Chinese Studios Select Canadian Co-Production Partners at Whistler Film Festival

Beijing producers option local movie concepts at the mountain resort to bridge the competitive gap between Hollywood and Chinese cinema.

WHISTLER, B.C. – China using film co-productions with Canada to bridge its audience gap with Hollywood movies took a big step forward when projects by three Canadian writer/producer teams were offered option deals by Beijing producers at the Whistler Film Festival.

As a China-Canada script competition at Whistler unveiled winners Thursday night, Johnny To’s Hairun Pictures tapped for development The Eddie Zhao Story, a true-life story of a Chinese peasant chasing an American conman to Los Angeles by writer Guy Bennett and producer Raymond Massey.

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And Wuxi Studios and Xing Xing Media chose to back the animated 3D project Butterfly Tale, written by Heidi Foss and produced by Marie-Claude Beauchamp, while Galloping Horse is to co-develop Blush, a romantic comedy about a young Chinese woman in Paris from writer Richard Bell and producer Elizabeth Yake.

“They’re eager for market share,” said Whistler festival managing director Jane Milner of the China-Canada script competition that saw 13 competing writer/producer teams pitch film concepts to Chinese producers for a share of up to $15 million in production financing.

“China is in a tough place. They know they have to advance their ability to tell a story with international appeal, but it’s hard to break out of their mold,” Milner added.

So Chinese producers are turning to Canadian creative talent, and co-productions, via the Whistler film festival to help compete with Hollywood films at home and abroad.

The winning Canadian filmmakers tailored their film concepts to the Chinese market.

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“Chinese girls are brand aware, so I added a Louis Vuitton bag that gets lost and switched,” Blush's Bell said of his film project, which also makes much of French red wine as Chinese consumers increasingly favor the tipple and the color red symbolizes good luck for them.

The winning Canadian film concepts also steered clear of possible Chinese government controls.

“It’s a comedy. It doesn’t risk censorship. It showcases the culture, the Chinese landscape and a different culture,” Xiao Qiao Liu, a Los Angeles-based talent manager with ECI, which also has offices in Paris and Beijing, said of Blush.

Vancouver-based film producer Massey brought Eddie Zhao -- a Los Angeles private investigator who originally came to the U.S. to pursue a California man who conned him in China – to Whistler to help land the Chinese development deal.

“This is a real honor. Fifteen years ago, I was a homeless guy in Los Angeles. I didn’t know if I had a future,” said Zhao, whose American journey led to the eventual jailing of the Canadian conman and the recovery of his money.

The winning Canadian teams and their new Chinese partners will spend the weekend in Whistler discussing how to move the projects ahead.

The Whistler Film Festival wraps on Sunday.