Greg Basser and Jiayin Lei.
Contemporary thriller The Whistleblower, the biggest Australian-Chinese official co-production ever shot in Australia, started filming in Victoria this week.
The budget is under wraps but the producers say they are spending at least $40 million in Victoria, directly employing 220 local screen workers.
Perfect Village Entertainment vice chairman Greg Basser, who is producing with Edko Films’ Bill Kong, tells IF he believes this is the biggest production in Victoria since the Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries The Pacific in 2010.
US-based writer-director Xue Xiaolu is working with a largely Australian crew including line producer Dean Hood, DOP Marc Spicer, casting director Louise Mitchell, production designer Jeff Thorp and VFX experts Peter Stubbs and Scott Zero.
Jiayin Lei plays the lead Mark Ma, a Chinese expat working in Australia for a mining company. After a fatal accident he discovers that new technology developed by the company may be a health risk. In search of the truth, he investigates a web of conspiracies .
John Batchelor (The Secret Daughter, Doctor Doctor) plays the boss of the company, with other well-known Aussie actors yet to be named. The Chinese cast includes Tang Wei and Xi Qi.
Xiaolu, whose credits include the romantic comedy Finding Mr Right, which grossed $US85 million in China in 2013, and the 2016 sequel, wrote the screenplay set in Australia.
Kong, who produced both those movies, took the project to Basser, the CEO of the Village Roadshow Entertainment Group (VREG), a long-time friend and mentor with whom he is partnered in Irresistible Films, an incubator company designed to foster new talent in greater China.
“It’s a contemporary white-collar thriller set in Australia,” Basser said. “Bill asked if this is something we’d like to be involved in and we said, ‘You betcha.’ So we helped shape the script and Bill and I are producing. We have a great team assembled. It’s a Chinese film for Chinese audiences and we hope it crosses over.”
Creative Victoria and Film Victoria are supporting the production which is shooting for 70 days at the Docklands Studios and at various locations including Geelong, Werribee and the de-commissioned Hazelwood Power station in the Latrobe Valley. The dialogue is a mixture of Mandarin and English.
Perfect Village, a joint venture between VREG, China’s Perfect World Pictures and WME-IMG, launched last year with the remit to produce films, animation and online TV content for China and international markets.
Chinese Internet giant Tencent is an investor. As an official co-pro the film qualifies for the 40 per cent Producer Offset.
According to Basser, the production is about the same size as Perfect Village’s Shadow, an historical action drama starring Deng Chao and directed by Zhang Yimou, which will open later this year.
Kong’s Edko Films will release the film in China and Roadshow will handle Australia. Ausfilm in partnership with the Australian Embassy in Beijing helped attract the production through a filmmaker familiarisation tour with location scouting and introductions to leading screen businesses.
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason said: “Official co-productions are a fantastic opportunity for creative partners to come together and collaborate on story, share skill sets and benefit from the financial screen incentives offered by both countries. We are thrilled to have The Whistleblower being produced in Australia, and are sure our Chinese guests will be impressed by the Australian cast, crew and locations.”