13 Oct 018: Finding a Good Chinese Film Partner
Christine Lin of Topstar Media shares insights on having a good Chinese business partner and how you can connect with them.
China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast – Episode #18
Preroll: This is China Hollywood Greenlight podcast. Episode # 18
This is Caryn McCann, the host of the China Hollywood Greenlight podcast – a podcast about creating & distributing content for both Hollywood and China.
Any links mentioned in the podcast can be found in the show notes at chinahollywoodgreenlight.com / podcast and look for this episode which is # 18
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A quick update on what I’m working on.
- I connected with a producer and a director. Can’t tell you their names yet but let’s just say they are my dream team. So I’ll contact them tomorrow and see where we are on two projects I am pitching to them
- The AFM is coming up so I redid my flyer. I read a great article in Variety. It talked about how Hollywood actors are flocking to China but there aren’t any suitable roles for Hollywood actresses. So, Hollywood talent agents are pushing for more roles for Hollywood actresses. This is music to my ears since my projects all feature female protagonists and in some cases a female antagonist to. So maybe the time is right for my projects which I like to describe as Action films for smart women.
Before I introduce today’s guest – I’d like to start out with a motivation quote to encourage our listeners to continue on their path to achieving their own green light. And today’s quote is from… Les Brown and he said:
“Take responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.”
Caryn McCann: Today’s guest is Christine Lin. Christine has worked as a marketer writer film director and producer in Greater China for years. She comes from Taiwan and has been working in Beijing for more than 15 years. She got her Master’s Degree of Art at San Diego State University of California. After that she went to Hong Kong and worked for Star Movies Asian Channel.
At present, she is the GM of Top Star Media International. The Beijing based company is not only producing high quality video film content but providing marketing consultant services to domestic and international clients such as the theatrically released movie 3D Smurfsand Wolf Warrior 2. Top Star Media International is a TV and film production company as well as a marketing and PR consulting agency.
In addition to co-productions the company proposes marketing strategies and PR activities for foreign clients such as Sony Entertainment Group and Disney Channel Asia.
On the marketing side, she is the Acting Deputy Director of the Entertainment Marketing Committee of China’s Advertising Association. So, Christine thank you for coming on the show today.
Christine Lin: Thanks, and welcome. I mean yeah you are definitely a good friend.
Caryn McCann:Thank you. Thank You, Christine. Now I told the audience a little bit about you. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your business?
Christine Lin: I think you described my company very well. I have few words to say now.
Caryn McCann: Okay. Very good.
Christine Lin: It’s near to perfect.
Caryn McCann: (laughs) Well, Thank you for that. Well, let me ask you a question. Why do you want to work in the China-Hollywood market? You’ve got, obviously, the Chinese companies you work for. You also have foreign clients such as Sony and Disney. Why do you want to work in the China-Hollywood market?
Christine Lin: Well I think the reason is very simple. China is a huge market with great potential. It’s still developing and full of opportunity. Hollywood is the most important film industry in the world. China needs Hollywood’s experience. And Hollywood needs the China market. I think that’s the reason why there are so many people just travel between China and Hollywood.
To me, China is like a western movie full of adventure stories. Well, when I was a child, my father always brought me to the theater to watch Hollywood films. So, fantastic stories. I still remember a very old movie star – John Wayne. So, Hollywood films affect me so much.
Caryn McCann: That’s really it’s really charming to hear that. Now to know you currently work for Top Star Media. Can you tell us what are two or three main tasks you do on a typical day?
Christine Lin: I think that’s a very interesting question for me because I never thought of it as regular routine work. In my typical working day, I get up in the morning and I regularly have 15 minutes’ meditation and spend 30 minutes for exercise. In order to wake up my mind, my brain and the whole body – the meditation gives me more self-awareness and helps me clear my thoughts on what I am going to do that day. Then I go to the office.
There are two parts of my daily work. One is the production side. I need to study many scripts from cooperating screenwriters in greater China. Some of them are famous writers, and some are not. I have to screen some scripts and pick out which one is worthy to develop and go into production. You can’t make all the scripts. When you read the good story – it will make you smile or even cry. But sometimes we’ll get some terrible script (laughter). But that is a necessary task for the producer.
If the projects on its way, I need to organize regular meetings to discuss content with the script writer and the director and sometimes executive producer to give my opinions modifications and suggestions. We will talk and brainstorm. No script is perfect.
You have to modify it for the market. And the other part is the marketing side. I need to contact important clients – most of them are big Chinese brands to discuss a movie or TV drama series for joint promotion activity or doing product placement.
As you described in the introduction one of my most successful projects was the Chinese blockbuster movie Wolf Warrior 2. That broke records. In the beginning, I and my team member participated from the very beginning of the movie’s marketing plan. We tried to persuade our clients but got very passive responsive because of the war/fighting genre.
