It’s feeling very much like Hollywood North in Vancouver these days: Russell Crowe, here for the new Superman film Man of Steel, joined Keith Urban onstage at Rogers Arena Monday night; Matt Damon has been here shooting Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9; and Robert Redford is shooting his next film here with a blockbuster cast that includes Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte.
But increasingly the local production industry is also setting its sights further east, to China.
“It’s the only film market that’s growing at 30 or 40 per cent a year,” Vancouver-based producer Harry Sutherland says. “This is the biggest single opportunity in the international film market anywhere in the world.”
Sutherland is one of the locals scheduled to meet with a delegation of Chinese film types, due to arrive in Vancouver Wednesday, as part of an initiative organized by the Vancouver Film and Television Forum in conjunction with British Columbia Film and the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of British Columbia.
“When you look at the size of that market and the pace with which it is growing, you have to pay attention to that,” British Columbia Film president and chief executive officer Richard Brownsey. “Whether at the end of the day it will turn out to be a really substantial market for us to work in, I’m not sure. But it is such a large market, growing so quickly, that you have to reach out.”
Especially given current conditions affecting the lucrative service industry in Vancouver, including economic instability in the United States, the strong Canadian dollar and the cancellation of the harmonized sales tax in the province – which has been an attractive tax for the industry.
“Everything is in a bit of a state of chaos at the moment,” Forum producer Fran Bergin says. “The international marketplace is down at the moment and I think it’s just become harder and harder to close financing, so we need to find new partners. We need to be very active in that.”
Chinese producers are particularly interested in Vancouver’s postproduction and visual-effects houses, and there are several such facilities on the delegation’s agenda. One company, Pegasus & Taihe Entertainment International, is here looking for a postproduction studio for its coming action film Dwelling in the Funchun Mountains.
The Chinese industry is also interested in Vancouver’s training expertise; Brownsey says there’s a possibility local institutions may eventually set up shop in Beijing. (Vancouver Film School opened an admissions office in Taiwan, which also serves China, in 2008.)
A similar delegation last year produced a memorandum of understanding between the China Film Producers’ Association and British Columbia Film that called for increased collaboration, including the development of co-productions under existing China/Canada protocols. There has been a handful of such productions in recent years, including Iron Road, starring Peter O’Toole and Sam Neill, which was shot in China and British Columbia, and the miniseries Marco Polo and Son of the Dragon, both produced by Vancouver-based Reunion Pictures.
“Canada’s a great co-producing country; we built our entire industry on co-production and on being a service industry to … Hollywood. So we know how to work with people. We have to. And I think that’s what the Chinese see in us as partners,” says Sutherland, who plans to shoot his next project, The Tea Merchant’s Wife, in China next spring and has created a new company specifically to promote co-productions involving Canadian scripts and Chinese production financing.
“The one market we have to figure out, I think everybody realizes, is China. Because there’s so much financing,” he says. “China has got the financing capability and growth and market share that nobody else has.”
Vancouver-based producer Wesley Lowe is also looking to China to finance his next project, a psychological thriller called Staged, about a North American pianist accused of murdering his Chinese girlfriend. “We think we’ll be able to do the entire thing with Chinese money,” says Lowe, who will also meet with the Chinese delegation. “That would make it a very interesting thing; perhaps the first English-language domestic Chinese production.”