The UK – China film co-production treaty has just been ratified. Congratulations to all those who worked hard to make it happen over several years, including everyone involved at the BFI. Details of the treaty can be found here:

I was very pleased to be a guest at the recent EU China Co-Production Forum in London. As a UK Writer-Producer with TV and film co-pro experience in North America, Europe and Asia, I hope the following thoughts may be useful to all our Chinese colleagues who work in production, finance and screenwriting, and who are looking towards co-productions with the UK and Ireland. Please feel free to forward or circulate to any colleagues who might find it helpful.


Special thanks to Gia Zhendan of Europe China Image Film Festival, Suo Laijun of the Copyright Protection Centre of China, Ivor Benjamin of DGGB, Shang Lin of China Film Fund, Xing Xiao of Shaanxi Cultural Investment Group, and all the other guests and speakers.

特别感谢欧洲万象国际华语电影节的Gia Zhendan,中国版权保护中心的Suo LaijunDGGBIvor Benjamin,中国电影基金会的尚林,陕西文化投资集团的邢潇,以及其他宾客和演讲嘉宾。


When it comes to international co-production it is important to have an honest look at our own strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the Chinese market, growing at the rate of dozens of new cinema screens per week and with a vast online customer base measured in hundreds of millions of customers, is clearly a powerful asset. But the very size of that market means that Chinese producers have focused on looking inward. Smaller countries have been much more used to international co-productions built on creative and technical excellence in storytelling and film-making aimed at a global audience. Successful China-UK co-productions will be built on those mutual assets. With a promising co-production treaty in place, there has never been a better time to make it happen.


Since the number eight is regarded as a particularly lucky and prosperous one in China, here are eight guidelines for those thinking about international co-productions:


1.  ALLIANCES   同盟

Look for real partnerships, not just financial ones. The UK partners who will be of most value are those who understand the give-and-take of international co-productions and those who have a proven record of delivering stories in a way that appeals to audiences across borders. Prior to making movies I was an international journalist who worked in 77 countries and I learned just how important cultural sensitivities can be – what can be seen as honest in one country can be seen as blunt in a second and downright rude in a third. It takes patience and a shared sense of humour to build a business friendship as well as a personal one.

寻找真正的合作伙伴,不仅仅是融资伙伴。最有价值的英国合作伙伴是那些懂得国际联合制作的给予与索取,以及已经成功创作出吸引跨国界观众故事的人。当我还是个国际记者的时候,我认识到文化敏感性是多么的重要 – 一些在一个国家被认为是诚实的但在另一个国家却被认为是愚钝的,而在第三个国家被认为是无礼的。这需要耐心和共同的幽默感来建立合作友谊以及个人友谊。


REALLY Prepare for any international co-pro meeting, don’t just bring material that suits your own audience. I have lost count of the number of presentations of Chinese projects that I have seen for an international English language audience or producer, where the materials – pitches, stories, marketing ideas – are poorly organized or badly translated. If your proposal is for a multi-million dollar global feature, spending a little money making sure your material is impressive is surely the very least to be expected. The same goes for western companies working in eastern markets. Just because English is the universal business language, it does not make it the only language, and sometimes having material available in dual language versions is a good starting point in showing mutual respect and a global perspective.

真的在准备任何国际联合制作会议的时候,不仅仅带来适合自己观众的材料。我数不清多少次中国项目的展示会提供给国际英语观众或制片人的那些材料  – 推介,故事,营销计划 – 组织得很差或翻译的很糟糕。如果您的策划一个百万美元的全球计划,花一点儿钱使您的材料印象深刻绝对是最基本的。同样也适用于西方公司在东方市场。英语是世界通用语言,但并不是唯一语言,有时候准备双语材料是表达尊重对方和国际视角的好开端。


Pitching is a very different process in different markets, such as USA, UK, Europe and China. A first pitch in a US or UK context generally should not be over ten minutes. It is expected to cover a lot of specific ground. This can include a very short introduction to the pitcher or producer’s past work, the genre of the story being pitched, its title, its target audience, budget, a SHORT summary of the story itself including a few key visual moments to give a sense of the style, and a quick summary of what the pitcher is looking for, be it finance, co-producer, technical skills or whatever. In Europe, the process tends to be a bit more artistic and sometimes more focused on a director’s vision, but it still covers the same ground. Many Chinese project pitches or introductions tend to feel rather wandering and unfocused to western producers. Chinese producers interested in western partnerships would do well to find experienced UK or US producers happy to go through pitches and presentations in ‘rehearsal’ so the final pitch is perfect.



