In the words of Hyman Roth in Godfather II, “This is the business we have chosen.” In short, own your decisions.
- Enjoy the journey
A very common trait I see among aspiring media people is to regard whatever they are doing as a necessary evil along the path to where they want to be. If it is a short it is only as a calling card for their magnum opus feature. If it is a commercial screenplay it is only because “it will sell” thus allowing them to do their ‘real’ work. News Flash: work like that never sells. People can smell cynicism even through a laptop screen. Even if you are making a 2-minute short with an I-phone, take your time and make it the greatest short you can.Even though it is not always what people setting out on a journey want to hear, the destination is an illusion. There is no ‘over there’, just places along the way. The good news is some of the places along the way are amazing. Now that we have the flexibility to work in film, TV, print and online, and in different genres and different formats, the world is your oyster. Enjoy the journey and if you are lucky, as I continue to be, you’ll find that the journey is the destination.
Brendan Foley is an award-winning writer, producer and director with international experience in TV series, best-selling books and feature films, including work for NBC, BBC, Random House, Lionsgate and Sony. Twitter: @foleyfilm
The UK – China film co-production treaty has just been ratified. Congratulations to all those who worked hard to make it happen over several years, including everyone involved at the BFI. Details of the treaty can be found here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/film-industry/british-certification-tax-relief/co-production
I was very pleased to be a guest at the recent EU China Co-Production Forum in London. As a UK Writer-Producer with TV and film co-pro experience in North America, Europe and Asia, I hope the following thoughts may be useful to all our Chinese colleagues who work in production, finance and screenwriting, and who are looking towards co-productions with the UK and Ireland. Please feel free to forward or circulate to any colleagues who might find it helpful.
Special thanks to Gia Zhendan of Europe China Image Film Festival, Suo Laijun of the Copyright Protection Centre of China, Ivor Benjamin of DGGB, Shang Lin of China Film Fund, Xing Xiao of Shaanxi Cultural Investment Group, and all the other guests and speakers.
特别感谢欧洲万象国际华语电影节的Gia Zhendan，中国版权保护中心的Suo Laijun，DGGB的Ivor Benjamin，中国电影基金会的尚林，陕西文化投资集团的邢潇，以及其他宾客和演讲嘉宾。
CHINA UK CO-PRODUCTION 中英影视联合制作
When it comes to international co-production it is important to have an honest look at our own strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the Chinese market, growing at the rate of dozens of new cinema screens per week and with a vast online customer base measured in hundreds of millions of customers, is clearly a powerful asset. But the very size of that market means that Chinese producers have focused on looking inward. Smaller countries have been much more used to international co-productions built on creative and technical excellence in storytelling and film-making aimed at a global audience. Successful China-UK co-productions will be built on those mutual assets. With a promising co-production treaty in place, there has never been a better time to make it happen.
Since the number eight is regarded as a particularly lucky and prosperous one in China, here are eight guidelines for those thinking about international co-productions:
1. ALLIANCES 同盟
Look for real partnerships, not just financial ones. The UK partners who will be of most value are those who understand the give-and-take of international co-productions and those who have a proven record of delivering stories in a way that appeals to audiences across borders. Prior to making movies I was an international journalist who worked in 77 countries and I learned just how important cultural sensitivities can be – what can be seen as honest in one country can be seen as blunt in a second and downright rude in a third. It takes patience and a shared sense of humour to build a business friendship as well as a personal one.
寻找真正的合作伙伴，不仅仅是融资伙伴。最有价值的英国合作伙伴是那些懂得国际联合制作的给予与索取，以及已经成功创作出吸引跨国界观众故事的人。当我还是个国际记者的时候，我认识到文化敏感性是多么的重要 – 一些在一个国家被认为是诚实的但在另一个国家却被认为是愚钝的，而在第三个国家被认为是无礼的。这需要耐心和共同的幽默感来建立合作友谊以及个人友谊。
2. INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE 国际视角
REALLY Prepare for any international co-pro meeting, don’t just bring material that suits your own audience. I have lost count of the number of presentations of Chinese projects that I have seen for an international English language audience or producer, where the materials – pitches, stories, marketing ideas – are poorly organized or badly translated. If your proposal is for a multi-million dollar global feature, spending a little money making sure your material is impressive is surely the very least to be expected. The same goes for western companies working in eastern markets. Just because English is the universal business language, it does not make it the only language, and sometimes having material available in dual language versions is a good starting point in showing mutual respect and a global perspective.
