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Movie Stars Try to Make Films

2012-07-06 11:13:31        Chinese Films

There's a long list of American actors who have become directors, then producers and have shown in all roles, such as Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, among others.

But Chinese actors are just getting their feet wet in the production game, most without necessary experience, just some money and an idea. Some want to create the best showcase for themselves as versatile actors, some truly want to make better movies. For some it's just money and vanity.

In the past five years, around 20 domestic leading actors and actresses have started their own film or TV production companies, producing their own films and trying to be creatively involved in a project - apart from their own starring roles, of course.

Among the best known stars-turned-producers are Chinese mainland actress Zhang Ziyi, Hong Kong actor Andy Lau and Taiwan actress Ruby Lin. All of them have launched production houses and invested in a range of popular film and TV productions.

Like their peers in the US and elsewhere, a producer in China handles a movie from the concept, beginning to end and hire the director and cast.

Advantages

The main advantages of being a star-turned-producer, according to Hong Kong director and scriptwriter Manfred Wong, are their reputation and large fan base that may ensure investment, sponsoring funds (same as investment) and distribution.

"To a certain extent, it can guarantee a good return on investment if the stars both produce and act," Wong says. "Besides, compared just acting in a film, a star-turned-producer will be more active, hardworking, and willing to take the responsibility for the project."

Chinese American director and scriptwriter Eva Jin is thankful that Zhang Ziyi produced and co-invested in her directorial debut, "Sophie's Revenge" (2009), a romantic comedy that took in around 94 million yuan (US$14.9 million) on the mainland - twice its budget. The film follows the love adventures of a comic book artist named Sophie.

"Without Zhang's sensitivity and appreciation for my script, I wouldn't have made my name in the film industry," Jin says. "Her fame also boosted the confidence of a lot of fashion brands to sponsor the film. As a first-time film maker, I'm very fortunate to collaborate with her."

"Having a large sum of money is never the prerequisite for a successful producer," Zhang said in an interview in 2009, adding that "As a producer, you must clearly know the market and your audience."

Zhang said she will cofinance the sequel to "Sophie's Revenge."

Taiwanese actress Ruby Lin will extend her production business to romantic TV series and micro films. Her latest period drama "The Glamorous Imperial Concubine" (2011), which is based on a popular online romance, was commercially successful. One week after screening domestically, it made back all of its 100 million yuan investment.

According to Lin, a producer must not only arrange financing but keep control of the budget and be prepared to handle unforeseen situations such as bad weather and actors' tight schedules.

Some stars fail when trying to produce. Mainland heartthrob Huang Xiaoming recently tried his hand at producing the recent film "An Inaccurate Memoir" directed by young filmmaker Yang Shupeng. But the film about a bandit legend made only 25 million yuan on the mainland when it was released at the same time as "Titanic 3D" this year.

Coming up with successful, thoughtful and amusing non-period dramas is tough in China.

Tough road

Hong Kong actor and producer Andy Lau has invested in a lot of films over the past decade, but many were not commercially successful. Despite urging by his friends, Lau didn't give up.

It was not until the unexpected success of the small budget comedy "Crazy Stone" in 2006 that Lau's ability as a producer was widely recognized. His latest critically acclaimed drama "A Simple Life" (2011) confirmed his producer's persona in the public mind.

Experts advises Chinese actors to think twice before trying to produce a film.

Jonah Greenberg, chief representative of Creative Artists Agency China says that although turning producer may create more opportunities for stars, this career route is not suitable for everyone.

"Actors should take their own personality and talent into consideration since the new profession requires skills, expertise, communication skills, cooperation, perseverance and long-term devotion," he says.

Film expert and critic Li Tian says stars should not be short-sighted and driven by profit but should clearly know what he expects from a film.

Li cited the example of mainland actress Qin Hailu, who out of her enthusiasm for the story of "The Piano in a Factory" (2010) invested 5 million yuan in the film. The movie about building a piano for a little girl was budgeted at 6 million yuan, took in more than 7 million yuan and was honored at international film festivals.

"Compared with some narcissistic stars-turned-producers who use their new privilege of production to blindly change the script and make themselves the center of the film, Qin shows enough honesty and respect for the story and young director," Li says.

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