Chinese people don’t expect that it will be success successful in the future especially. They’d say, “Forget it. War and fighting – so boring!” So, I tried my best to persuade my clients and finally, some of them participated but not many in the beginning. I hope that today they’ll well think about this the next time I try to sell or promote a new genre movie.
FINDING THE RIGHT PARTNER
Caryn McCann: Exactly. Now you mentioned. How do you find your business partners/business clients? And how do you suggest the listeners find a Chinese producer or a Chinese business partner?
Christine Lin: Well it’s a top secret. (Laughter).
Caryn McCann: Oh! Do tell.
Christine Lin: Just joking. I promise to answer all of your questions. How to find a business partner? In the very beginning, I asked my friends in the Beijing government. Because I was journalists and I worked in Hong Kong – I have contact with government officials.
When I came to Beijing I just asked my friends in government. Some of them come from SARFT (and some of them come from SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television) and The China Film Co-Production Group. And I asked them to introduce me to good local business partners. And most of them are reliable. That’s very important in China.
They deal with you, are very polite and nice. And we became friends. Also, we can do the self-censorship of our own projects in advance.
That would make our project safer and easier to pass the strict censorship. That’s a trick (laughs). Later when I built my own professional circle of friends 朋友圈(Péngyǒu quān).
I asked them to introduce business partners for me. You may know, Chinese people they don’t want to deal with people they don’t quite understand. Because it’s China. If someone welcomes and says they can do everything for you – don’t believe him. (laughter)
Caryn McCann: (laughs) Good tip.
Christine Lin: How do you find a Chinese producer? In China, there are many talented artists in the market but not many of them have international collaboration experience. It’s not only the language barrier but a logical thinking problem. You know what I mean? When you say one thing and they think another thing – because of the cultural difference. My suggestion is to find a professional association and ask them to introduce you to a qualified candidate.
In Beijing or Shanghai, there are some professional associations that can help you to solve your problem. But you need to have the patience to deal with them.
Caryn McCann: Yes. You mentioned SART. I think they changed the name. Are there any associations you would suggest? If not, we can email the later and I can add them to the show notes. But are there any associations you would recommend.
Christine Lin: I’m familiar with the professional association in Beijing. It’s the China Producers Association and The China Directors Association. I know their executives – they just call me and say “Christine, welcome. Come to the office and have a chat”. I can give you the contact person.
Caryn McCann: Perfect. I’ll put that in the show notes. Thank you. That’s a good tip.
Christine Lin: You’re welcome.
Caryn McCann: Now you mentioned some movies you worked on – Wolf Warrior 2, Smurfs 3D. Let’s talk about a past project. Any past project. What obstacle did you encounter on a past project? How did you overcome it and what did you learn?
Christine Lin: Working with foreign partners such as the big studios in Hollywood – it is very easy for me because we don’t have a communication barrier. Also, I worked for Star TV in Hong Kong. So, I have the experience to collaborate with foreign partners.
I really had been going through a tough time to deal with a local company. It’s was a very tough time because it’s was my early stages in Beijing. I found some Chinese people they didn’t like to follow the contract.
Caryn McCann: (Laughter). I have heard of this. What did you do?
Christine Lin: And they broke their commitment. It’s terrible. After you sign the contract – they may not obey the conditions that you both agreed on. The contract is a legal issue. It’s a step guarantee. And don’t know why they don’t have such sense. So, as the company’s legal representative I choose to stand out and launch a lawsuit.
Caryn McCann: Wow. Good for you!
Christine Lin: You need to have the courage to do that. In China, especially now they are more progressive and modern. So, the people get to know the law regulation is very important, also the importance of the contract. But at that time, it’s suffering because the lawsuit lasted two years and (we) spent a lot of money. Finally, I won the lawsuit and got the copyright back but without compensation because the defendant declared bankruptcy.
You win the lawsuit but you can’t get your money back. So, my experience, in this case, is to be careful on your starting point. If you choose the wrong partner in the beginning even though you are making progress or get a good market response you lose what you should get. You work so hard so be careful on your starting point. Finding a good partner is very important.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. And you gave us a tip on the China Producers Association and the China Directors Association. So, that’s a good tip to start out with a good partner. And just for the audience, I will put a link in the show notes. A while ago I interviewed an entertainment lawyer and he had some tips on how to deal with issues if things go wrong in China. I will put a link to that interview in my show notes.
So yes, it’s good to have many ideas before you go into business with a Chinese partner. Now my next question is if you could magically solve two current problems what would they be?
Christine Lin: We need dreams, right?
Caryn McCann: We need to dream. OK. Good.
