You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Reach for the sky

Celestial aims to become TV and film player

HONG KONG — A new studio with a very old secret weapon has set up in Hong Kong. That’s not a reference to Celestial Pictures’ new CEO, 40-year-old William Pfeiffer, who has clocked in nine years as managing director of Sony Pictures’ Columbia TriStar Intl. Television for Asia.

It’s actually a description of the Shaw Bros.’ film library, a cinematic gold mine of 760 Hong Kong classics that Celestial acquired in March 2000 and has since spent $15 million digitally remastering. Most of the films have not been available to audiences since their initial theatrical release.

Pfeiffer, who first tried to acquire the library when he was working at Sony, is privately screening one film per night. “It’s a veritable treasure trove of Chinese cinema from the ’50s to the ’90s,” Pfeiffer says. “From an entertainment point of view they’re still great, and from a historical point of view, they’re fascinating.”

Storing gold

If not for Pfeiffer, Celestial may have remained a storehouse of these classics — for the short term, at least. But Pfeiffer approached Celestial’s owner, Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan, with far grander plans.

Just as he turned Sony’s southeast Asian headquarters into a multilanguage film and television force, he was hired by Krishnan after telling him of his plans to turn Celestial from small-time holding company to big-time studio player providing TV and film content.

Plans are still sketchy, but Pfeiffer envisions increasing Celestial’s staff of 10 to more than 100, with the Chinese and Indian markets the targets for a range of TV and film content delivered over the company’s own yet-to-be-created channels, or through other distribution deals.

Krishnan can help out: Among the holdings of Usaha Tegas, his vast conglom, are two satellites with pan-Asian reach, Malaysian satellite broadcaster Astro as well as Maxis, Malaysia’s leading mobile telephone company.

How did Krishnan get the library? A long-standing relationship with Run Run Shaw, owner of Shaw Bros. and Hong Kong’s largest terrestrial channel TVB, must have helped.

Earlier this year, Krishnan’s Astro pulled out of a deal to invest in Galaxy, TVB’s fledgling pay TV player. This obviously didn’t sour relations between the two tycoons: At Celestial, Pfeiffer works out of offices in the TVB compound.

It turns out Shaw Bros. and TVB both have equity stakes in Celestial. Could Shaw and Krishnan be using Celestial as a vehicle for a joint assault on the regional television and movie market?

It’s still very early on in the process. The first remastered films aren’t expected to be released until mid-2002. But with backing like this, Celestial could quickly turn into a regional player worth watching.

More TV

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content