Be aware of the big issues for your producing partners as well as those you face yourself. The complex system of Chinese regional and national government approval of projects at both script stage and for completed films is a very unusual world for most UK producers who may be more used to being judged by the audience or the distributors than the state. A Chinese partner who can help a co-production navigate that process is a valuable one indeed. In return, the plethora of international funding sources for the sort of large scale independent co-productions many Chinese producers are looking for, may look daunting to a Chinese producer or financier, so a Western producer capable of demonstrating past success dealing with funding coming from numerous sources, both public and private, and from several countries as is typical in Europe, may make the difference between success and failure.



While each set of producers may understand their own market inside-out, a good international co-production involves both partners knowing what appeals in all the potential major markets for their movie. Chinese audiences, particularly the younger ones, really crave variety. They will often decide at the last minute to go to the movies and decide when they get there what they want to see. They can be quite demanding and critical, but they love a good story and appreciated clever special effects. European audiences are more segmented by age and gender as well as genre interests. Sometimes they will not pay to see something at the cinema if they feel they can see it or something similar on TV. Increasingly, the cinema-going experience has to be something special rather than a routine outing. This can mean special in terms of quality of story, acting or cinematography. Ideally all three.



Have a clear route to profitability for both partners. Many western producers get exasperated by the difficulty of getting paid even if a movie does well in China, but there are many ways of successfully splitting revenue and territories between international partners, so all parties benefit. As with most successful partnerships, they are built on a shared understand of who-does-what and who-gets-what, right from the start. If those objectives can be dove-tailed so both sides benefit in most cases, all the better.



The issues of copyright and ownership of intellectual property remain vital to the long term success of any international film partnership. Many UK producers are not familiar with the role of underlying Intellectual Property within the Chinese film industry as the basis of a complex system of government and private loans that help make the wheels of the Chinese film industry go round. On the other hand, Chinese investors, producers and marketers have to find ways to reassure their international partners that hard work and ownership of rights will result in rewards for the right people and not just a payday for pirates. China has actually made a lot of progress on this in recent years, both online and in traditional markets, in terms of copyright protection, and organisations such as the Copyright Protection Centre of China can be very helpful.



Reach for the phone before you reach for the lawyers. No film since the beginning of cinematic time has ever been easy, but successful co-productions are built on trust and good communications. I once got to ask the remarkable Sidney Lumet if he had any advice on film productions with multiple partners. He said: “Just make sure everyone is making the same movie”. When you add in language and cultural differences to the mix, success will never be based on contracts alone (although they are obviously incredibly important and you should know the relevant co-production treaty inside-out, not just delegate it to your legal representatives). A willingness to communicate and share objectives, to help each other out of problems and pitfalls, makes for partnerships that survive more than one movie or show.

联系律师之前先打电话。电影比以往任何时候都容易,但成功的合拍片是建立在信任和良好的沟通上的。有一次我问了Sidney Lumet,如果他对和多个合作伙伴进行电影合作的意见。他说:“只要确保每个人都在做同样的电影”。当您混合添加语言和文化上的差异,成功将永远不会被仅仅基于合同(尽管他们显然非常重要)。愿意与人沟通和共享目标,互相帮助解决问题和缺陷,使得合作关系比一部电影或节目更容易延续。

Good luck to all potential UK-China co-producers and don’t stop until you reach your auspicious 88th co-production!


Brendan directing RiddleAbout the author: Writer-Producer Brendan Foley has worked on international co-productions involving eight countries in both film and TV. His films and shows have been distributed by Sony, NBC, Lionsgate and others in dozens of markets worldwide and he has worked with acting talent ranging from Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi to Vinnie Jones. He has also written bestselling books, including Under the Wire (Random House). He is a popular guest speaker on screenwriting and production and has led seminars in USA, India, Denmark and the UK on writing and producing for international audiences. As well as his own projects, he advises international producers on pitching and development. He can be contacted at .