Christine Lin: One is on the policy side. I hope that the government’s rigid and strict regulation on film censorship can be loosened. Even though I have very good connections with the government I still think that some regulations are very unreasonable.
By lifting some unreasonable legislation, Chinese audiences can enjoy more diverse and enjoyable entertainment content. I think they deserve it. After so many years and now the market is opening so Chinese audiences deserve to have more content.
And the second is the money issue. Because many investors – especially foreign investors always ask me – “How do we get our investment money back, out of China?”
You put your money into the market and get your money back. I think that is very reasonable. But at present, they are still a lot of regulations and limitation foreign remittance. So, I suggest foreign partners should make an elaborate investment plan before you pour money into the market. Or you can make a long-term scheme. Just invest your money in China and enjoy the benefit of the market developing faster.
Because I got my masters education in Hollywood. I think it’s full of entertainment and business deals. I hope that cooperation between China and Hollywood can go smoothly.
Caryn McCann: Earlier you mentioned that you screen scripts, you read and develop. What sort of future projects are you looking for? Is it film or TV? Is it a particular genre? And what do you think the Chinese studios are looking for?
Christine Lin: I think the market has changed and the audience has changed too. You could not predict what kind of film genre people like. Just as I said, Wolf Warrior 2 had experienced tough times in the beginning because no one believed it will make huge bucks.
I think even the audience doesn’t know what they like to see or watch. And here trying to attract them to the theater or to get in front of the television we can draw on big data analysis.
In China, big data is always mentioned by the producer. And recently we found that a movie subject consists of a positive and the universal value of life – such as stories concerning family, friendship, love, courage, encouragement and ordinary people who strive for their dreams, fight for them. All these genres are related to ordinary people’s lives. This is very popular in the China market especially now. For example, Indian films like Dangaland Secret Superstar.
These movies were not produced by Hollywood but they are very popular in China because they have similar cultural values. Besides I found that some romantic dramas which depict the suffering of young people had a very successful box office – like The Ex-File, The Return of the Ex, Us and Them. The screenwriter of Us and Them is my best friend.
Caryn McCann: Oh, perfect.
Christine Lin: But when he wrote the script with the other people – they didn’t expect it would be very successful. So, the market has a lot of potentials.
Caryn McCann: And you never know what movies will be successful.
Christine Lin: Yes, you never know. Maybe last year it was war movies and this year it’s broad romance and teen films. These kinds of movies had a medium-sized investment but had considerable revenue.
As an independent producer, I don’t want to take a risk on big budget productions. I have to be responsible for my shareholder investors. If you just pour big money into the production and the producer says – I’m sorry – that’s terrible.
Regarding our production budget, recently we have modified our strategy to produce some digital content for streaming platforms like iQIYI and Youku. Our production budget range is quite broad. From small budget $600,000 USD to six million USD – it depends on the film subject and release platform.
If the content / IP is very popular we may increase the production budget. But it all depends on film subject and release platform especially in China now. New media is very powerful.
Caryn McCann: This is kind of an extra question. Can I ask you – on the film side, film versus digital – how is the budget different? You mentioned a small budget would be like $600,000 US dollars. That’s digital, right?
Christine Lin: That’s the digital (budget) for a streaming website.
Caryn McCann: Then what would be – could you tell us – in China what is considered a small budget film? A medium budget film? How much money is small (budget)? How much money is medium (budget)?
Christine Lin: I don’t know what the others think up all this question. But myself – I think $600,00 USD for website movie is reasonable. It’s a set budget – $600,000 USD for web movie.
Caryn McCann: What would be a film budget?
Christine Lin: The film budget – six million USD is the basic investment/production budget.
Caryn McCann: OK that’s good to know.
Christine Lin: For theatrical movies, that’s a safe investment.
Caryn McCann: OK. That’s good that’s good for the writers out there if they are trying to write a script for China. They should know what the what the parameters are. They should know what budget range would be attractive so they don’t make it too expensive. Now let me ask you…go ahead.
Christine Lin: But it’s also based on the subject. If you make a fantasy adventure film and you need lots of special effects, computer animation – stuff like that – I think the six million dollars is too low. Anyway, I play it safe. That’s my principle.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. Good attitude. OK well, let me ask you this question. This is sort of a trick question. What question did I not ask that I should have? For example – what do I miss or would you like to add? Something the audience should know either about working in China or some something they should know?
Christine Lin: I think that you are a very good interviewer.
Caryn McCann: (laughs).
Christine Lin: You gave me a tricky question. Originally I think you probably will ask me the question like this. How can you survive so many years in Beijing?
Caryn McCann: Oh. Yeah. How do you?
Christine Lin: And also gain the trust of the government. As you know many people came to Beijing and after a few years or even a few months they just quit or give up.
