Rikke Ennis, the boss of leading Scandinavian banner TrustNordisk and an executive at Danish powerhouse Zentropa, has joined forces with Beijing WD Pictures, a full-service film company, to co-produce films for Chinese and international audiences.
Zentropa China, the banner Ennis created in Dec. 2015, has formed a non-exclusive partnership with Bejing WD Pictures, a fledgling film outfit launched three years ago by Leo Liu and Gao Qun, respectively the former president and executive vice president of ChinaVision Media Group, the company that was sold to Alibaba to become Alibaba Pictures.
WD Pictures’s co-production credits include Steven Chow’s “Journey into the West,” “Skptrace” with Jacky Chan and Johnny Knoxville and “Saving Mr. Wu” starring Andy Lau. These three movies generated RMB 1.4 billion, RMB 850 million and RMB 200 million at the box-office, respectively
Ennis said Bejing WD Pictures, which specializes in co-producing Chinese remakes as well as TV drama series intended for the Chinese and international audiences, is the ideal partner for Zentropa China because its leaders are both highly creative and business savvy. Zentropa previously sought collaboration with Chinese film companies Jetavana Entertainment and Sheng-Wei Media.
Among the four Danish-Chinese projects being developed under the partnership is “My Best Friend Andersen,” a Chinese-language fantasy film exploring the fairytale universe of classic Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.
Philip LaZebnik, the seasoned American writer of such classics as “Pocahontas” and “Mulan,” has come on board to write “My Best Friend Andersen,” taking over from Shu Huan, the popular screenwriter of “Lost in Thailand” and “Lost in Hong Kong,” who is now working on another project set up at Zentropa China.
“We used to think that China had a growing appetite for international content but what we see now is that there is actually the appetite is mind-blowing: through TrustNordisk we are now selling nearly all our films to China and for bigger prices that in a long time,” said Ennis, who will Wednesday attend the latest edition of Bridging the Dragon, the Sino-European project conference and lab.
“We sense that the Chinese market is opening up to the world and the censorship is not seen as inflexible and opaque as it once was,” said Ennis, who was one of the first executives from a major European production and sales banner to pit down roots in China.
Zentropa China and WD Pictures are also developing a feature film based on a cult piece of European IP with Leontine Petit’s Dutch company Lemming Film and Italy’s Cristiano Bortone on board. Bortone previously directed and produced “Coffee,” the first official co-production between Italy and China.
Bortone is also working Zentropa China, WD Pictures and Dauphine Film on a Rome-set romantic comedy. Alberto Simone is on board to write the script.
Zentropa and WD have not set up a formal slate arrangement, preferring to work on a project by project basis. Similarly, they anticipate different sales and local distribution permutations for the individual films.
The prospects for co-operation between film makers in China and Europe appear to be growing. That reflects a number of industrial and cultural factors. These include the growth of an independent film sector in China, increased Chinese participation in international film markets and project events, and a still expanding number of cinema screens in China. Audience tastes may also be becoming more diverse thanks to the impact of streaming video, a dedicated art-house cinema circuit and a better educated and more-widely traveled middle class.
Similarly, numerous obstacles lie in the path towards more co-productions. These include the vast differences of market scale and resources available in small European territories compared with those in the world’s second largest economy; language barriers; different levels of experience and expectation; and structural matters such as Chinese censorship, or Europe’s fragmented film funding landscape.