By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - "Avatar" and "Titanic" film director James Cameron said on Sunday that he was looking at co-production of films in China, but would have to weigh issues like censorship and other restrictions before making any decisions.
Hollywood has begun paying serious attention to China, despite the problems of government controls and piracy, reflecting the fast-growing Chinese middle class spending more money in theatres and less on pirated movies.
The next "Iron Man" film, for example, will be co-produced in China under a joint agreement between Walt Disney Co, Marvel Studios and DMG Entertainment.
Disney also said it would work with China's Ministry of Culture and Tencent Holdings to promote the animation industry in China, while Dreamworks Animation SKG Inc in February said it would build a studio in Shanghai as part of a joint venture with some of China's biggest media companies.
"We're all looking very seriously at the possibility of a co-production. The question is, what's required of us? In terms of configuring the market for the Chinese marketplace, and what economic benefit do we get in return?" Cameron, in Beijing on a five-day visit, told Reuters in an interview.
"If it works - and I want to definitely stress if - it seems to me it could be very advantageous to the Chinese film community, because for us to do a film like 'Avatar' which is an entirely studio shoot, we wouldn't be here for the scenery," he added, sitting in a Beijing hotel room.
"We'd be bringing in infrastructure to do virtual production, to do 3-D photography and so on, which I would think would be a positive technology exchange into this film-making community."
Cameron said he would have to consider issues such as censorship, in a country which still has strict rules on what can and what cannot be shown on screen.
"It all needs to be dealt with upfront. Here's the script, this is what we're doing, and if there's a problem with that then I have to decide creatively if I'm going to accommodate, or if I'm going to pass," he added.
"I'm here to explore the idea of a co-production, find out what restrictions need to be met, find out what content guidelines need to be met, and find out the economic incentives are, and I will weigh them all out."
"Avatar", Cameron's blockbuster flick about an alien race, was the highest-grossing movie in China in 2010, raking in 540 million yuan ($85.6 million) in only 15 days. Though they form a small percentage of movies screened, Hollywood movies drew 44 percent of the 10 billion yuan in sales receipts that year.
A deal hammered out during Vice President Xi Jinping's February visit to the United States paved the way for the import of 14 premium format films, such as IMAX or 3-D, which will be exempt from China's annual quota of 20 foreign films per year.
"I think that any restrictions that are not strictly market driven are unnecessary. I think the Chinese people will vote with their wallets about what it is they want to see," added the 57-year-old Canadian-born director.
Cameron has emerged as one of Hollywood's hottest entrepreneurs by cashing in on the 3-D technology he created for "Avatar", which ranks as the highest-grossing film with a worldwide box office take of $2.8 billion.
But when asked when cinema-goers may be able to experience 3-D without some wearing some kind of glasses, Cameron said it was possible that would never happen.
"In a movie theatre, it's anywhere from 10 years to never, because you're talking about hundreds of separate viewing angles. There really is no technology right now that can deal with that, that I've seen," he said.
"However, how big a problem is it really? People have no problem wearing sunglasses all day long ... Why is wearing glasses a big deal? It's not. What people are really objecting to is the low light levels. Your movie looks nice and bright until you put the glasses on and it's dark."
(Editing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ron Popeski)