After more than a decade in show business, Vancouverite Andrew Ooi has become one of the most influential personalities in Asia’s expanding entertainment world.
Working out of his unassuming offices on Oxford Street, the thirtysomething manager and film producer has been promoting Asian acting talent in Hollywood and putting together film deals in North America and some of Asia’s most vibrant movie markets.
Mr. Ooi attributes his endurance and his ability to thrive in show business to keeping his business focused and to minding the details, skills valued by entrepreneurs across all sectors, whether gritty or glamorous. As owner of a boutique entertainment practice, Mr. Ooi is known for working closely with the talent, and making sure his people are treated well.
“There's a lot more that goes on behind the camera and the glitz is only a part of what we do,” Mr. Ooi says of his Vancouver-based company, Echelon Talent Management. “As an audience member, you only get to watch what we in the industry want you to see.”
Mr. Ooi’s activities across time zones, cultures and oceans have made him a go-to guy for a number of film executives in Asia and Hollywood. Echelon Talent Management handles Maggie Q ( Nikita, Mission Impossible 3), Chin Han ( Contagion, The Dark Night) and Josie Ho ( The Courier), with whom he has partnered to make movies in Hong Kong under the 852 Films banner. Last year, Mr. Ooi and Ms. Ho produced Dream Home, an edgy slasher movie that made the rounds at international film festivals.
Mr. Ooi is also a principal in Singapore-based COcreative Co., a venture with Los Angeles producer-manager Sukee Chew. “I manage actors while she manages writers and directors,” he says, “so we are now packaging films and projects to shoot in Asia and possibly North America. Singapore, like Vancouver, is a gateway city and is well positioned for our needs.”
Asia’s film industries have had many ups and downs, but they are now in the crosshairs of any global entertainment company. China, for example, makes about 500 films a year. By the end of this year, the mainland’s box-office receipts will have doubled from 2010.
Although a quota system limits the number of foreign productions playing in Chinese cinemas, all the major multinational entertainment companies have invested time and money to position themselves in the market. Investors from the mainland, looking for a diversified portfolio and better returns, are also increasingly looking at North American projects.
Mr. Ooi, who was born in Singapore, graduated with a chemistry degree from the University of British Columbia in 1994, a time when Chinese movie directors and actresses were attracting the attention of mainstream Hollywood studios. That appetite has come and go, yet he makes sure his talent continues to get work, which in itself is an achievement in show business.
Mr. Ooi gets approached by aspiring actors, directors and producers all the time. His advice: “Be real, be genuine, especially to yourself.”
He produced his first film, Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th in 1999. He has also co-produced the award-winning CBC miniseries Dragon Boys and the Canadian independent film Dim Sum Funeral.
He served as executive producer on The Courier, by Oscar-nominated director Hany Abu Assad, scheduled for release in 2012. It stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Josie Ho, Til Schwieger and Mickey Rourke.
Although he is often in Asia for weeks at a time, Mr. Ooi is committed to remaining based in Canada. “I live in Vancouver because it is the North American gateway to Asia and China. In 2006, there were 910,000 visible minorities in Vancouver, and this could climb to 2.3 million by 2031.
“My business requires that I be in the centre of this exchange between east and west and Vancouver is well positioned for that. More than anything else, I love this city. The food, the fresh air and the lifestyle.”
Special to the Globe and Mail
Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.
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