真的在准备任何国际联合制作会议的时候，不仅仅带来适合自己观众的材料。我数不清多少次中国项目的展示会提供给国际英语观众或制片人的那些材料 – 推介，故事，营销计划 – 组织得很差或翻译的很糟糕。如果您的策划一个百万美元的全球计划，花一点儿钱使您的材料印象深刻绝对是最基本的。同样也适用于西方公司在东方市场。英语是世界通用语言，但并不是唯一语言，有时候准备双语材料是表达尊重对方和国际视角的好开端。
Pitching is a very different process in different markets, such as USA, UK, Europe and China. A first pitch in a US or UK context generally should not be over ten minutes. It is expected to cover a lot of specific ground. This can include a very short introduction to the pitcher or producer’s past work, the genre of the story being pitched, its title, its target audience, budget, a SHORT summary of the story itself including a few key visual moments to give a sense of the style, and a quick summary of what the pitcher is looking for, be it finance, co-producer, technical skills or whatever. In Europe, the process tends to be a bit more artistic and sometimes more focused on a director’s vision, but it still covers the same ground. Many Chinese project pitches or introductions tend to feel rather wandering and unfocused to western producers. Chinese producers interested in western partnerships would do well to find experienced UK or US producers happy to go through pitches and presentations in ‘rehearsal’ so the final pitch is perfect.
4. KNOW YOUR CO-PRODUCER’S OBJECTIVES 了解您的联合制片人的目标
Be aware of the big issues for your producing partners as well as those you face yourself. The complex system of Chinese regional and national government approval of projects at both script stage and for completed films is a very unusual world for most UK producers who may be more used to being judged by the audience or the distributors than the state. A Chinese partner who can help a co-production navigate that process is a valuable one indeed. In return, the plethora of international funding sources for the sort of large scale independent co-productions many Chinese producers are looking for, may look daunting to a Chinese producer or financier, so a Western producer capable of demonstrating past success dealing with funding coming from numerous sources, both public and private, and from several countries as is typical in Europe, may make the difference between success and failure.
5. UNDERSTAND THE AUDIENCE 了解观众
While each set of producers may understand their own market inside-out, a good international co-production involves both partners knowing what appeals in all the potential major markets for their movie. Chinese audiences, particularly the younger ones, really crave variety. They will often decide at the last minute to go to the movies and decide when they get there what they want to see. They can be quite demanding and critical, but they love a good story and appreciated clever special effects. European audiences are more segmented by age and gender as well as genre interests. Sometimes they will not pay to see something at the cinema if they feel they can see it or something similar on TV. Increasingly, the cinema-going experience has to be something special rather than a routine outing. This can mean special in terms of quality of story, acting or cinematography. Ideally all three.
6. UNDERSTAND RECOUPMENT 理解回收期
Have a clear route to profitability for both partners. Many western producers get exasperated by the difficulty of getting paid even if a movie does well in China, but there are many ways of successfully splitting revenue and territories between international partners, so all parties benefit. As with most successful partnerships, they are built on a shared understand of who-does-what and who-gets-what, right from the start. If those objectives can be dove-tailed so both sides benefit in most cases, all the better.
7. THE VALUE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (IP) 知识产权的价值
The issues of copyright and ownership of intellectual property remain vital to the long term success of any international film partnership. Many UK producers are not familiar with the role of underlying Intellectual Property within the Chinese film industry as the basis of a complex system of government and private loans that help make the wheels of the Chinese film industry go round. On the other hand, Chinese investors, producers and marketers have to find ways to reassure their international partners that hard work and ownership of rights will result in rewards for the right people and not just a payday for pirates. China has actually made a lot of progress on this in recent years, both online and in traditional markets, in terms of copyright protection, and organisations such as the Copyright Protection Centre of China can be very helpful.
8. OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION 通信畅通
Reach for the phone before you reach for the lawyers. No film since the beginning of cinematic time has ever been easy, but successful co-productions are built on trust and good communications. I once got to ask the remarkable Sidney Lumet if he had any advice on film productions with multiple partners. He said: “Just make sure everyone is making the same movie”. When you add in language and cultural differences to the mix, success will never be based on contracts alone (although they are obviously incredibly important and you should know the relevant co-production treaty inside-out, not just delegate it to your legal representatives). A willingness to communicate and share objectives, to help each other out of problems and pitfalls, makes for partnerships that survive more than one movie or show.
Good luck to all potential UK-China co-producers and don’t stop until you reach your auspicious 88th co-production!
About the author: Writer-Producer Brendan Foley has worked on international co-productions involving eight countries in both film and TV. His films and shows have been distributed by Sony, NBC, Lionsgate and others in dozens of markets worldwide and he has worked with acting talent ranging from Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi to Vinnie Jones. He has also written bestselling books, including Under the Wire (Random House). He is a popular guest speaker on screenwriting and production and has led seminars in USA, India, Denmark and the UK on writing and producing for international audiences. As well as his own projects, he advises international producers on pitching and development. He can be contacted at email@example.com .
