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Aussie sound biz sets up in Beijing

Company is co-venture with China Film Assist

SYDNEY — Showing great faith in the Chinese film industry, Australia’s top sound mixer Roger Savage has opened a Beijing branch of his Soundfirm facility.

Although China turns out fewer than 100 films a year, Savage is convinced there’ll be an upturn, driven partly by the recently signed Closer Economic Partnership Agreement with Hong Kong, which gives films, producers and crews from that territory greater access to the mainland.

The launch of a second film distrib, a decentralizing of the process to approve scripts, Beijing’s willingness to allow foreigners to take majority stakes in new multiplexes and a booming DVD market (albeit most of it controlled by pirates) are other factors that prompted Savage to set up shop in Beijing.

The new banner employs seven staffers, all local, including grads from the well-regarded Beijing Film Academy. It’s a co-venture with China Film Assist, a locations and script translation firm in which Savage is partnered with post-production supervisor Geng Ling.

Among the first projects being handled by Soundfirm Beijing is “Southern Clouds,” an art pic helmed by Zhu Wen, whose debut effort, “Seafood” aired at the Venice fest in 2001.

It took more than two years to secure official blessing and licenses for the Beijing op, involving no fewer than 18 separate approvals, but Savage said China is now more open and less bureaucratic in its approach to foreign players.

Savage knows the region well, having handled the sound mix on 30 films shot in greater China, including He Ping’s “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” (China’s nominee this year for foreign-lingo Oscar) and Zhang Yimou’s “Hero.” Zhang has asked him and Aussie post houses Animal Logic and Atlab to work on his pic now shooting in the Ukraine.

Savage’s bullish outlook on China contrasts with a glum feeling about the pronounced downturn in local and offshore-originated production Down Under.

“I’ve never seen it so bad,” he says, blaming various factors including the absence of U.S. TV series and telepics; the rule that says U.K.-Australian co-productions have to be mixed in Blighty; and the fact that Aussie directors such as Peter Weir and Alex Proyas, who used to complete post on their U.S. films in Oz, aren’t doing so now.

One exception is Fred Schepisi, who has persuaded HBO to let him finish the Maine-set “Empire Falls” in Melbourne — an assignment Savage relishes. Pic features Helen Hunt, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.

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