China Film Group, Canadian, Kiwi Partners Back 17-Movie Slate (Exclusive)

The first movie, 'Beast of Burden,' is already in production in New Zealand with a $20 million budget.

A group of companies from China, New Zealand and Canada has committed as much as $800 million to produce 17 live-action and animated movies over the next six to eight years.

“We are striving to create borderless creative content that appeals to the masses on an international basis,” says producer Michael Cerenzie, CEO of Toronto-based Stratagem Entertainment, who brought the partners together — including China Film Group and Qi Tai — along with Trevor Yaxley, CEO of New Zealand's Huhu Studios.

The budget range for the nine animated films will be $20 million to $50 million. For eight planned live-action movies, budgets will be $30 million to $60 million.

The financing for the first animated features is coming from state-owned China Film Group’s animation arm China Film Animation (about 55 percent), China’s Qi Tai Culture Development Group (32.5 percent) and Huhu, which also has studios in Beijing and Taipei.

China Film Group has distribution rights in greater China. Rights in the rest of the world will be offered during Cannes for the first time by Graham Taylor, head of WME’s Global Finance and Distribution. Taylor is already in talks with three potential domestic distributors.  

The first movie, Beast of Burden, is already in production in New Zealand in 3D with a $20 million budget. It is set for a 2017 release. The cost will rise when celebrity voice talent is added for what will be two language versions, English and Chinese.

Written and directed by Kirby Atkins (Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), Burden is about creatures that rebel against their human masters and embark on a perilous journey. Yaxley and China Film Animation’s Jun Huang produce, with Cerenzie and Kevin Spivak of SMI Entertainment serving as executive producers.

A second animated movie with the working title SXD: Middle Kingdom goes into production later this year for a 2018 release, with a $30 million budget. Written by Matt Vegh, a Canadian who has lived in China for over 20 years, it’s based on a Chinese folk tale about an alien who crashes in olden China and gets caught up in an ancient blood-feud war.

China Film Animation is a subsidiary of China Film Group, the largest state own movie/TV enterprise in that country. It is involved in everything from production, distribution and exhibition to exporting Chinese movies.

"This slate of films,” says Huang, “will allow the world to see the growth of China’s immense creative talents to entertain audiences both in China and globally."

"We are seeking sound investment opportunities from emerging media markets and found one in this partnership," says Fu Leilei, vice president Beijing Qi Tai Culture Development Group.

Cerenzie will be lead producer on the live action movies, which will also be financed 55 percent by CFG with the rest from tax credits, co-production grants and U.S. studio partners.

Two others at Stratagem, Eric Henderson and Shamim Ahmed, will also be involved in the live action productions. Stratagem was founded a year ago by Cerenzie, who has spent 20 years doing slate financing and co-productions worldwide.

Yaxley is taking the lead on the slate of animated movies for Huhu, based in Auckland, New Zealand, which has also done long-form TV, commercials,, theme park designs and regularly consults with clients in China.

"Over the past five years,” says Yaxley, “we have developed a long term trusted relationship with China Film Group Animation. Now partnered with Qi Tai and Stratagem Entertainment, we feel that we have built a diverse but unified team to produce high-quality films for years to come."

Miao Xiotian, president of China Film Co-Productions, said this slate will “serve as both a cultural and economic bridge between the Chinese film market and our global partners for many years to come.”

11:45 am, May 13 this article was updated to include additional information.