Report – Panel 3, Working With China

Posted on: Thursday 16 November 2017 6:32pm

As the market in China begins to open up for UK writers, animation producers and distributors, the panel considered what the challenges are of working with this complex territory


  • Meet in person and talk with companies to build strong relationships.
  • Keep the relationship at the front of everything you do.
  • Use an agent or advocate in China to aid discussions and negotiations.
  • China has a genuine will to create high quality content, to spread their culture and have a fascination with Western culture.
  • Commerce and government are completely intertwined.
  • Enormous numbers of potential partners within a sophisticated market.


The panel

Tony Humphreys, DIT (Chair) – moderator
Oli Hyatt, Blue Zoo Animation
Jon Rennie, Cloth Cat Animation
Helen Howells, HoHo Entertainment
Jean Dong, Founder Zespa Media Group

The discussion

Tony said that DIT can help with outward-looking trade and building overseas networks, specifically with China and representing British companies who want to do business with China. CMC acts like a trade association working to ensure that participants do not miss out and DIT can make a meaningful difference through grants.

He added that CMC is the portal for the CICAF trip in late April 2018, which is a B2B meeting with investors, a licensing event and a conference.

Points to be aware of are that you have to make a commitment to the country you are working with and to the language differences, but there were working relationships organised as a consequence of the pilot version of this “mission”. At the CMC conference in Sheffield there was a delegation of Chinese participants which further built relationships and business.

The panel then discussed the following topics:

The importance of contact and building relationships

Jean: Reaching out and finding companies is crucial. Forums such as this are great; we can meet and talk. We can find out what we’ve got and how we can work together.

Helen: We’d been trying to break into China for a while. We got interest with ‘Cloud Babies’ and I picked it up from there. I was invited on the trip with CICAF which gave us the opportunity to meet with the company face-to-face. It led to us acquiring Series 1 and then to co-produce the subsequent series with the Chinese company. Setting up can be complicated but we have the benefit of a Chinese consultant which has been instrumental to getting to where we are today.

Oli: About 3 years ago we produced a number of our own titles but we worked out that when we produced our shows we were giving more and more away to various people. We wanted to give it to one company so we met with Chinese companies put together a comprehensive investment plan. It’s taking time to work out all the details and payment is  slow as most things connected to China need to go through Chinese government approvals processes.

Pros and cons of working with China

Oli: Chinese production of content is a simple deal. Forming co-production companies is far more difficult. Things can change and everything can stop. Government agencies get involved to move the money. Companies use the government as an excuse to stop doing the things they don’t want to do. They negotiate very hard. It’s worrying for shareholders here that we might not get paid. They have a genuine will to create high quality content, they want to spread their culture and they are really fascinated with Western Culture. There is a high level of complexity in doing deals.

Jean: Being respectful and keeping face is very important. A nod and smile can actually mean no. Local partners help to build the trust between client and Chinese business. Having an advocate on the inside who can really tell you what is going on is invaluable. It can be all smoke and mirrors otherwise.

Jon: We were sought out to work on a project where a Chinese studio wanted to work with a UK studio and it started straight away.  though the final contract was signed four months into production. The production has a Chinese flavour but it doesn’t have a tourist feel – it’s about family. It’s been an interesting learning experience in how the Chinese need to work in a Western way. They know how to work their banking systems to their advantage. The money comes through in dribs and drabs. But this could have been the same if we had been dealing with a different market.

Other points raised during the Q&A at the end of the session were that China works on relationships – commerce and government are completely intertwined so you have to deal with both. They need to see that China is respected and that the world will respect Chinese content. 

Having an agent has been instrumental, said Helen. She’s on hand, it’s an instant method of communication and creates a three-way approach. I can ask her if I’ve understood things correctly. The relationship side of it is critical.


By Kelly Beckett

Manimation Blog