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‘Beast of Burden’ Set as First China-New Zealand Co-Production (EXCLUSIVE)

Big-budget animation feature “Beast of Burden” has been set up as the first movie to be made under a co-production treaty between China and New Zealand. A string of other projects is now set to connect the two nations’ film and TV industries, after years of slow build-up.

“Beast,” an animated family film now in pre-production, is the story of a mythical creature and his son who learn to realize their potential by standing up to challenges. The film, whose Chinese title translates as “The Legend of the Magic Elephant,” is being co-directed by Kirby Atkins with China’s Huang Jun. It is produced by New Zealand’s Huhu Studios and China Film Animation with Huhu’s Trevor Yaxley and CFA’s Huang as producers.

Talent agency WME is responsible for sourcing English-language voice cast. U.S. distribution is set through the Weinstein Company, while the film will be released in mainland China through China Distribution Company.

New Zealand unusually has both film and TV treaties with China, but they went largely unused for several years.

“Beast” emerged from a series of initiatives intended to match the skill, finances and storytelling strengths of the two industries. Huhu participated in a delegation to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing organized by the New Zealand Film Commission in December 2014. The NZFC China Co-Production Development Fund then provided initial financing.

“Beast” is the first of 17 projects that the two companies are currently discussing. A project and slate signing ceremony was held as part of the Partnering for Success – China-NZ Co-Production presentation with China Film Co-production Corporation at the Beijing Film Market in April 2015.

“We in New Zealand should realize that we are an Asian country, and should take advantage of being largely in the same time zone as the world’s second largest film industry,” said the NZFC’s CEO Dave Gibson. “It turns out that we are highly complementary.”

“Beast” is preceded by “The Wonder 3D,” a live action family action adventure, which is structured as an unofficial tripartite co-production. With Willow Shields, Jacqueline Joe and Leo Wu as the leads, the story sees teenagers racing to save the Earth after traveling in a super-powered rainbow that upsets natures natural balance.

Now in post-production after shooting in Auckland and Qingdao, “The Wonder 3D” is directed by the U.K.’s Norman Stone. Production is by New Zealand’s Richard Fletcher of Libertine Pictures, and Emma Slade, China’s Emily Guo of Beijing Tianrun Media, Zhou Difei, and Iain Brown of the U.K.’s Brown Films. China’s Fiona Chen is a co-producer.

Other features set to swell the bilateral flow include dramatic feature “Cain and Abel” and an untitled animation being directed by the U.S.’ Daniel St. Pierre.

“ ‘Cain and Abel’ is set in the aftermath of the Californian Gold Rush and sees a Chinese family torn apart by hardship, betrayal and romantic jealousy. Directed by Zhang Linzhi, the film is produced by Sue Thompson of Colonial Mongrel Productions, and by Joseph Hankoo KIM of Arc Entertainment and Grace Zhang of Dadi Film. The picture received NZFC funding and has obtained New Zealand provisional co-production approval. It is currently awaiting approvals in China.

St. Pierre’s picture is produced by Toonz Media Group, China’s Yellow Mountain Studios and India’s Krayon Pictures and is officially structured as an India-China co-production. Pre-production took place largely in New Zealand and production is set for completion by June this year.

TV projects uniting the two countries include the recently completed “ZooMoo Animal Friends,” and upcoming “Kiddets” and “The Colours of China.”

Co-produced by NHNZ and China Central Television, “ZooMoo” explores the animal kingdom and promotes conservation through a cast of furry characters. It was recently aired on CCTV to record viewership figures, and a further 60 episodes are set to be ordered.

“The Colours of China” is an upscale documentary series that is in advanced preparation. It will make use of both the film and TV treaties between China and New Zealand and be presented as an Imax feature and a five part series for TV. Producers include New Zealand’s Making Movies, China Intercontinental Communication Center, Australia’s WildBear Entertainment, Germany’s ZDF and Franco-German arts broadcaster Arte.

Also in pre-production, “Kiddets” is a 52-part series in which the WotWots explore art, culture and science. It is to be produced by New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures and China’s Guangdong Huawen Century Animation Company.

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