China is a booming film market, but with the government restricting the number of foreign movies allowed in each year to around 34 there is a lot of competition and a lot of hoops studios have to jump through to get a movie released there. Disney recently teamed with Chinese entertainment group DMG to make Iron Man 3 a Chinese co-production, and to ensure Tony Stark gets as much coin from China as possible parts of the film will be shot there and Chinese elements have been included in the story.
Avatar director James Cameron knows all too well how lucrative the Chinese audience is with Titanic 3D earning the biggest opening of all time in the country ($58m), and ending up with $105m overall. Now the director and 20th Century Fox are considering adding Chinese actors to Avatar 2 and 3 in the hope of getting around China’s import quotas and earning a maximum share of the box office revenues.
From 3D Focus:
“…within five years China could easily be as big a gross revenue market [for film] as North America and there are very specific economic incentives for having both Chinese content and Chinese co-production. We don’t need Chinese funding for co-production – we are already funded on [Avatar] 2 and 3 – but there might be some percentage in doing a part of the production in China. We are doing the numbers [to see] if it makes sense.”
Cameron said “For Avatar we can certainly use Chinese actors as performance capture actors — any accent issue is hidden within the Na’vi accent – or Chinese actors who speak English in the film as Chinese Na’vi. We are projecting a future [in Avatar] and if you project that out there is a certain logic to the idea that there would be a number of Chinese among the Earth contingent on Pandora.”
He added: “[The industry] has got to get over the chauvinism of thinking through from a US perspective. If you want to make movies for the US, fine. If you want to make movies for the global market, think global.”
I doubt many would have a problem with Chinese actors playing the Na’vi as most of the cast will end up as 10 foot tall extraterrestrial humanoids on-screen anyway. What I think people may not be a fan of is if creative decisions are taken (looking at you Iron Man 3) purely because studios want to be considered Chinese co-productions and have an easy pass into the market.
Chinese regulators recently announced they’d be cracking down on so called “co-productions” by making the requirements stricter. At least one-third of the budget must come from China and Chinese investment, the main cast must be Chinese, and part of the movie must be shot in the country. Looper is set to be released in China later this month and Cloud Atlas is hoping for a release there. Both movies have Chinese cast members and investment from Chinese companies, and some scenes from Looper were shot in Shanghai (but only Chinese audiences will get to see them).
If requirement aren’t met the films can still be released in the country, however elements will be cut (like a Chinese restaurant scene in Men in Black 3) and they’ll get a smaller share of the revenues.