What began as a whim for Vancouver film producer Lindsay Moffat during a sailing trip in September could become China’s next hit movie.
Moffat, together with screenwriter Brian Young and director Terry Ingram, pitched their The Big Winner screenplay last month at the China Canada Gateway for Film Script Competition at the Whistler Film Festival. Their target was a panel of Chinese investors looking for made-in-Canada scripts aimed at hitting Chinese big screens.
Their script was among four that investors selected out of 12 entries; each of the winning scripts is expected to have a budget of around $5 million. Hairun Film of Beijing selected The Big Winner and is now reviewing a revised outline after preliminary discussions.
“It’s a fish-out-of-water story about a high-powered executive who travels to another country,” Moffat said. “The exec doesn’t understand the country or language and in a mix-up attempts to buy a bus ticket away from this little town, [but] ends up buying a lottery ticket.”
That ticket turns out to be the winner of the national lottery, and the two leads must travel to the capital to collect the winnings.
“Romantic hijinx ensue,” he said.
Moffat, Young and Ingram originally pitched the romantic comedy with a Canadian arriving in small-town China, but Hairun Film preferred a Canadian setting. Moffat said they rewrote a new outline with Tofino in mind.
Moffat said they haven’t reached an investment deal yet.
China is now the world’s second-largest domestic film market, and its film companies and investors are hungry for outside talent and story ideas, said Jane Milner, the script competition director.
“China is the fastest-growing market in the world … and Canada brings the best screenwriters in the world to the party and wonderful post-production skills and VFX [visual effects].”
Taking part in the competition “was slightly on a whim, and it sounded like fun,” said Moffat, who has worked on a Chinese film production in the past. He said that while “Chinese investors have all the money in the world,” they need Canadian creativity.
“We have a certain skill set in terms of story and style that I think they’re interested in,” he said. “Chinese storytelling tends to be very direct and single-layered, where we have that Hollywood style where we like to layer our stories with backstory, fore-story and layer our characters with more than one distinct characteristic.”
Chinese film producer Hu Bo, who sat on the pitching contest panel on behalf of another Chinese studio, said Canada’s reputation for special genres and strong direction is well respected in China.
“Chinese cinema is moving aggressively and quickly toward the world market,” he said. “With the film market of China and the high expertise from Canada, we can really compensate each other and learn from each other.”
But if The Big Winner ever does get made, it will have to filter through the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, China’s strict media regulator.
Moffat said its guidelines restrict what is acceptable in scripts for a Chinese audience.
“[For example], we can’t make corrupt cop movies in China unless they’re corrupt western cops.”
Films that show the government or people in authority just won’t make the cut, he said, noting that setting the film in Canada should ease some of the scrutiny. •