Struggling domestic filmmakers battle for slice of Asian capital

Chinese studios set to invest up to $15 million in domestic Canadian projects

On the set of It's All Gone Pete Tong (2004), which was produced by Elizabeth Yake

As Vancouver's struggling domestic film industry battles to get projects off the ground, four B.C.-based film teams have landed a rare opportunity to pitch their projects to three well-capitalized Chinese film studios.

The teams are finalists in the inaugural Whistler Film Festival (WFF) China Canada Gateway for Film Script Competition, which will see 12 teams from across the country vie for Chinese studios' attention – and a piece of the up to $15 million that the studios will use to fund at least three selected projects.

The teams will pitch the studios at the WFF's industry summit on November 29.

Jane Milner, managing director of the Whistler Film Festival Society, said the competition comes at a time when access to capital is particularly tight.

"It's always been challenging but it's very challenging now with this economy."

She added that aside from access to capital, the competition presents an opportunity for Canadian filmmakers to create a film that can sell both internationally and to the massive Chinese domestic film market.

"The Chinese have the second biggest box office market in the world [after the U.S.], and for the last few years, it's been growing at 30% a year," she said.

Saltspring Island film producer Elizabeth Yake and Vancouver writer Richard Bellare finalists for their project Blush, which Yake describes as a "Rock Hudson-Doris Day breezy romantic comedy focusing on wine."

Yake said in a tough market for landing film financing, the China-oriented competition presents the unique chance to land enough capital from one source to produce a film – rather than cobble financing together from numerous backers.

"I sort of have to pinch myself and go 'Wow,'" Yake said, noting that she's currently working on a co-production with eight financial backers. "I can't even imagine the wonder or beauty of [having one financial backer]."

Yake said most productions require numerous backers, each of whom generally wants some control, such as cast or script approval.

"I think keeping all the pieces of financing together is probably way more challenging than actually making a movie."

Vancouver director Terry Ingramis co-creator of the film concept Red Serge Duty, which is also a finalist in the competition. Ingram's team includes writer Sandy Yates, and producers Henry Damenand Ian Smith.

Ingram describes the film as a "buddy cop story" set in China and Canada that features an investigation into counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

He said that, besides the possibility of landing film capital, the size of China's market was a big incentive for his team to enter the competition.

"China is huge, and they need product."

Ingram added that even without winning, the teams featured in the competition are already drawing a lot of attention that could lead to project financing.

"I think we're all going to benefit, whether we get selected or not." •