China's film studios hire American talent

ROMANCE EPIC STARS: Ge and Zhang promoting The Wasted Times, one of Huayi Brothers' upcoming movies, in Beijing.


    Apr 01, 2016

    China's film studios hire American talent

    HUAYI Brothers, one of China's most successful studios last year, has also joined the rush to recruit Hollywood talent.

    At a recent event, the studio said its newly launched animation subsidiary had hired veteran animators from the United States.

    Its wholly owned unit, Huayi Brothers Win Animation, has appointed DreamWorks Animation's former executive, Joe Aguilar, as its chief executive officer.

    In addition, Markus Manninen, a visual-effects veteran who was behind Oscar-nominated Kung Fu Panda, has been hired as the firm's art director.

    Wang Zhonglei, the president of Huayi Brothers, says globalisation of the movie industry has pushed the studio to seek world-class talent and companies.

    Win Animation plans to make four animated movies every year and the first one will be released across the country in 2017.

    Aguilar says the movies will have a global appeal.

    Though details are yet to be released, he says Win Animation's first title is an animated sci-fi action feature, supervised by Kung Fu Panda 3's Chinese director, Teng Huatao.

    Wang says the North American market shows that animated films attract audiences more easily regardless of culture or age, and there is a greater possibility of the movies developing into long-running franchises.

    Meanwhile, ever since Monkey King: Hero Is Back became the highest-grossing domestic animated film of all time last summer, there has been a revival of interest in the medium among some of China's leading studios.

    In October, Enlight Media set up Coloroom Pictures, which has invested money in 13 independent animation studios to produce 22 movies.

    Separately, Huayi Brothers is also working on hiring Hollywood screenwriters to develop stories for Chinese comedy films.

    Feng Xiaogang, the man behind a series of hit comedies, also says he is seeking writers from the US for two comedy dramas, Cell Phone 2 and Marriage Lab.

    Feng set up a film studio, Dongyang Meila, last September and 70 per cent of the stakes in it was acquired by Huayi Brothers two months later.

    China grossed a record box-office revenue of 44 billion yuan (S$9.2 billion) last year, up 48 per cent year-on-year, but only 2.7 billion yuan of this came from overseas markets.

    The country, including individual film-makers, wants to address this anomaly by expanding into the global market.

    Although Feng has yet to explain why he wants Hollywood writers for his films, his move is widely regarded as a signal by Chinese film-makers that they want to compete for a share of audiences worldwide.

    Huayi started to make forays into overseas markets as early as three years ago.

    It all started with an agreement with leading South Korean studio Showbox to co-produce six movies in 2013.

    Following this, the listed company last year signed a three-year deal with American studio STX Entertainment to jointly finance, produce and distribute at least 18 films by 2017.

    The latest among the 18 movies is the supernatural thriller The Boy, which will be released on the Chinese mainland today.

    Besides its international forays, Huayi Brothers also has other plans.

    It intends to release eight big movies in the remaining three quarters of this year, following up on its January hit Mr Six and February's romance Run For Love.

    Among the movies expected are the Stanley Kwan-produced New York New York; the romance epic The Wasted Times, co-starring A-listers Ge You and Zhang Ziyi; and Feng's avant-garde comedy I Am Not Madame Bovary.