Zhang Yimou with the cast of one of his movies. (Photo/Xinhua)
The falling out between film director Zhang Yimou and his producer Zhang Weiping, who have shared a partnership for 15 years, has shocked China's movie industry, the Chinese-language China Economic Weekly reports.
Once seen as a perfect team that successfully combined art with the commercial side of the movie business, a rift has grown between the director and his producer for 11 films.
On Sept. 4, in a statement issued through his lawyer, Zhang Weiping claimed his company, Beijing New Picture Film Co, owned the exclusive rights to represent the actors it signed when they appeared in Zhang Yimou's films.
This was in sharp contrast with the producer's earlier statements that the company was set up for Zhang Yimou and would have no reason to continue its operations if the director stopped making movies.
Guang Yadi, deputy director of marketing at Beijing Galloping Horse Film and TV Production Co, told the weekly that the duo's split was a landmark event in the industry. However, she also called it a good development, expressing hope that it would lead to the emergence of a more diverse moviemaking environment.
Wu Ruoqi, a producer of independent films, accused Zhang Weiping of creating a monopoly surrounding Zhang Yimou and his films and thus controlling the best resources in the industry.
Wu said a director is typically at the center of the filmmaking process and cannot be replaced. The success of any film production venture hinges on his connections, which are not only crucial to attracting investors, but could also help cut costs, as some actors, production crew and locations would be willing to lower their prices to work with famous directors, Wu said.
Given this ability to create profits, Wu said, film producers and companies hold on to famous directors, resulting in several close partnerships between directors and producers. Trust is key to the success of such partnerships, along with the fair distribution of profits between the two, Wu said.
Citing the example of the two Zhangs, Wu said the director had created grand commercial films to help the producer strengthen his position in the market, while the producer had assisted the director in his pursuit of excellence in several art films.
Guang Yadi said such partnerships are necessary, since the two work with each other to find the balance between the artistic and commercial aspects of a film.
Tan Bing, a young film director, agreed with Guang on the need for such partnerships, since industry standards and professional practices have not yet been fully established in China.
Tan also said most film producers owe their positions to their connections and the ability to bring in funding, but otherwise lack the professional skills required for making movies.