Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Oriental DreamWorks Now...


The LA Times ran a lengthy piece on how DreamWorks' Chinese arm, Oriental DreamWorks, is doing...

Until now, we knew that they were going to co-produce Kung Fu Panda 3 with the main studio. They also have a string of live-action pictures in development, alongside a mystery animated film that is set to open in the first quarter of 2018 in China only. (It'll be released elsewhere later on...)

As expected, Kung Fu Panda 3 (opening January 29th) will cost close to $140 million, being the last of DreamWorks' films that will cost over $120 million. The first film in their "lower budget" ($120 million is still too high in my opinion) will be fall 2016's Trolls. That project was teased recently, since the Licensing Expo began today.

Speaking of Kung Fu Panda 3, Kung Fu Panda 2 is still the highest earning animated film in China with a strong $96 million (second and third place being Big Hero 6 and Stand by Me Doraemon, respectively). This is all but a guaranteed hit there, and DreamWorks will fortunately get a good dose of the Chinese gross, since this is a co-production.

Oriental DreamWorks head Prashant Buyyala had this to say...

"The first few projects that we do are going to take longer and they're going to be potentially more expensive than what we would normally be planning to do. But that's all part of the process of building a world-class animation studio."

Their CEO James Fong revealed that the 2018 mystery film is already in pre-production and it is codenamed ODW1.

"Executives are also deliberating over what to select for a second project, another animated film, but Fong said both should be in production simultaneously by next year. The two movies, he said, would follow the Kung Fu Panda 3 model — with versions in English and Mandarin — and are envisioned as co-productions with the Glendale campus. The content would be fully owned by Oriental DreamWorks."

Other than content rights, the Oriental DreamWorks animated films won't be made entirely at the studio? That's something I didn't expect, because my assumption was that ODW would make these films completely in-house with DreamWorks just distributing in the states and elsewhere. Interesting...

I think that very 2018 film will be Everest, a tale of a little girl and a yeti that's being developed by Jill Culton (former Pixar story artist, Open Season director), given the setting and whatnot. As for the next one? Will it be something that we know about? Or something we haven't heard of? DreamWorks' "development" slate is packed to the brim, too. It could be anything...

I just hope the budgets on these particular pictures aren't too high. I can imagine them being in the Illumination/Sony Animation ballpark, maybe around $70-90 million. Captain Underpants, coming spring 2017, is going to be handled by a Canadian studio called Mikros Image. DreamWorks' intention is to do that one film on a smaller budget, perhaps it'll be an offbeat lower budget film to go alongside the $120 million "safe" biggies like Boss Baby and The Croods 2. (Also opening in 2017.)

DreamWorks' current game plan is to release just two pictures a year, but I think that translates to "Two big-scale, $120 million-costing pictures a year". With a third smaller-budget film in a calendar year, they can have their cake and eat it too.

In other news, the studio is no longer working on The Tibet Code. The company, according to the article, couldn't come to terms with the rights owner of the original book. That would've been one of their first live-action productions.

Overall, DreamWorks invested $330 million into this studio and plan. It's very possible that it'll help the company a great deal, given the success of many of their films over there, future films being made there, and the rising Chinese box office in general.

B. Riley & Co analyst Eric Hold said...

"If China is going to surpass the U.S. box office in the next four or five years, having a strong foothold there is key. It could not only help turn [DreamWorks] around, it could be a major leg of the company."

Nice to see some optimism for DreamWorks. Best of luck to the studio and the company overall. Let's hope this road to recovery goes splendid, and then they have the power to take a creative risk once in a while...

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