关于作者:编剧兼制片人Brendan Foley曾参与涉及八个国家在电影和电视的国际联合制作。他的电影和电视已经由索尼,NBCLionsgate等数十个市场全球发布,他曾与Vanessa Redgrave  Derek Jacobi 以及 Vinnie Jones合作。他还撰写畅销书,其中包括Under the Wire (Random House)。他是剧本和制作的一个受欢迎的主讲嘉宾,并在美国,印度,丹麦和英国领导了写作和制作的国际观众研讨会。还有他自己的项目,他为国际制作人在推介和拓展上给予建议。他的联系方式是 




Script development – key to success

Keeping the UK creative edge in content creation

There were some great contributions at the Westmister Forum on TV Finance and Production in London in November, where politicians, producers and media financiers gathered to discuss the business. Despite some of the challenges of working on a day to day basis in an industry as it is turned inside-out by changes in technology, it seemed to
me there was a sense of optimism.

One area that was touched on as vital for that future success was that
our combined focus should be on providing quality in those areas in which we
excel, both in attracting inward investment and exporting quality film and TV. There
is no future for Britain as the media bargain basement of the world, so we
better have quality on our side. Dearest to my own heart as a writer-producer
is the importance of encouraging high quality content in terms of innovative
well-written scripted programming, whether in drama series or animation.

An American distributor once dryly observed to me that the easiest things
to export from Britain in terms of film or TV were “toughs or toffs”. In the
film world at the time that meant diamond geezer gangsters a la Lock Stock
versus a crumpled yet loveable Hugh Grant. In a sense it is still true – in TV,
Shameless or Peaky Blinders on the one hand and Downton on the other, with
Ripper Street, sadly not picked up for a third season, cleverly having one well-turned Victorian boot in both camps. And even within such archetypes, we have wonderful writers capable of conjuring up worlds we have not seen, past and future, populated by characters we want to get to know. Wonderful writers, yes, but not enough of them capable of delivering what is needed, despite the army of potential storytellers battering at the door.

That quality content, currently created by a rather small number of
writers, is the true basis of much of our success, in the scripted world at
least. Fresh, original content – unique IP to which all our other financial,
technical and distribution efforts are applied.

The Forum included a short discussion on aspects of the creation of such high
quality raw material, with mention of some of the key ingredients. First, and
perhaps most crucially, such material and the talent behind it tends to come
from a few unique voices. Some people wrongly translate this to mean one giant
ego unwilling or unable to understand the perilous journey a script must take
if it is ever to become a show. But the truth is the very opposite – the most
unique voices are often the most interested in others ideas and in building in
new ideas from whatever source to improve their initial drafts. But such people
must also be allowed to fight to keep the integrity of the worlds they create
on paper, safe from ill-considered notes that would kill the patient rather
than cure it. Perhaps more education that concentrates on mutual understanding
and respect of the whole range of jobs within the process from idea to distribution
would be of help. The London Film School, as demonstrated at the Forum, is a
beacon of excellence, but it needs to be augmented by equally good short course
and on the job training throughout the industry, with Skillset already making a
good start.

The second key in the creation of such strong material is surely the
development process itself. In the UK, development has often been seen as an
annoying expense rather than the launch pad of success. From an investor’s
perspective it seems like the riskiest money of all – first in and with the
highest chance of ending up unused or unloved. Yet the future belongs to those
who control the finest IP, not just those who control the tubes down which it
is squirted. In reality, all development is paid for. Unfortunately most
development in the UK is paid for the by the overdrafts of individual writers,
or sometimes by an individual producer risking money they can ill afford on
options or rewrites. Few industries have been so short-sighted or stingy about
the care and management of the geese that lay the (occasionally) golden eggs. The
result has been an increase in the number of televisual rotten eggs, stale or
scrambled, which ultimately waste a lot more time and money than savvy

