During a luncheon two years ago in Los Angeles, Vice President Biden convinced China's vice president to agree to a deal that would unlock new fortunes for Hollywood. Biden asked Xi Jinping to relax China's quota of allowing only 20 foreign films to be shown at a time and to increase distribution fees for Hollywood firms.
China had been reluctant to change its decades-old restrictions meant to control the flow of non-Chinese films into the nation that could hinder its own arts industry. But Biden pressed his Chinese counterpart during those last hours of Xi's five-day U.S. visit.
"By the end of the luncheon, we had a handshake," Biden said Friday at the Creativity Conference hosted by the Motion Picture Association of America, Microsoft and ABC News. As a result, "your share of box office revenues doubled," Biden told the crowd of network executives, studio heads and technology lobbyists.
The deal added 14 films to the quota and raised distribution fees to 25 percent from 13 percent. It was a major victory for Hollywood because the bigger film quota was exponentially more valuable with the massive growth of movie attendance in China. With the agreement, the movie industry secured new global sources of revenues as its U.S. business suffered from years of stagnant or declining box office sales and new competition from the Web.
Every day, 13 to 14 movie screens open in that country, many of them capable of higher-grossing 3D or iMax films, MPAA president Chris Dodd said during the conference. Last year, China opened 5,077 new movie screens, according to Variety.
The anecdote also reveals the powerful ties Hollywood maintains with the highest ranks of Washington. Dodd and Biden served together in the Senate. Movie studios had been frustrated by the quota for years and had pressured the White House and then-U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to convince Chinese leaders to sign a new trade deal on movies.
Biden joked there were rumors in the Senate that Dodd "controlled me," adding that he left a meeting with Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to speak at the MPAA event.