September 16, 2008

A Hollywood Tutorial for China’s Film Moguls

By Michael Cieply

Now it can be told. For the last three weeks, some of Hollywood's more impressive agents, executives, and power brokers have been slipping off to the University of California, Los Angeles, to provide China's next wave of film and television moguls with a private tutorial in the Tao of show business.

Though not exactly a state secret, the sessions were conducted without media exposure because of what Robert Rosen - dean of the university's school of theater, film and television - called "security concerns." Those applied to the well-being of the several dozen Chinese executives, most in their 20s and 30s, not the power players who are familiar in these parts.

Attendees were selected by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and arrived under the watchful eye of Jiao Hongfen, a vice chairman of China Film Group.

They included at least some whose reach would be envied by HBO.

"He's got 800 million viewers," Rosen said during a final seminar that was open to visitors on Thursday. Rosen pointed toward a young man who operates a Chinese movie channel.

According to a program for the seminars released at the final session, Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios, stopped by Aug. 27 to give pointers on how to run a movie studio. Later that day, Harry Sloan, chief executive of MGM, addressed an even deeper mystery: Where his own perennially reorganized studio "stands today."

Dan Glickman explained the purpose of the Motion Picture Association of America, which he heads. Mike Simpson, of William Morris, with a whole clutch of colleagues, explained agents. Mark Gill, a producer, explained the dark arts of independent movies.

At the Thursday session, Gareth Wigan, a former vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who now advises the studio on foreign co- productions, said that he and his fellow executives had often played the ugly American in dealing with foreigners.

"Hollywood has not earned a good reputation in its adventures with other countries," Wigan said. Still, he said, Hollywood can teach the world a thing or two.

For instance, about script development. The filmmaker Stephen Chow, he pointed out, was asked to grind through four successive scripts on the ultimately successful "Kung Fu Hustle," which Columbia helped to finance.

"Stephen found it very laborious," Wigan said.

When the floor opened for questions, the Chinese had concerns of a different sort. The first wanted to know what was happening at Sony's Hong Kong office, where activity seemed slack. Wigan acknowledged that his company had shifted a lot of its foreign investment to Russia and India.

Another wondered how Chinese films could find a global audience when American viewers continued to reject subtitles. "Americans are spoiled," the questioner complained.

"There are no simple questions, and no simple answers," Wigan said.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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