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Going Global With International Co-Productions 

Original publish date: November 9, 2023

Working in the film business wouldn’t be as thrilling as it is without there being some challenges and uncertainties as well, regardless of the size of your production. Of course, independent filmmakers face unique challenges that can feel daunting at times.

So how does one reach a broad audience, tap into diverse talent, and secure financing domestically and abroad when working on an independent scale? The good news: there’s a way. 

Welcome to the world of international co-productions. 

What is an international co-production? 

When we use the phrase international co-production, we’re describing a collaborative effort that brings filmmakers, producers, and production companies from multiple countries together to jointly finance and create a film.

Using this approach, independent filmmakers can combine resources, talents, and expertise, leading to expanded market reach, reduced financial risk, and increased creative and financial shared responsibility.

With this robust foundation, co-productions of this nature are primed for greater market access—certainly the increased potential for success. 

What are some different types of co-productions? 

Often, collaborations like this are governed by co-production agreements that adhere to the laws of participating countries and international co-production treaties. There are typically three types: 

What is an example of a successful international co-production? 

Lulu Wang’s 2019 film The Farewell provides a good illustration of the value in this type of collaboration.

The unofficial [1] American and Chinese co-production managed to secure financing from both countries, and with that came access to authentic locations and cultural elements. The lauded film featured both a diverse cast and crew, employing a bilingual approach that helped the project achieve critical and commercial success.

The Farewell showed how co-productions can bridge cultural boundaries, creating a culturally rich, internationally appealing story. As a result, Wang’s reputation in the global cinema landscape was elevated, further highlighting the significance of diversity and representation in the arts. 

 [1] There is no official co-production treaty between the US and China. 

What is a co-production treaty?  

To level the playing field, many countries enter co-production treaties, which can encourage collaborations by laying out a legal framework for ownership, funding, production standards, and distribution.

Official co-production status can be gained through a formal application process, opening doors to helpful government subsidies, grants, tax credits, and even national film funds. In many instances, these treaties can make specific demands pertaining to cultural requirements, such as the hiring of local talent. 

Do you have to become an official co-production? 

Not at all. It’s important to note that official co-production status is not always necessary. Filmmakers do have the option to make their projects unofficial co-productions, without government funds. This often involves private equity and debt financing by institutions such as international investors and banks from two or more countries. 

What about the business structure of these co-productions? 

The process starts at home. Filmmakers who are co-producing a film internationally create a business entity in their home country, as does any entity providing funding. During this process, it is imperative to obtain strong legal counsel, financial advisors, and tax experts with international co-production experience.

While it can be tricky, all banking and accounting must be carefully coordinated. Trust and transparency are paramount in all these endeavors. To aid the process, an escrow manager with international co-production experience can help ensure all parties adhere to agreed-upon milestones.  

What is an international co-production agreement? 

Co-production agreements are legal documents that outline the terms and conditions of a partnership of this nature. They help manage all elements, playing a crucial role in outlining financing, ownership, and general responsibilities.

Additionally, an agreement navigates the complications of internationality, ensuring compliance with the requirements of each participating country, defining financial and creative roles, ownership, and profit sharing, and covering a host of things like: 

What are some benefits of international co-productions? 

There are many strong benefits of producing a film in this fashion, including: 

What are some challenges of international co-productions? 

Of course, no system is perfect. Co-productions of this nature have some inherent complications as well, including: 

How do you access the international co-production market? 

It helps when independent filmmakers are able to put boots on the ground. The international co-production market can be accessed by attending film festivals and networking events. In addition, filmmakers can leverage online platforms and databases to make advancements. There’s certainly value in exploring international film commissions, funds, and organizations, but perhaps the most efficient means of finding the right partner is hiring an international sales agent. 

How is budgeting for international co-productions unique? 

Because of their complicated nature, international co-productions require careful budgeting that considers things like currency exchange rates and labor costs. For this process, Showbiz Budgeting  is a game-changer, equipped to handle the complexities of multi-country, multi-currency productions. 

A whole new world 

Filmmaking is an inherently collaborative medium, and working with global partners can lead to more diverse and interesting projects. That sort of broad, universal appeal can also lead to larger successes.

International co-productions offer a host of opportunities for independent filmmakers seeking to scale their productions or simply get cameras rolling. While unique challenges come with the territory, the potential rewards make these partnerships a compelling option for independent filmmakers.

Explore the possibilities (and these 5 emerging film markets) and learn if there are motivated collaborators waiting for you across the globe. And when you’re ready, Media Services is here to help steer the ship with robust tools like Showbiz Budgeting, expertise, and international partners. 


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