For Westerners making movies in Asia, logistics can be problematic. And, for Asian filmmakers able to navigate local conditions, screenwriting for international audiences and access to markets can still be stumbling blocks.
Veteran producer and executive Guy Louthan (“The Mist,” “The Call”) is now developing a business that straddles East and West, deploys American production standards and techniques, and maximizes Asian cultural impact. It also comes at a time when global interest in Indian and Southeast Asian content is growing thanks to the aggressive local production strategies of Amazon, Netflix and HBO.
The Palanquin company that Louthan formed with British director Roland Joffe aims to bridge the gap with a slate of its own movies, close connections to local production services firms and a possible film fund once the business model has proved itself. He aims to provide full financial transparency and Asian creative involvement while delivering films that are likely to combine local and foreign locations, while using multiethnic casts in films that will be in English and local languages.
“(India’s) SVOD audience is very different from the Bollywood norm. It’s populated by young, educated Indians. Worldly, often well-traveled individuals who can afford a wide screen TV and high-speed internet. Those audiences are interested in seeing more contemporary, modern stories than the Bollywood standard,” said Louthan. But there is a problem. “(International SVOD companies) will quickly tire of the lack of transparency, chaos and unpredictability of local producers. Costs will go up, production value down and eventually they will likely want to flee.”
Louthan and Joffe previously tried to mount “The Lovers” [aka “Singularity”], a big-budget international film in India, but ended up relocating to Australia. Other recent examples of international shows that struggled with their production logistics include Sam Hargrave film “Dhaka,” which was originally to have been directed by Michael Mann and which substituted Thailand for Bangladesh, and Netflix series “Sacred Games.”
Palanquin’s previously announced titles “Line of Descent,” set in India, but shot in India, Mexico and the U.S., the Alaska- and India-set noir-thriller “Call Center,” and Joffe’s recently confirmed “Mata Hari” miniseries are considered to be proof of concept.
The company is also readying Joffe’s series “Ugly,” a 10-part reimagining of Victor Hugo’s classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Set in Paris, the modern retelling follows the real Comte De Chateaupers, the deformed child given away at birth, whose gift for music eventually thrived. Meanwhile, a killer is stalking the cobblestone streets in the night.
Also on the slate is the feature thriller “The Deluge,” written by Rowan Joffe, Roland Joffe’s son, and writer of “28 Weeks Later,” George Clooney-starring film “The American,” and the Amazon Prime series “Tin Star.” It sees a young family stranded following a tsunami that rips across the coast of Indonesia. What they believed to be a natural phenomenon, however, may actually be caused by something ancient that has been awakened.
“The push into India and Southeast Asia is so desperate that assumptions are often made, and are often wrong,” Louthan told Variety. From the Asian production side the differences go significantly beyond different contracts and production services agreements. “Asian companies often have little knowledge of the issues they are going to face – the necessity of completion months in advance of screening, HR issues, #MeToo issues and more – just trying to deliver something they have made.”
Louthan said that working closely with local line producers and service companies in the region will improve filmmaking efficiency for Palanquin titles – with a longer prep time and more effective shooting schedule – it will also help raise local production standards.
“Countries in Southeast Asia are very keen to develop their film and TV industries,” he said. “Roland is keen to help further the local indigenous side of the business plan by mentoring and developing local talent and material.”
Joffe told Variety that almost the entire first two episodes of “Mata Hari” will be shot in Indonesia. A start date has not yet been finalized.