Chris McGurk (right), chairman and CEO of Cinedigm, one of the largest independent studios in the United States, and Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm's Entertainment Group, talk about the globalization of Chinese films on Easy Talk, a video show broadcast on China Daily website. (Photo: China Daily/ Yu Xiaoou)
Over the past decade, many Chinese films that have earned massive amounts at the box-office records in the domestic market have often flopped in North America.
Wolf Warrior 2 - China's all-time box-office champion - earned 5.6 billion yuan (1 million) in China, but its combined takings in the United States and Canada was merely .8 million.
To date, the best-performing Chinese movie in North America is Ang Lee's 2000 martial arts movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a 19th-century story about two generations of warriors.
Zhang Yimou's Hero, which opened in China in 2002 but was released to the North America two years later, follows Crouching Tiger as the second highest-grossing Chinese film in Hollywood's home market.
For domestic filmmakers, it has been a long struggle to promote their hits to a broader audience in the rest of the world.
Chris McGurk, a veteran who has worked in the U.S. movie and television industries for more than 30 years, believes the success of Crouching Tiger and Hero "were not accidents and can be duplicated".
"Both the films told the sort of stories that Western audiences can relate to, with a clear progression from beginning to middle to end. They were linear in form and nonchaotic in presentation, which Western audiences are comfortable with," says McGurk, currently chairman and CEO of Cinedigm, one of the largest independent studios in the United States.
Besides, the two movies have directors who know Western storytelling sensibilities and have casts including top stars known to U.S. audiences, such as Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh for Crouching Tiger, and Jet Li for Hero.
"Picking a right partner is also very important," adds McGurk, who believes the marketing and promotion Sony Classics did for Crouching Tiger and Miramax Films for Hero were effective to convince Americans to think the two are must-see movies.
Stephen Chow's The Mermaid is another case reflecting the partner issue.
China's highest-grossing film in 2016 was shown only on 35 screens in North America by the distributor Sony Pictures, according to the Forbes magazine.
Speaking about how partner choices can be crucial, McGurk, who was once in high positions in Disney, Universal and MGM, says: "I've worked in the top U.S. studios, and I know their number one goal is to protect their own movies."
A poster of "Wolf Warrior 2".
McGurk also says that with leading studios often more focused on their big-budget movies targeting global markets and small firms short of resources, medium-sized distributors are probably the best option for Chinese content makers seeking alliances.
Meanwhile, surveys show that Chinese content makers can expect growth beyond theaters.
The online market for streaming content has been approximately billion a year in the United States for a couple of years now, says McGurk.
Supporting the view that the online market is a new opportunity, Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm's Entertainment Group, who was alongside McGurk at the ongoing Beijing International Film Festi-val, says: "It's a mistake to look at the American market as just box-office takings. The online market is almost twice the size of the theater market in the US.
"For a Chinese filmmaker, if you want to look at the potential of the American market, you need to look at the entirety. In the US, we have had theaters for a very long time. But now we are getting into the streaming world," he adds.
For now, Cinedigm plans to enter strategic alliances with six Chinese movie and television companies.
And so far, the Los Angeles-headquartered Cinedigm, which has a distribution net covering 60,000 digital and retail storefronts and over 93 percent of connected devices in North America, has already distributed more than 600 Chinese films and TV shows in North America, including Feng Xiaogang's Aftershock; the Ip Man franchise, starring Donnie Yen; and Shock Wave, starring Andy Lau.
Speaking about the deal and how Cinedigm can help, McGurk says: "By analyzing data from all of these (Cinedigm) sources, we have deep knowledge about what audiences want to see, and about when and where they want to see it. Now, we want to bring that expertise to the Chinese entertainment industry."