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Hong Kong 2013: the Kiwi presence

Although Hong Kong’s Entertainment Expo still has a little while to run with the Hong Kong Film Awards to come on 13 April, the direct NZ participation ended with Zia Mandviwalla’s Night Shift, announced in February in the HKIFF, and came full circle on the festival’s closing with the film winning the festival’s short film competition.

Most of the screen-related activity, and NZ participation in it, ran in the week beginning Monday 18 March. Filmart, HAF and the HK edition of the ACE Producers Lab ran that week, with somewhat better-dressed turnouts for the opening of the HKIFF (on the Sunday evening) and the Asian Film Awards on the Monday.

Mandviwalla’s short beat 19 others for the Short Film Firebird, the closest competition coming from Swiss Peter Volkart’s Jury Prize winner, Room 606, a tale of a travelling glass eye salesman.

Other NZ involvement was equally focused on business. A number of regular attendees, including Incubate’s Milt Barlow, trod the convention hall collecting titles for local release through Event’s Cinema Asia programme. Barlow found a lot of product of interest and is now negotiating on several titles, some of which he expects to be able to announce within the next month.

Jigsaw Entertainment’s Jamie McKinnon got a jump on the competition, in town just a head of Filmart, and – having been in the business almost as long as Barlow – was tracking the trends of digital distribution.

Sue Thompson, previously an attendee on behalf of Film NZ, was present with her independent producer hat on. She noted “that there is a place [at Filmart] for a consolidated New Zealand presence given the diversity of interest and players”, referencing in particular the interest in purchasing New Zealand films for various territories and the cost-effective approach a number of territories (including the US, France, UK, and several ASEAN nations) take by adopting an umbrella presence.

She found strong interest in the area of co-production opportunities with New Zealand. Acknowledging that some of the projects she came across could work, she also noted that many were budgeted below the threshold necessary to trigger NZ incentive schemes.

Thompson was attending with three projects she has in development, and received “very good interest in all of them”. She also commented on the “real appetite for partnership”, Asia as “absolutely a long term proposition” for NZ filmmakers and the quality of support from Filmart and HAF organisers.

Desert Road’s Steven O’Meagher attended the ACE Producers Lab with NZFC support before heading back home smartly to complete delivery of TV series Harry ahead of the even longer haul to MIPTV this weekend.

O’Meagher called the Lab “a fantastic experience”, praising the very practical nature of the presentations, discussions and meetings and the calibre of producers attending. He particularly praised organiser Ronan Girre’s ability to set up the meeting schedule on the fly having observed each of the 16 producers pitches.

Of the Lab’s focus on co-producing with China, O’Meagher came away with a solid understanding of the realities of the process. He was also able to market test ideas, coming away happy with the results – even though they weren’t always what he expected.

O’Meagher attended the Lab with NZFC support. The NZFC will also support attendance at Producers Lab Toronto, which will run as part of TIFF in September.

Sydney and Wellington-based Karactaz’ Greg Harman made the trip primarily looking for production partners, both to service projects on which Karactaz is a supplier and for original IP the company is developing.

Karactaz has existing relationships with studios in Korea, and Harman met predominantly with Hong Kong, China and Taiwan companies during his visit. Discovering companies whose work he was happy with, he noted the speed of production of those companies as one of their major selling points – achieved by being able to throw more people at a job for the same price than studios in other countries, given lower wage-rates in the region.

Over the last several years, Karactaz has been bringing Australian TVC work from its Sydney management office to Wellington. Its 15-20 strong Wellington studio currently gets most of its work from the US, with the completed Disney series Talking Friends developed as a mobile game and now a YouTube with over 125 million views.

The company is also doing concept art, CGI world and prop creation and pre-production work for two 26 episode Marvel TV shows, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, which will be presented in July at ComicCon and screen later this year. The production for both will be done in Asia.

Harman was surprised in Hong Kong by the lack of any formal NZ presence, given the range of opportunities he sees in the region, particularly in the animation space. Karactaz is now considering exhibiting at either Hong Kong’s Licensing Fair to present some of its original IP to potential partners or at Filmart, where Harman reckons he could save a lot of time introducing the company and its work by having a stand.

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