China's economic rise and growing international profile are spurring Hollywood's interest in movies using Asian themes and production money, U.S. movie industry veterans said Tuesday.
Big studios are trying to push further into China, where box office receipts rose more than a third last year to $2 billion. China represents one of the most attractive growth opportunities for the U.S. movie industry, which is facing declining North American theater revenue and slumping DVD sales.
"I know studio executives and even chairmen of studios who've never been to China, who are now saying: I need to go, I need to meet people," said Hollywood producer Tracey Trench.
At its current growth rate, China is expected to become the world's 2nd largest movie market in a few years, with box office takings projected to top $5 billion by 2015. In North America, revenue has fallen for two years straight, and ended 2011 with $10.2 billion in ticket sales.
Glenn Berger, the screenwriter of the "Kung Fu Panda" movies, said that China is a trendy theme now.
"Hollywood needs to tell the same story in new and unusual ways and right now China is hot, it's interesting and most people in the West don't know very much about it," Berger said.
Trench and Berger spoke at a panel at the Hong Kong International Film and Television Market, or Filmart. The entertainment industry trade show is one Asia's biggest, with 640 exhibitors — 10 percent more than last year — hoping to sell their films to 5,200 buyers expected from around the world.
Asia's growing wealth is one big draw for Hollywood studios who are looking for ways to keep costs down, especially on big-budget blockbusters, said Trench, who was executive producer of "The Pink Panther," "Just Married," and "Ever After."
"You already know it's costing you a ton of money, so you try to figure out every way possible to hedge that financial risk," including getting co-production money and rebates and shooting in cheaper locations, said Trench. "This region now plays into a lot of those factors."