In Shanghai, it’s is better. But in Beijing, some people just couldn’t stand it because of the strict regulations and the bureaucratic officials. So, they just quit. And they just say – “No, no Beijing. I will go to Shanghai or Hong Kong.”
My answer is that I always keep a low profile and I persistently work hard.
Caryn McCann: Now my last question is what advice can you give those aspiring to tap into the Chinese market – for like foreigners who want to do a movie or a TV series or web series in China? What advice would you give them?
Christine Lin: I have to confess I have many tutors from the United States, from Hollywood. They are not only my friends but my tutors. But as a Chinese person, my advice for those who want to tap into the Chinese market is don’t use your stereotypical thinking on modern Chinese people.
China is becoming a very large market in the world, second to the United States of course. The people are becoming more sophisticated to deal than the past. I observed this in my 15 years in Beijing. So, my advice is to look before you leap. The most important thing is to find a good and trustworthy local partner and set a win-win gain. Then you will get what you want and deserve.
The market is more open than the past and people are changing to be more civilized. They are smarter. So, you just respect them and the people in China will also respect you. Building up friendship works. You see me – I’m Taiwanese.
Caryn McCann: (laughs) Good.
Christine Lin: I even have a position in the China Advertising Association. It’s part of the ministry. It’s part of the government. That’s why I say – keep a low profile. Do what you need to do and make friends. Then it’s safe.
Caryn McCann: Yes. Guanxi. (关系Guānxì relationships) . Completely. Now, in conclusion, would you like to share any social media details or website links in case the audience would like to follow you? For example, Weibo or a website.
Christine Lin: Because I am a frequent flyer (laughs) and busy on my projects – I don’t have much time to manage my social media. But I like to communicate with industry professionals and share opinions. If you’d like to reach me – call Caryn. (laughs).
Caryn McCann: (laughs) There you go. (laughs). No one’s ever said that.
Christine Lin: You can add my Wechat. My account is HuiyingBJ or Skype – it’s the same account name – Huiyingbj. And the website – I think you go to the China Advertising Association. That’s my decision. A few years ago, I dropped the official website of my company because we have many deals with the government. So, I just keep a low profile.
Caryn McCann: Well thank you, Christine. This has been very interesting, very informative. And I want to say thank you for coming on the podcast today.
Christine Lin: Thank you, Caryn. You’re welcome. I always like to make new friends, especially in the United States. I still remember my tutor in San Diego.
Caryn McCann: Good. Great. Well, Christine, we’ll see you at the premiere.
Christine Lin: Thank you very.
Caryn McCann: Bye-bye.
Christine Lin: Keep in touch
Three Key Points:
- SELF-CENSORSHIP: Christine mentioned that they practice self-censorship on their scripts in advance. This is a smart idea. You have to know China’s guidelines for what will and won’t pass censorship. Now there are exceptions which seem to be happening more now than in the past. But know the rules.
- CHINESE LACKING INT’L EXPERIENCE: Christine mentioned many talented artists and technical people don’t have international collaboration experience. Another guest – the Entertainment Lawyer Sky Moore advised – if you’re an experienced producer or director your fastest way to get working in China is just showing up there an offer your expertise. Chinese artists and technicians are looking to collaborate with Hollywood. This is an opportunity for you.
- BIG DATA: Christine mentioned how they rely on big data reports to attract audiences to the theater or their TV shows.
What are some steps to use big data?
- Define your target audience.
- Focus on your existing customers – if you’ve sold a film yourself or have a website that tracks your followers – you already have great market intelligence on what your customers want.
- WHAT’S POPULAR WITH CHINESE STUDIOS RIGHT NOW? Stories about ordinary people who fight for their dreams. Christine also highlighted stories about family, courage, friendship, love, and encouragement were ahead of the game.
- BUDGETS– Christine shared information on what kind of budgets her company handles in regards to streaming content and feature films. she said for digital content streamed on IQIYI and Youku – their budgets range from $600,000 to six million USD. Also, that a film budget of six million USD is considered a basic production budget. For theatrical movies – six million is considered a safe investment.
- USEFUL ASSOCIATIONS: You can contact The China Film Producers Association through their website which is chinafilms.net and the China Film Directors Guild at www.zgdydyxh.com.
That’s the show for this week.
Thank you for listening. To show your support – go to iTunes, subscribe and leave a rating so other people can find this podcast.
I’m also looking for more guests for my podcast. So, spread the word. And if you’d like to join the podcast or would like to recommend a guest – send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
And I’ll see you at the premiere. Bye! Yei hue Jian! 一会见
China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast – Episode #18
Host: Caryn McCann
Guest: Christine Lin
China Film Producers Association www.chinafilms.net
China Film Director’s Guild www.zgdydyxh.com,
China Advertising Association of Commerce www.caacchina.org