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Hong Kong: a long way from Suzy Wong

On Wednesday evening the Hong Kong New Zealand Business Association (HKNZBA) hosted a seminar prior to the launch of the Hong Kong Film Festival (HKFF) presented by Felicity Anderson of Invest Hong Kong (IHK).

This is part one of a two-part article. Part two is here

The seminar addressed what’s happening around moves to sign a HK-NZ Film and Digital Coproduction Treaty, what’s happening on the HK film and digital front and why NZ companies should look to HK and who’s already active in, or working up projects between HK and NZ.

The Hong Kong government is independent of Beijing in many ways, and has very close ties in other ways. That’s particularly useful to film and TV production companies considering entering into co-production deals with HK-based companies, because any product – provided it meets mainland China’s censorship criteria – is treated as domestic product both in production and as finished product.

The advantage to this at the production stage is a big saving of time on satisfying all the red tape for overseas productions wishing to film in China; the advantage for finished product is that it’s not subject to foreign content quotas and can be broadcast or distributed within mainland China.

Hong Kong has been the ideological opposite of mainland China ever since the British took a lease and turned the place into a largely deregulated repository for huge sums of money from all over the world. Happily for Hong Kong, it’s remained that way since the Brits handed the keys back in 1999.

Tax rates are low (15% income tax, 16.5% corporate tax), 69 of the world’s 100 largest banks live there, it’s the world’s sixth largest foreign exchange centre and there are no restrictions on in- or outbound flow of capital.

Asia-wise, it’s handily central, lying within 4 hours flying time of most of the continent, and is very advanced technologically, ranked second most e-ready economy in the world by the Economist. It’s also got great food and a much less scary inbound flight path than it used to have. What’s not to like?

Specifically relevant to the film, TV and digital content industries, there’s a lot going on. Although it’s classed as an emerging sector, HK already has over 250 companies, roughly split as 25% digital FX, 30% computer animation / comics and 45% digital entertainment. The industry workforce is 100,000 people, with around 5,000 graduates a year coming out of universities and tertiary level training courses.

These are not all kitchen table outfits. Turner Entertainment, Gameloft, IMAGI and Ubisoft are among the companies with facilities there. Crystal Graphics, one of the digital graphic designers for the Beijing Olympics (don’t mention the ‘firework’ footprints), has over 2,200 employees.

Cyberport, which signed a memorandum of understanding with Wellington earlier this year, is 24 hectare US$2 billion development funded by the HK government, clustering digital entertainment and content companies.

In June this year, the HK government set up Create HK, an agency dedicated to championing and supporting the development of HK’s creative economy. As part of its operations, it manages a Film Fund of HK$300 million (approx NZ$60 million), offering a 30% contribution to low budget films up to HK$12 million. Create HK also manages a Film Guarantee Fund, aiming to assist production companies seeking loans to cashflow production.

Like the NZFC, the Film Fund applies local content criteria to promote employment of HK creatives, but it’s possible for a NZ-HK co-production to assemble a team that would satisfy funders in both countries.

The HK Film Fund’s funding ceilings and criteria are currently under review, with revised information due shortly.

The local industry has several major production companies, including China Star, Columbia, Golden Harvest, all of which will be familiar to regular viewers of Chinese films. Salon Films, one of the oldest companies in the territory, has been around since its founder worked on The World of Suzie Wong in 1957.

The industry is well supported by a year-round programme of industry events including FilmArt (the place to go if you’re interested in meeting potential co-production or joint venture partners), the HK International Film Festival, the HK Film Awards, the Asian Film Awards and DELF.

What of the HK-NZ co-production treaty? And what of HK-NZ projects already happening? Read part two of the article on Monday.

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