A delegation of Australian film industry leaders visiting Beijing have announced a series of new feature film co-productions between Australia and China. The collaborations are being celebrated as a boost for the local film industry, but Australians behind the scenes say creative compromises will have to be made.
An Australian film delegation in Beijing this week joined Chinese cinema executives to unveil 14 upcoming co-productions, which are backed by $400 million worth of investment.
“It’s about bringing those stories together and having that cultural exchange, so it’s about genuine creative and cultural collaboration on stories which really make sense,” Screen Australia’s Head of Business and Audience, Richard Harris, said.
An existing project currently in post-production, ‘Nest’, is a science-fiction thriller starring Chinese megastar Li BingBing. The film follows a group of scientists who are pitted against a cluster of dangerous spiders after they discover an ancient tomb.
Production company Sydney Films has been helping Chinese crews operate in Australia. Managing Director Weinan Song hopes the announcement will encourage more Chinese directors to film down under.
“There’s a great opportunity for more Chinese films to come to Australia,” he said. “They’d all love to, they want to, but they need a path.”
Debra Richards, from Ausfilm, says the quality of the Australian film expertise is a major drawcard for Chinese productions.
“They really want to access Australia for the skills and innovation that we bring,” she said.
The China-Australia co-production treaty has been in place since 2006, but since then only five China-Australia co-productions have been made, including ’33 Postcards’, starring Guy Pearce, and ‘Dragon Pearl’ with Sam Neil.
Australian producers say there’s momentum now for more, but ‘Nest’ producer Mark Lazarus says the collaborative process is complex and compromise is necessary.
“The size of the Chinese market is really large, and it’s important not to alienate them,” he said. “You can’t be too violent, you can’t be too sexy, and I guess there is a political dimension and you have to take that into account.”
The upcoming slate of films will primarily target China’s booming box office, and feature Chinese actors in Mandarin storylines.
“It’s not free money, it’s money that enables you to create a product that attracts an audience,” producer Todd Fellman said.
His film, ‘At Last’, follows a couple from Beijing who find themselves caught in a complex art heist while on holiday on the Gold Coast.
In production later this year, the project is expected to provide around 200 jobs and inject $10.8 million into the local economy.
The Australian professionals involved say the cross-cultural challenges of filming co-productions are worth it. The new films will also showcase Australia as a tourist destination for Chinese audiences.
“They’re going to offer people access and a perspective to parts of Australia that normally they wouldn’t know about,” Mr Fellman said.