Philippines-U.S.-Hong Kong Production Trio Team up for Asian Genre Slate Launch (EXCLUSIVE)

The Reaper
BlackOps Studios Asia

BlackOps Studios Asia from the Philippines, Story Arch Pictures from the U.S. and Agog Film from Hong Kong have joined forces to develop, produce and finance a slate of genre movies that target the streaming marketplace.

The 16-title slate comprises nine films and seven series in the action, horror and sci-fi genres, with 11 flowing from BlackOps, two from Story Arch and three from Agog. The lineup is being unveiled this week at the European Film Market, the online companion to the in-person Berlin Film Festival.

The slate has development support from the Philippines-based creative agency Psyops8 and is expected to tap into incentives and location support from the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). Leading Philippines media group ABS-CBN has already come on board “Sellblock,” a prison-set action drama that is one of the first titles to emerge from BlackOps stable and is now in pre-production.

Both BlackOps and Psyops8 are headed by Pedring Lopez (Netflix’s “Maria,” “Darkroom,” “Geisha of Death”), a producer-director who has worked across commercials, post-production and studio management.

Story Arch, which will represent the entire slate in the U.S., is headed by Jason Lin, an executive who has previous experience at China’s Alibaba Pictures and Jet Li Studios and at investment bank Morgan Stanley. The company’s mission is to focus on character-driven action film and TV series inclusive of the Asian diaspora. Its two films in the joint slate, “Fortress” and “V,” are both by writer-producer Dwain Worrell (Marvel’s “Iron Fist,” “FBI: Most Wanted”).

Agog spans both production and finance and includes executives Guy Orlebar and veteran production specialist Mike Leeder (“Triple Threat”). Its three projects in the slate are “Spider Hill” and “Vicious,” by screenwriter-producer Steve Tymon (“Ring of Fire,” “Death Match”), and “Sagramanda” from writer Alan Dean Foster (“Star Trek: The Motion Picture”).

“We were set to announce some of this at FilMart last year, but the pandemic delayed many things. Now with the progress we have made it is time to bring it to market,” Lopez told Variety. Another title now in production is “The Reaper,” which is pitched as “a supernatural take on the British gangster movie genre, a down and dirty Cockney version of ‘The Crow’ with an Eastern influence.”

Agog is expected to raise finance for the slate through the creation of a film fund that launches next month. Lopez declined to disclose the fund’s target size, but explained that film projects will typically be in the $1 million-$2 million budget range, while series could cost $1 million per episode. “Gi,” a female revenge-action film from BlackOps, that is now in production, has an official budget of $1.7 million, while “Sellout” is pegged at $1 million per episode.

The consortium has not yet settled on an international sales agent for individual titles or for the larger slate.

“Three of our 11 titles will shoot in Hong Kong, one in the U.K. and other between the Philippines and Indonesia,” said Lopez. He acknowledged the growing challenge of making films in Hong Kong due to a changing political climate, but said that the territory can still be a hub for uncontroversial titles in the action and horror genres. “Hong Kong is still iconic, especially for action and suspense genres and we’d want to make use of Hong Kong and mainland stars.”

BlackOps’ “Noriko” is a Hong Kong-set zombie film that will shoot exteriors in Hong Kong and relocate to the Philippines for interiors and studio work.

“BlackOps represents FDCP’s vision for a globally competitive local film and TV industry where, for example, Filipino films are no longer just showcased in international film festivals but are also being distributed to the commercial markets and enjoyed by audiences worldwide,” said Mary Liza Dino, chairperson and CEO of the FDCP. “We are also pleased to see more collaborations happening among our local production companies. The world is looking for more genre content from Asia.”

“With the major streaming platforms now spending ever larger amounts each year on content it’s never been safer for professional investors, wanting to diversify their investment portfolio with alternatives, to expect to see consistent, steady returns from media projects, especially with the right genre deal-flow and distributor relationships,” said Orlebar in a prepared statement.