Three writer-producer teams selected in Whistler’s China script pitch competition

Whistler Film Festival

It was a glittering evening in snow-covered Whistler, with the closing reception for the film festival’s China Canada gateway for film script competition party well underway.

There’s the usual grinning, glad-handing filmmakers and fellow fest-goers, and Chinese producers taking snapshots of one another with their smartphones.

And at the center of it all are three film writer/producer teams — Richard Bell and Elizabeth Yake of Blush, Heidi Foss and Marie-Claude Beachamp of Butterfly Tale and Guy Bennett and Raymond Massey of The Eddie Zhao Story — who listen and nod and occasionally break out in laughter talking to fellow filmmakers.

The three teams have just won the Whistler script competition, with the chance to work with a Chinese studio and use up to $5 million each in production financing for their projects.

Earlier in the day, they pitched along with nine other Canadian writer/producer teams to three Chinese production companies at the festival for the competition, including Wuxi Studios, Beijing Hairun Pictures and Galloping Horse.

Perfect pitches

And as the three winning teams are unveiled to the festival with fanfare, it becomes clear they prevailed because, each in their own way, pitched to the right audience.

“I built this project by finding out what was of interest to Chinese audiences,” Richard Bell said of Blush, a romantic comedy about Xia, food blogger exiled to Paris who meets Cedric, a gallant Frenchman who introduces her to local food and wines after a robbery of her Louis Vuitton hand bag.

Bell continues that young Chinese are brand-aware, hence the Vuitton bag, and increasingly take to red wine.

What’s more, the colour red symbolizes good luck in Chinese culture.

So Bell called his romantic comedy Blush, and wore a red tie during his pitch to impress the judges.

“I feel like Marco Polo right now,” he said effusively, as he looked ahead to creating the romantic comedy with his new Chinese partners.

The winning pitch team for Butterfly Tale also put themselves into the minds of the Chinese producers as they pitched their stereoscopic 3D film about butterflies.

CarpeDiem producer Marie-Claude Beauchamp started the pitch for Heidi Foss’ Butterfly Tale spotlighting the significance of butterflies in Chinese myth and lore as a symbol of joy and love.

“Elements of good storytelling are inherent in [the butterflies'] actual migration,” Foss told Playback after the script competition.

“There’s heroism, destiny, coming of age – it’s a rite of passage. And it’s also a road movie,” she explained.

Montreal-based Foss, also a stand-up comedian, has been working on the script for four years.

The script has received funding from both Telefilm and SODEC, and so the script came to the Whistler pitch session with a written first draft.

“I was able to pitch a story with dialogue. That helped to visualize some of the characters in the film,” she explained.

In the flesh

Sometimes, to pitch to the right audience, you need the right people in the room.

That’s what Raymond Massey did in getting Eddie Zhao, the subject of his winning project, The Eddie Zhao Story, to fly up from Los Angeles to Whistler to participate in the pitch.

“This is a real honour. Fifteen years ago, I was a homeless guy in Los Angeles. I didn’t know if I had a future,” Zhao told Playback after Massey and Bennet, his writing partner on projected, shared in the competition winnings.

The proposed film tells the true-life story of Zhao as a hard-working peasant in China meeting a seemingly wealthy Chinese American who, feigning friendship, scams him out of $50,000.

Rather than accept the loss, Zhao went to Los Angeles to pursue the conman and, in one dramatic scene, told him they would die together unless the debt was repaid.

The Canadians will work with their Chinese co-creators to develop a script, ahead of movie production.

Lifeng Wang of Wuxi Studios will work on the 3D project Butterfly Tale, while Ivy Zong of Galloping Horse will partner on Blush.

And Bejing Hairun Pictures has pacted on The Eddie Zhao Story.

With files from Danielle Ng-See-Quan

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