How Foreign Film Markets Will Refresh American Movies

My friend Neda Ulaby has a cool piece about how Fox has beefed up its investment in making movies overseas for the markets where they’re produced — and how that’s going to affect what we see on U.S. screens:

“China is the second or third biggest market in the world at 50 percent local,” [Sanford Panitch] says. “India the fourth biggest at 90 percent local, France at 40 percent local, Germany at 30 percent local, Korea a billion dollar market 50 percent, Japan — actually, Japan [is] the biggest international market in the world, 60 percent local.”

Fox International Productions actually started off three years ago with a Japanese version of the movie Sideways — that’s the one about two guys touring wine country. “When we originally got into the business,” Panitch says, we thought, ‘We’ve got this great library, let’s take advantage of it.’ And ironically, local markets don’t want recycled Hollywood content.”

And really, why would they? Bollywood hardly needs need old American ideas. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has refreshed Hollywood’s interest in stories from abroad. That’s not a Fox picture, but Panitch says his division is introducing foreign books, scripts and directors to the larger Fox system.


“There’s a new aesthetic that’s coming out of people that weren’t schooled in traditional Hollywood ways,” he says. “There’s an incestuousness creatively here where we’re all reading the same publications and listening to the same music.”

It’s always nice when economic incentives line up in favor of creative storytelling. We’re already seeing something like this on television in the melancholic dramas we’ve imported from Israel and remake as In Treatment and Homeland. And it would be fascinating to see what conventions developed in international market end up sticking with American audiences. Could an Indian norm of chaster but emotionally charged romances find favor with devoutly Christian or Jewish movie-going audiences? Could grittier action sequences like the ones in Miss Bala, which Fox brought to the U.S. after one of the company’s executives based in Mexico found it and promised the director it wouldn’t be changed for American audiences, take the place of pyrotechnics? I haven’t watched enough recent Chinese movies to speculate on patterns there, though Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon certainly suggests there’s an American market for Chinese martial arts movies, a steady supply of which have reached our shores since.