Australia-China co-pro 'Guardians of the Tomb' (formerly 'Nest') stars Chinese mega-star Li Bingbing.
The official co-production treaty between China and Australia entered into force in 2008. Since then, despite growing interest in working with the burgeoning film power, only a handful of official co-productions have been made. They include The Dragon Pearl, 33 Postcardsand The Children of the Silk Road (made under a MOU prior to the signing of the treaty).
However in the past 18 months, things have started to shift. The biggest co-pro to date, Kimble Rendalls Guardians of the Tomb (formerly Nest), shot on the Gold Coast early last year, and gangster film Dog Fight shot in Victoria last September. Both films are now in post.
Two other projects, Pauline Chans My Extraordinary Wedding and Nadia Tass and David Parkers Tying the Knot,have been issued provisional approval but are yet to enter production.
This week, at a networking event in Beijing, the latest China-Australia co-pro was unveiled.
A collaboration between Chinas Monumental Films and Australias Rodman Films and Story Bridge Films, At Lastfollows a couple from Beijing who become caught in a complex art heist while on holiday in Australia. The writer-director is Yiwei Liu and producers are Jackie Jiao, Todd Fellman, Charles Fan and Vanessa Wu.
Casting is currently underway with production expected to kick off in Queensland in mid-July. Financing will be provided by Orient Image Entertainment, Gravity Films, Shineland Media, China Lion and Screen Queensland.
Screen Australias head of business and audience Richard Harris said there has been increased interest in Australian-Chinese co-productions of late, with four announced since late 2015.
This upswing in activity is the result of seven years of engagement with the Chinese screen industry and the sustained support of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television in China, he said.
China is currently the worlds second-largest movie-going market and co-productions are an essential growth stream for the Australian industry. This is over and above the existing appetite for Chinese television and film productions being shot in Australia.
Screen Queensland CEO Tracey Vieria estimated At Lasts Queensland shoot would provide around 200 jobs and $10.8 million for the states economy.
Queensland producers have been working extensively to build relationships with Chinese producers and it is fantastic to see another official co-production in our State, she said.
At Lastwas announced at a Beijingevent hosted in partnership with Ausfilm and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, designed to further Australian-Chinese working relationships and identify co-production opportunities.
In attendance were Ausfilm members including Screen NSW, Film Victoria, Screen Queensland, Screenwest, City of Gold Coast, Soundfirm, Spectrum Films, Show Group, Stage & Screen and The Appointment Group.
Standalone production companies were also present, including Sydney Films, which announced a slate of 14 films that will be developed to qualify as co-productions. Overall, the company plans to identify 20 existing or potential co-production films with an investment budget of $400 million.
Ausfilm has been actively working to build the Australia-China relationship, hosting the Australia China Film Industry Exchange in partnership with Screen Australia and the Australian Embassy in Beijing for the last seven years. More recently, it has brought delegations of Chinese filmmakers to Australia under its Familiarisation Program to scout locations and meet with Ausfilm member companies, line producers and HODs.
Heyi Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures Asia shot in Sydney for six weeks this year on Jackie Chan sci-fi Bleeding Steel as a direct result of these ongoing intiatives, says Ausfilm CEO Debra Richards.
While the official co-production treaty only covers features, many Aussie producers are also finding success producing TV with China. The first Chinese TV drama to shoot in Australia, Speed,recently wrapped filming in South Australia with 57 Films handling local production.
Upcoming project Butterflies Across the Seawill be the biggest budget Chinese television series to have been filmed outside of China. It's set to shoot between May and October around Sydney and is a co-production between Horgos Buer Culture Media and Pauline Chan and Deidre Kitcher's Opal Films International.
While China grants only a small number of foreign films a theatrical release each year, Aussie films have enjoyed some box office success in China of late. Hacksaw Ridgegrossed $80 million and was granted an extended theatrical release, a rare feat for a foreign film. Kimble Rendall'sBait 3Dalso grossed some AUD$24.4 million back in 2012.
