China's Huayi Brothers to Co-Finance Roland Emmerich's 'Moonfall'

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Roland Emmerich

The veteran Beijing-based studio will executive produce and distribute the sci-fi disaster epic in China.

Veteran Chinese film studio Huayi Brothers Media has boarded Roland Emmerich's sci-fi action epic, Moonfall, CEO James Wang announced Friday. The company will executive produce the film and take all China distribution rights in the deal.

The project has all the makings of a classic Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) action-disaster vehicle. As it title implies, the film begins when a mysterious force knocks the Moon from its orbit and sends it hurtling towards Earth. Against all odds, a ragtag team then launches an impossible last-ditch mission into space to land on the lunar surface and save Earth from annihilation.

Emmerich will direct from a spec script he co-wrote with Harald Kloser (co-writer of 2012) and Spenser Cohen. Casting is currently underway and production is scheduled to begin this spring.

Moonfall was the presales hit of Cannes last year, where it quickly sold out for most of the world. China, a key anchor in the film's financing model, proved a tougher territory to land, however. Complicating matters was the then-raging trade war between Washington and Beijing.

Emmerich will be looking to build on his 2019 World War II film Midway, which cost $100 million to make, before marketing, but received middling reviews and earned $140 million at the worldwide box office. Huayi Brothers also is in recovery mode after a series of setbacks last year, including the Chinese government's surprise censorship of its costly and much anticipated war epic The Eight Hundred, which was set to premiere in the summer but has yet to see release.

Working in Moonfall and Huayi Brothers' favor is the enduring popularity of the sci-fi genre in China. Last year's domestically produced sci-fi breakthrough The Wandering Earth earned a whopping $700 million, and Hollywood imports in the genre over the years — The Martian ($95 million), Interstellar ($123 million) and Emmerich's own Independence Day: Resurgence ($75 million) — have consistently performed well. 

“Roland Emmerich is a cinematic master, and his films — 2012, The Day after Tomorrow and Independence Day — are so deeply loved by Chinese audiences that Huayi Brothers is proud to partner with his latest science fiction saga, Moonfall, in both its production and distribution,” said Wang. “We believe that the most effective way to facilitate worldwide cultural exchange is in collaboration with top artists, and this project marks a milestone for us as a solid content creator in the international film business."

As it did with Midway, Centropolis is independently producing and financing Moonfall, overseeing all aspects of production, financing and delivery. Stuart Ford's AGC Studios is co-financing and handled worldwide sales, along with CAA Media Finance; Lionsgate has taken North American rights. The film's budget has not been confirmed — it is rumored to be in the $150 million range — but it is certain to be one of the biggest independent film productions of 2020. 

CAA repped the filmmakers. For Huayi Brothers, Josh Hu oversaw the Moonfall deal with Stephen Saltzman of law firm Paul Hastings; JP Pettinato, Marco Shepherd and attorney Richard Thompson of Goodman Schenkman & Brecheen, LLP negotiated on behalf of Centropolis Entertainment; and AGC’s president of worldwide distribution Michael Rothstein and vp business and legal affairs Anant Tamirisa negotiated the deal for AGC International.