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Cannes: ‘Skyfire,’ China’s First Big-Budget Disaster Movie, Shopped by Meridian Ent. (EXCLUSIVE)

Chinese-based companies Meridian Entertainment and Base FX are shopping “Skyfire” at Cannes, China’s first big-budget disaster movie, about a volcanic eruption. The film is directed by British helmer Simon West (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Con Air”) and stars Britain’s Jason Isaacs, Wang Xueqi (“Iron Man 3”), Shawn Dou (“Wolf Totem”) and Hannah Quinlivan (“Skyscraper”).

“Just as ‘The Wandering Earth’ was the breakout film for the sci-fi genre, we hope ‘Skyfire’ can do the same for the disaster genre,” Meridian’s CEO Jennifer Dong told Variety. “The China market is finally sufficiently large that it can support the making of a big-budget special effects film like this one just for the local market, yet this kind of VFX-heavy film is also something that viewers worldwide can understand and appreciate. We hope we’ve shot a Chinese film for a global audience.”

The film tells the story of people at a tropical resort who get caught up in a volcanic explosion. It was originally slated for a July release, though a number of people involved in the production have expressed doubts that, given the amount of post-production left to do, it will be able to hit the mark.

Despite West in the director’s seat and numerous foreigners involved in below-the-line positions, the film, shot in Malaysia, is not a co-production. A number of the actors were bilingual, and so Meridian shot the entire film twice — once in Chinese and once in English, with the idea of releasing two different versions.

Dong plans to make “Skyfire” a trilogy, saying that a sequel’s script is already in the works, as are merchandise and theme-park attractions. Her company has been tight-lipped about the budget, but acknowledges that it went slightly over predictions. But hopes are high as they search for international distribution partners. “‘The Meg’ was just a shark,” Dong said. “Ours is a whole spouting volcano.”

The project was hatched five years ago by Base FX, which has a history of working with Hollywood on big projects such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Transformers: The Age of Extinction.” The firm originally envisioned the film as a co-production that could showcase their effects work. Meridian came aboard later and redid the script, shifting the focus back to China. “If we first get a proper hold on the China market, the global market will naturally follow,” Dong said.

Another source close to the production noted: “The co-production idea came at a time when Hollywood and China were really excited about working together, but after the ‘Great Wall’ came the fear that with a co-pro you end up creating a product that no one really wants.”

“Skyfire” marks both Meridian and Base’s first foray into feature film production, an attempt that has been accompanied by a number of growing pains.

When VFX producer John Hughes, the Hollywood industry veteran who founded Rhythm & Hues and now runs Tau Films, came aboard, he found himself faced with a herculean task: “It looked like maybe there would be just four months to complete the sequences that Base had already started and do a third of the movie that they hadn’t even started yet. It seemed impossible.”

But he brought on three additional contractors (South Korea’s WYSIWYG, India’s Anibrain, Thailand’s Monk Studios), and the 1,800 VFX shots originally planned were cut by a third. “Of course story-wise, that makes it hard,” he said.

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