Aussie Film Scales Walls Of China

The Chinese walls have come down for Film Australia, which has no fewer than three projects in mainland China.

The ventures are the fruit of a tour of China’s studios and TV stations last year by a Film Australian delegation and a follow-up visit by exec producer Ron Saunders.

The Chinese studios, now free to market their own productions after the ending of the state monopoly, are “desperate for knowledge and partnerships,” said Film Australia’s managing director Bruce Moir.

“The Chinese have fabulous technicians and film people. We can be their stepping stone to enable them to sell their programs outside China. We (Australians) are user-friendly – we’re small, unthreatening and we don’t talk too loudly.”

Film Australia has sealed a drama deal with Shanghai Film Studio, the oldest studio in China – the first with any Aussie production house.

The Shanghai studio has put up coin to jointly develop a second series of “Spellbinder,” a children’s drama about an Aussie boy who discovers a parallel world, pre-industrial revolution, ruled by witches.

The first 26-episode series, nearing completion, is a co-prod between Film Australia and Polish Television, backed by Australia’s Nine net and the Film Finance Corp.

Zhou Wu, manager of co-production at Shanghai Film, said, “It is the first time we will be working with an Australian film and television company. We are very excited and looking forward to making a success of it.”

Visiting China’s studios, Moir was bemused to hear they have a lot of retirees, initially thinking that meant there had been a lot of firings. The Chinese corrected him by explaining the “retirees” are still on the payroll. “There is no social welfare in China, so you have employees for life,” he said.

The second Aussie-Chinese link-up is with national broadcaster CCTV, which is keen to join an 11-country co-production on which Film Australia is supervising producer.

Titled “New Horizons,” the series looks at how families around the world are coping with social, economic and technological change. Partners include the PBS station in Oregon, Japan’s NHK, TV Ontario, Polish TV, KBS Korea and Television New Zealand.

Moir expects CCTV will be formally included in the consortium when the member stations convene in Tokyo later this month. Each broadcaster-producer gets the rights to the entire series, and FA will sell the remaining territories.

Currently Film Australia has a crew roaming around China making a one-hour docu examining the impact of Chinese television on the country’s culture, economy and daily lives of the people.

It was commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., and Moir expects there’ll be no shortage of Chinese buyers, despite one certain area of controversy. The docu will look at the likely effect of Hong Kong reverting to the mainland’s control in 1997.

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