In China there are regular announcements of studio lots and cinema theme parks backed by ample film funds from local government agencies. Many founder on regulatory high jinks, investor cold feet or sheer hubris.
The gleaming new 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) Wuxi Studio, backed by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television and the Jiangsu provincial government, is not of that ilk.
On the day that Variety visited the facility, which stakes a claim as the mainland’s first center specializing in digital movies, 3D production equipment was being moved in as it prepped for its October opening.
Based in the city of Wuxi, 85 miles west of Shanghai, the studio is set to play a big part in cementing China’s growing ties with Hollywood.
Built in a revamped former steel mill on 23 acres of land, there are six soundstages (the largest will be 64,560 square feet), production offices and a retail andnightclub mall similar to Universal Citywalk that looks very close to completion.
Construction on the second phase has also bowed, with a target end date of summer 2013. This will include a water tank, additional office space and a vast backlot for filming that will also serve as a Universal Studios-style tour. The Chinese government inked Hollywood’s Raleigh Studios to manage the massive Wuxi project, underlining its serious intent. Raleigh also had a hand in its development. It should help assuage U.S. anxieties about dealing with unknown quantities in China.
Rebecca Wu, senior project manager at Wuxi Studio, said that studio execs would be on hand to help with any difficulties of dealing with the biz in China. She was leading a group of local dignitaries through the studio on the day Variety made its unannounced visit.
And who better to soothe foreign fears than former Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Sid Ganis, whom Wuxi appointed as an adviser and honorary chairman. He told Variety, “I believe the studio is going to be exactly as billed — a major digital film production and post-production site in China. “Wuxi happens to be a very lovely city. I’ve visited it four times, and it’s a comfortable place. As a Western filmmaker, as an American filmmaker who is interested in China, all will find enough to keep them happy right at their fingertips.”
He said the local government is helpful when it comes to issuing permits, and the nearby Sunan Shuofang Intl. Airport is a great bonus.
Productions shooting at Wuxi will be able to apply for financing from the Wuxi Film and Television Fund, which is already capitalized to the tune of $157 million. Wuxi Jinyu Investment Management has inked deals with third parties for another $173 million and is negotiating with production and investment companies in the U.S. and U.K. for matching funds in foreign currency.
Wuxi has already invested in a number of movies including the Japan-China co-production “Sweetheart Chocolate,” featuring Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and Taiwanese thesp Chi-ling Lin and directed by Junichi Mori, and the thriller “Singular Cry,” to be directed by Hong Kong’s Jade Hsu.
The Huayi Brothers-produced “Tai Chi,” as well as toons “The Wise and Brave Sturgeon King,” and “Lele’s Summer Adventure,” have all been received permits from the Film Bureau of SARFT and are in pre-production.