The Death and Life of Otto Bloom has also been shortlisted for the Tiantan Award at the 2017 Beijing International Film Festival.
Tickets are now on sale for the world premiere of four short films directed by the recipients of the 2016 Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship. Anya Beyersdorf, Brooke Goldfinch, Alex Ryan and Alex Murawski will screen their films at Dendy Opera Quays on June 13 during this years Sydney Film Festival.The next crop of Fellows to receive $50,000 will be announced on the night.
IF checked in with Goldfinch earlier this year, as the filmmaker was editing her film, 'Outbreak Generation', about a woman who finds herself the sole carer of an eight-year-old boy in the middle of a global epidemic. Goldfinch previously directed short 'Red Rover' in the States while studying filmmaking at NYU, and completed a directors attachment on the set of 'Alien: Covenant' with Ridley Scott last year.
Where did you shoot Outbreak Generation, and how many days did you have?
We did most of our exteriors in Kurnell, and we did some scenes at Royal North Shore Hospital. And at Lisa [Shaunessy] the producers house in Leichhardt. We shot for five days. We needed every minute. I didnt realise Australians shoot for 10 hours and not 12, so that was a big learning curve. But its such a great opportunity, because filmmaking isnt like painting. You cant do it in your bedroom by yourself. Having the opportunity to hone your craft is so important. The Lexus program allows people to experiment and I think theres not enough of that here. Its so expensive to make films. And we wrote this film in the world of my feature, and it was really great to throw ideas up on the screen and see what works and what doesnt.
Was the script an excerpt from the feature?
No I wrote a separate thing. Trying to condense a feature into a short is a bit of a fools errand. We tried to just have elements of the world and not so much the story of the feature, so its quite different. My features a sci-fi, set in the not-too-distant future, so its good to look at it and see what the audience will buy.
How do you audition?
We had a casting agent, Marianne Jade, but I had someone in mind for the lead. Id seen Gen Hegney in a couple of different things. She does a lot of comedy, she was in The Little Death. Shes got a really great comedic sensibility and the character in my film is very depressed and I needed somebody who had this really snide, sarcastic quality. Gen has this ability to inhabit a character and play things really dry. And not ham things up. Even though this films a drama, I really wanted somebody that could get in to the few comedic moments and really sell them to give the audience a bit of reprieve from the [grimness].
And for her son?
In the audition this little boy stormed up to us and said, Ive only been doing this for three months and Ive already booked three gigs. He had this incredible in-your-face attitude that I thought was perfect for the role. Often when kids have booked commercials and stuff, theyre very rehearsed and fakey. Theyre just really big. Because hes so fresh, Oscar didnt have any of that overly rehearsed [quality]. He was really good but also really natural.
Are you working with any collaborators from Red Rover?
Yeah, we did all the post production here [in Australia]. Christine [Cheung] edited that as well. Were doing our post again at Spectrum. But its mostly new people.
Now youre in the edit, is the film looking different to how you imagined?
Yeah it is. I was really thrown by the fact we only shoot 10 hours a day. Id signed off on a couple of days thinking they were 12 hours. So its taken a bit of work to reconfigure things. And I learnt a lot about light in Australia. It is so bright here. In the Northern Hemisphere, where I have most of my experience, the golden hours last much longer and you can shoot outdoors for much longer. Here at 9am, its like: the lights are on. Its so harsh. And shooting in summer you only have so many daylight hours, so you dont have the flexibility of shooting in the morning and the evening because thats too long a day. Stuff like that was such a big learning curve for me.
As well as access to the space, the four—Kiara Milera, Joel Brown and brothers Edoardo and Michael Crismani—will participate in SAFC-led professional development opportunities throughout the year.
Edoardo Crismani's documentary The Panther Within premiered on NITV in March, and his short drama 440 was selected for the SAFCs Aboriginal Short Film funding initiative in 2016.
Michael Crismani wrote, directed and produced short film I Kept the Beat, which aired last year on NITV and SBS On Demand, for the NITV/SAFC Microdocs Initiative.
