Only six films have been produced as official Australian-Chinese co-productions since the treaty came into effect in 2008, a state of arrested development which Mark Lazarus aims to change.
The former head of creative and acquisitions at Arclight Films, Lazarus has joined Sydney Film Production Company as head of production.
His mandate: find projects, talent, co-production partners and other sources of finance for films designed to appeal to both countries.
“The audience in China is huge, the market conditions are great and we’re very determined to make genuine Australian-Chinese co-productions,” he tells IF.
“We want to make movies that satisfy both audiences. But if one is a bit more commercial in one territory than the other, we would be happy to make it that way.”
Among the first batch of projects is The Paper Menagerie, the saga of a Chinese-American boy who learns about his late mother’s past through the origami animals she brought to life for him as a child, based on a short story by science fiction/ fantasy writer Ken Liu.
Lazarus envisions that movie, which is set in China and Los Angeles, could be set up with a Hollywood studio and a Chinese partner.
Another is director Guo Dalei’s Story of the Northeast Part 2, the sequel to Guo’s Once Upon a Time in the Northeast, an action comedy which was released in China, Australia and other markets in February.
Headed by Weinan Song, Sydney Films owns a production facility in Stanmore NSW, which includes a Cyclorama studio, screening room and offices, and it receives substantial support from sister company Pacific Holdings Group.
In April Sydney Films announced it had a slate of 14 films that would be developed as Australian-Chinese co-productions, with the intention to shoot all in both countries.
Lazarus and Song spent nine days in China looking for potential projects and partners and are negotiating several development and production deals.
The most recent co-pro, At Last, was shot in Queensland earlier this year, written and directed by Yiwei Liu and produced by Jackie Jiao, Todd Fellman, Charles Fan and Vanessa Wu, from China’s Monumental Films, Australia’s Roadman Films and Story Bridge Films.
Lazarus served as a producer for Arclight on Kimble Rendall’s Guardians of the Tomb, (formerly Nest) which will open in China and Australia next year. The other co-pros were Xu Shunli’s The Longest Shot (formerly Dog Fight), Pauline Chan’s 33 Postcards, Mario Andreacchio’s The Dragon Pearl and Roger Spottiswoode’s Children of the Silk Road.
From his experiences in dealing with the Chinese thus far he has learned several key things, including, “Make sure you communicate really well all the time; make sure your partner has great legal advice; and understand the completely different way the Chinese market films. Their strategy is to start putting out materials to create an audience for the film early on, sometimes at the beginning of the shoot.”
Before joining Arclight Lazarus served as drama investment manager at Screen Australia where he worked on such films as Patrick Hughes’ Red Hill, Kimble Rendall’s Bait 3D, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Julius Avery’s Son of a Gun.
His CV includes senior roles with the Australian Film Commission, Filmgraphics Entertainment, Ocean Pictures and 20th Century Fox and Fox Icon Productions.
Song said: “I am thrilled that Mark Lazarus is joining our dynamic team. His wealth of experience in development, production and distribution will be invaluable to the company.”
Arclight’s Gary Hamilton expects to name a successor to Lazarus at the American Film Market, which starts on November 1.