China, Australia Form New Co-Prod Organization

Two Countries Signed Co-Production Treaty Three Years Ago

SYDNEY – Australian filmmakers aiming to capitalize on a three-year-old co-production treaty with China have formed the Australian China Screen Alliance as a subsidiary of the Screen Producers Association of Australia to speed and smooth interaction with the fastest-growing film market in the world.

In a country where most of the biggest imports still come from Hollywood, the SPAA wants the Australia-based alliance to partner with China-based filmmakers’ groups to work together to take advantage of a box office that will soon shatter its 2009 record of $909 million in ticket sales.

Already, the Xi'an Qujiang Film and TV Investment Group in central China has taken a step in this direction, recently signing an agreement to establish their own chapter of the Australian China Screen Alliance.

At first, the Alliance will act in an advisory capacity and play matchmaker between Australian producers looking for partners based in China, people who can co-produce, provide resources, direct consultations and facilitate dialogue between the two filmmaking communities.

SPAA executive director Geoff Brown said that the Chinese appetite for international co-production is growing rapidly along with the economy.

As Chinese expendable income goes up, so has the box office. Thanks in large part to Avatar and 2012, both from Hollywood, China’s Jan.-Jun. 2010 box office jumped 86% compared with the same period a year ago.

"This year's box office gross may close at $1.6 billion, and is expected to get to $4.5 billion in the next five years,” said Brown, adding that in Australia, “We are one of the first countries to be making such a serious effort on co-productions with China, which means we have a head start.”

Three years ago, Aussie director Roger Spotiswoode made what most people in the industry consider the first de facto Sino-Aussie co-production, the WWII drama called The Children of Huangshi, even though it went into production before the treaty had come fully into effect.

Most co-productions in China now come from Hong Kong, whose filmmakers enjoy favorable import terms and have the advantage of a shared culture. Sino-Aussie co-production imports would, like co-prods from Hong Kong, avoid Beijing’s annual 20-film import cap on foreign titles allowed to give a share of their gross back to the copyright holders.

Australia’s not the only country to set its sites on China’s huge movie market, with France, Singapore and New Zealand all signing treaties of their own with Beijing in the last eight months. Still, the SPAA’s Brown is confident about Australia’s jump in China: “I believe we have about a three-year window before it becomes a massively competitive field with other countries.”

Mario Andreacchio is chairman of the new Australian China Screen Alliance. His children’s film The Dragon Pearl, now in post-production, will be the first official Sino-Australian co-production made under the treaty, first signed in August 2007.

Andreacchio and his partners the Hengdian World Film Studios outside Shanghai are already learning to compromise to get the film done: the film’s working title, The Last Dragon, had to be changed to accommodate the Chinese view that the beast core to the country’s mythical culture would never cease to exist.

Looking past their differences, Andreacchio said he’s excited by the sheer scale of the filmmaking going on in China, even far from the traditional filmmaking centers of Beijing and Shanghai: “In Xi'an alone they have over 300 film production companies, many of which are wanting to do co-production with Australia now. This is typical of the potential in the filmmaking industry that exists in provinces and regions around China.”

Andreacchio, Brown and Ausfilm chair Alaric McAusland, will be touting the benefits of the Australian China Screen Alliance and the Sino-Australian co-production treaty at the upcoming Australia-China Film Industry Forum set to take place in Beijing Dec. 8-12.

The forum is an initiative of the Australian embassy there as part of Imagine Australia, the Year of Australian Culture in China.

The embassy is working with Screen Australia and the China Film Bureau as the official government partners, with the China Film Co-Production Corp. -- led by Madame Zhang Xun -- as the forum co-host and the Beijing Film Academy as the academic program partner.

A third Sino-Australian co-production called Mei Mei, meaning "little sister," also is in the works.

-- Jonathan Landreth in Beijing contributed to this report.