Joel Brown is a recent graduate from Flinders University and completed an attachment in the ADs department on the second series of Cleverman. He has also directed two micro-documentaries with NITV and has worked as an actor, choreographer and animator.
Kiara Milera is about to commence pre-production on her short film No Ears as part of the SAFCs Aboriginal Short Film funding initiative. Milera recently completed a directors attachment with Warwick Thornton on Sweet Country. She has also written for Black Comedy.
SAFC CEO Annabelle Sheehan said she looked forwarded to seeing the filmmakers develop their projects.
Its great to have Aboriginal filmmakers based at the heart of the Adelaide Studios and working alongside the other screen practitioners here," she said. "This residency is an important commitment of SAFC, to build on the strengths of the Aboriginal screen sector which is having a worldwide impact."
SAFCs Aboriginal strategy executive Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin said: The Aboriginal Screen Strategy is facilitating a number of exciting initiatives. Our local Aboriginal film makers are gaining vital industry knowledge and experience, while increasing a greater capacity to tell their stories while widening their access points to screen both here in Australia and internationally.
Luke Sparke is following up his feature debutRed Billabong with sci-fi picOccupation.The film, about a small town that bands together after a devastating ground invasion, will shoot next month around the Gold Coast and northern NSW.
Dan Ewing, who lead the cast ofRed Billabong, will also star inOccupationalongside New Zealands Temuera Morrison (The Osiris Child , Moana, Star Wars: Episode II and III).
Other cast include Stephany Jacobsen (Battlestar Galactica), Rhiannon Fish (The 100), Charles Terrier (Neighbours), Bruce Spence (Mad Max 2), Felix Williamson (The Great Gatsby, Underbelly), Charles Mesure (Desperate Housewives), Zachary Garred (General Hospital), Izzy Stevens (Puberty Blues), Trystan Go (The Family Law) and AFI award winner Jacqueline McKenzie (The 4400).
Occupation will be produced by SparkeFilms, with Red Billabong producer Carly Imrie returning.
Im very excited and proud to bring such a varied and talented ensemble cast to this Australian film, Imrie said. Occupation represents our second foray into the action genre after our monster film Red Billabong last year, and this is gearing up to be one hell of a ride.
Clay Epsteins Film Mode Entertainment is handling international sales for the film and will present first-look footage in Cannes. Pinnacle Films will distribute the film theatrically in ANZ.
(l-r) Jocelyn Moorhouse and Sue Maslin on the set of 'The Dressmaker' (photo: Ben King).
Kicking off tomorrow, the Gold Coast Film Festival (April 19-30) will screen 32 feature films from 13 countries, including four world premieres and nine Australian ones, plus a host of shorts, events and filmmaker Q&As. The fest will also host a series of 14 panels covering a range of screen industry topics. On April 22, producers Jan Chapman, Sue Maslin and Trish Lake will talk about their experiences in a session entitled Producing: Money Vs Time.Maslin will also be this years special guest at the third annual Women In Film lunch on April 21. Presented by Screen Queensland, the lunch recognises the contribution of women in film and television in Australia. On the eve of the festival, Maslin speaks to IF about the push for gender equity and her slate of projects.
What will you be talking about at the Gold Coast Film Fest?
I always try to ruffle a few feathers, so Ill be talking about the representation of women on screen and behind the camera. Theres a huge amount of momentum for change, which is fantastic, and its across the board. Having been in the business now for thirty years, and seeing these programs and policy commitments come and go and nothing change, I actually feel genuinely optimistic now. Id like to focus on who makes the decisions about what we see on our screens in Australia. Its the distributors, the exhibitors, the broadcasters who sit around the table and greenlight. I want to focus on how women can have a much more empowered role in those areas.
What sort of steps need to be taken?
Its about getting more women into roles of leadership. That puts the onus not just on the business but on the women themselves to step up and demand those roles. Its a process of really owning the fact that women do have an important role in deciding what goes on our screens. And not just from the cultural perspective: it makes good business sense.
What are you working on at the moment?