Since we have said UK Media PLC is competing primarily on quality, we
would be foolish to think that we have all the answers at home. When it comes
to high-end drama, America, backed up by pay cable, has been making most of the
running in recent years. The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Nurse Jackie, The Good Wife and The forum touched on the concepts of Show Runner and Writers Rooms. Any time those buzzwords come up there are inevitable debates about what exactly they mean. In this context a showrunner is a writer-creative producer hybrid who has a creative overview but also a responsibility to ensure that creative vision is delivered to screen on time
and within budget. A Writers room, usually led by a showrunner head writer, is
intended to be a powerhouse of ideas from creative minds capable of exploring
the world of the story from all angles, including those the showrunner might
not have considered. A handful of writers obviously cost more than one, but the
difference in both the sustained quality and potential volume of output are
fairly obvious, even from a purely commercial point of view. And the bottom
line remains the same: an industry capable of identifying strong material,
protecting and encouraging its originator and spending the time and money
needed to convert that material from an idea to a series of scripts, often with
more than one writer, then finally delivering a series of programmes crafted from
that raw material that will attract the audience and the revenue that made them
worth making, both critically and commercially.

One Forum speaker pointed out that in the UK Dr Who effectively has a
‘showrunner,’ while writers’ rooms are common on the Soaps, so the concepts
themselves are neither foreign nor new. But it is equally true that most high-end
scripted drama here is written by a small number of writers and the UK, outside
the BBC, does not so far have a career path to identify or encourage the
showrunners and writers’ room denizens of the future.

The answers are complicated, but are likely to involve the words
Investment, Development and Training in no particular order. The work starts
with all of us taking a good look around for existing and future writing talent
that understands the industry and has a story worth telling in pictures.

Brendan Foley is a writer-producer of features and TV, He wrote WWII escape best-seller Under the Wire (Random House). Past features starring Vinnie Jones, Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave, include multi-fest winner Johnny Was (Sony); thriller The Riddle (2.7m dvds), and Legend of the Bog (Lionsgate). In TV, he co-created animated children’s series Shelldon (NBC) and Byrdland (Thai TV). He wrote the drama pilot for Dr. Feelgood (Monday TV Denmark) and is also a media training provider in America and the EU. This article first appeared in Westminster Media Forum briefing.

Welcome to Gavin James

The Proper Picture Co is proud to Welcome Gavin James as Executive Producer. Gavin is a great, amiable guy, but also wonderful at what he does. He has extensive experience as a senior executive in all aspects of the film finance business. He was CEO of the mighty Intermedia in the UK, and now runs Film and TV House, an affiliate of international media collection agency Fintage House.

His skill includes the creation and structuring of financial packages for both studio and independent features as well as TV. He has overseen the financing of movies with a collective budget of more than $1 billion.

At the other end of the production process his key skill is in understanding the monetisation of all revenue to film producers and investors, through close relationships with every major sales company and distributor. He also has a keen understanding of the marketing needs of various films and genres.

In short, we are delighted to be working with Gavin, both as a very skilled executive producer, and as a great human being, who fits in with the ethos of The Proper Picture Company – to make great, memorable movies, to treat people well, and to have fun along the way.


Berlin and Cannes 2013

The Proper Picture Co attended both an icy Berlin Film Market and a steamy-rainy Cannes Marche du Film in 2013, with excellent results.

We discussed several of our larger projects with major financiers and some interesting potential co-producers from across Europe. There was strong interest in Under the Wire and the Otzi Ice Man project. We were also able to announce a fantastic upcoming project – Soldier Bear – about the only bear who was a combatant in WWII – a true story based on the book rights to a wonderful book by Aileen Orr.

As always, NI Screen were flying the flag for their region, and more power to their elbow. They have achieved remarkable things, building on the success of Game of Thrones.

Things have progressed mightily since we shot Johnny Was in Belfast in 2005.

Dingle Film Festival 2012

Proper Picture posse at Dingle Film Festival where Ned Dowd and Brendan Foley were guest speakers. The festival is held in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland in the area where the movie classic Ryan’s Daughter was filmed.

Why Proper Picture Co?

Why The Proper Picture Co? Because we know how hard it is to make a great movie, and we believe there’s no point in making any other kind.

We believe that great movies can be both creative and commercial. We have no interest in making schlock or chasing the latest fad, and our backers tend to feel the same way, taking a long-term view, supported by strong, intelligent marketing.