关于作者：编剧兼制片人Brendan Foley曾参与涉及八个国家在电影和电视的国际联合制作。他的电影和电视已经由索尼，NBC，Lionsgate等数十个市场全球发布，他曾与Vanessa Redgrave 和 Derek Jacobi 以及 Vinnie Jones合作。他还撰写畅销书，其中包括Under the Wire (Random House)。他是剧本和制作的一个受欢迎的主讲嘉宾，并在美国，印度，丹麦和英国领导了写作和制作的国际观众研讨会。还有他自己的项目，他为国际制作人在推介和拓展上给予建议。他的联系方式是 firstname.lastname@example.org 。
ARCHERFIELD Brendan’s latest novel, an epic covering the lives and locations of one square mile of Scotland over 14,000 years has just been published by Caledonian Heritable. The first edition collectors’ hardback is an elegant cloth-bound, gold embossed version, lavishly illustrated and a joy to behold as well as to read.
Film Foley has announced a series of six one-day seminars on various aspects of writing and film-making held in London 18 – 23 March. Details on the Training page of this website.
Brendan Foley also attended the Berlin Film Market to discuss co-production possibilities on Under the Wire, Fire and Ice, Soldier Bear and several writer for hire projects. Wojtek the Soldier Bear of WWII approves of the Berlin EFM logo, and the city was festooned in bears of all shapes and sizes.
FIRE AND ICE, Brendan’s project about Otzi the Ice Man in the Alps, has been awarded development funding by BLS, the South Tyrol film fund. The treatment was developed with considerable assistance from script consultant Tom Schlesinger. Pictured, Brendan in one of the stunning valley settings of the story in SudTyrol.
ENDURANCE, a screenplay written by Brendan Foley for Danish producer Hannover Films is now completed. Set in the Middle East, it concerns a boy who finds himself homeless following the death of his father. The boy leaves the safety of the suburbs and discovers two different worlds – the glittering towers of the city and the twisting alleys of dormitory buildings where their immigrant builders live. The film will be produced by Michael Hannover.
Brendan’s project THE ICE MAN was chosen for treatment development by a government film fund in the the Alps. BLS promotes film in Sud Tyrol in Alpine Italy. The project was chosen from hundreds of submissions as one of a dozen set in the region that formed part of Racconti, a development project led by international story consultant Tom Schlesinger. The story relates to Tyrol’s most famous resident, Otzi the Iceman, the Neolithic hunter found preserved in the ice for 5,000 years. The story was then selected as one of four to be presented at Incontri, a gathering of more than 40 producers and financiers from Germany, Austria and Italy.
While Brendan mainly works in features and TV, he still occasionally takes on corporate and advertising commissions. Recently he wrote the script for a film for one of the world’s biggest steel-makers, Tata Steel. The company is the largest part of the huge Indian based conglomerate Tata, listed in Fortune as one of the world’s most admired companies and famous for giving two thirds of its multi billion profit base each year to community and social advancement. The film was produced and directed by Zafar Hai, one of India’s foremost directors whose past work has included historical features and drama, including a Merchant Ivory production. The new film can be seen on the Videos page of this website.
Brendan was a guest speaker on screenwriting and directing at the Dingle Film Festival 2012, held against the backdrop of some of Ireland’s most stunning coastal scenery, made famous in the movie Ryan’s Daughter. His Proper Picture Co colleague Ned Dowd gave a one day crash course in movie making and producer Lars Hermann also attended, pictured.
Brendan was the lead guest speaker at a weekend seminar for screenwriters from across northern Europe. It was held in Odense, home of Hans Christian Andersen in Denmark. It followed a similar successful course in Bremen, Germany with German film fund Nordmedia.
Brendan has completed Addae’s Journey, a screenplay for Devonshire Productions about a West African boy’s perilous journey to Europe in search of Soccer Stardom. Peter Macdonald is attached to direct.
Brendan was chosen as the lead tutor for an intensive weekend screenwriting workshop with delegates from all over northern Europe. The course was run by the North Sea Screen Partnership and FilmFyn of Denmark.
Shelldon, the animated children’s series about the ocean environment written and co-developed by Brendan Foley and Shelly Goldstein was aired on America’s NBC (Qubo) channel, and has gone on to screen in more than 20 countries, including on Ireland’s RTE.
Lionsgate release Legend of the Bog on DVD in the United States through Grindstone. The low budget tongue-in-cheek chiller stars Vinnie Jones, Nora Jane Noone and Jason Barry. International sales are handled by Spotlight Pictures, LA.
Brendan is featured as one of the success stories in Script Magazine, covering his journey from winner or finalist in screenwriting contests through the making of his first three films and bestselling book, Under the Wire.