Im gearing up for Cannes. Jocelyn has been busy writing the next screenplay, which will be an original one this time. Itll be an international co-pro so Im going over there to hopefully start patching that together.
Its a goodie. Well be shooting in Europe and posting here, so its really good timing to start putting together that team.
Are you looking at a European cast?
Definitely a German or Austrian co-producing partner. And obviously Jocelyn directing. Because itll be a bigger budget production, we need to cast in such a way that we can raise that kind of budget.
How old are your Schumann and Brahms?
Schumann would have been close to 50. Its really in his later years that our story picks up. Clara [Schumann] would have been in her early 40s, and Brahms was much younger; he was only 25 when he met them. He was this beautiful young wunderkind that came into their lives at a time when he was being pilloried by the critics and by the musical establishment because his music was so different. His first concerto was so hammered by the critics he didnt perform live again for eleven years. But Clara and Robert recognized his genius and really mentored him.
Whats the significance of the title?
Its called The Variations because thats the name of those final works by Schumann. And its also thematically perfect because the fundamental dramatic conceit at the heart of it is a question over those final works by Robert, because he ended up mad; he ended up killing himself. Were those final works the work of a madman or a genius?
Is it a story of jealousy, a la Amadeus?
No. They both adored Brahms, and he was hopelessly, unrequitedly, in love with Clara. But there were much more complex things going on, because Robert ended up in an asylum for the final two years [of his life], so Brahms was the go-between. He was the point of contact for Clara because women were not allowed to go into those mental asylums in the late nineteenth century. She didnt see her husband really right up until the very end. Its a fascinating story but a tough one to pull off.
Are you finding it difficult to raise the money with that kind of ending?
Havent even started yet, thats what Im going to Cannes for. But I have certainly been talking about it in some quarters and theres a huge amount of interest, because its such a profoundly dramatic story. Look at Amadeus: that had a very sad ending but [it was] utterly brilliant in its execution. I seem to have made a number of films over the years that have had sad endings but [they] have been well-resolved endings. Thats more important.
Has The Dressmaker changed the game for you?
Definitely theres a lot of interest in Jocelyns next film. The thing you learn in this business is that youre only as good as your last film. If you have a successful film that certainly gets you the meetings and the contacts but from that moment on youre back to square one. Every film is a start-up business. But there is a lot of interest now in films that skew female, because we were able to show its a commercial demographic. And I think theres interest in showing the story of Schumann and Brahms from the perspective of Clara. Shes such an interesting and little understood character, and most people dont know her music. She composed a lot, and we want to include her music in the film.
Ann has tapped into that market beautifully. As you know shes a very talented screenwriter and director, but she started writing novels about three years ago, and it turns out shes bloody good at it. Shes got a three-book deal with Simon and Schuster and her books been published in the UK and US as well as here. Im really excited to be working with her on the screenplay adaptation of her first novel.
Weve got three releases this year following the Harry Seidler release last year. Weve got a feature doc about Jill Bilcock, the editor, which is fabulous. Jill is arguably one of the worlds great editors. You look at the top ten Australian hits, Jills edited five of them. She talks very specifically about the creative decisions she made on films like Elizabeth, Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, and how she put together iconic sequences. Its a filmmakers film. We hope to premiere that at the Melbourne Film Festival this year. Ive also been executive producing a five-part comedy drama series for ABC iview. The thing with the ABC is theyve got such phenomenal take-up now with iview. At a time when broadcast TV is plateauing or in freefall, iview is just going gangbusters.
Are you developing other TV projects?
Were in development on a TV drama series called Fallout. The head writer for that is Jane Allen, whos a fabulous television writer, and this series will be produced by [Film Art Medias] Charlotte Seymour. It was an original concept by Charlotte, and then the three of us did a script intensive workshop together, so its being developed now. Its a drama in the vein of those fantastic Scandi dramas — not Scandi crime but those intense family dramas that really get below the surface of the politics of family. Set in contemporary Australia.
Have you been in discussions with potential partners?
Its a little bit early. We go into intensive writing in June-July.