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Saturday, July 25, 2009

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL GUIDE TO ENTERTAINMENT: Hawai'i Film Partners Sign Historic Deal with China and Korea

The Entrepreneurial Guide to Entertainment with Sandy McKee

Recently I caught up with Rann Watumull, executive producer and co-founder of Hawai’i Film Partners (HFP)**, a Honolulu-based TV and film production company, and talked with him about a remarkable deal HFP has with entities in China and South Korea. It’s called the Asian Animation Round (AAR) and is an agreement between HFP, the City of Changzhou, China, and the Gangwon Information and Multimedia Corporation (GIMC) of South Korea, to co-produce and distribute animated TV programming for the global entertainment marketplace.

I asked Rann what made the AAR a historic agreement, aside from the fact that it is probably the first such arrangement between a U.S. business, a South Korean company, and the Chinese government. “It is a true international partnership,” he said. “We have weekly conference calls and work on all aspects of the production together.” Each of the three entities provides funding as well as creative input.

Rann further explained that in the past, Chinese and Korean animators were employed by studios on a “work for hire” basis. They had no equity share in the productions. The leaders of the animation divisions in both China and Korea wanted to build clean, environmentally-friendly industries in which they retained ownership interests. Under the AAR, HFP holds rights to the programming worldwide except in Asia. The city of Changzhou retains all rights in China and GIMC retains rights to distribution in the remaining parts of Asia.

Guardians of the Power Masks, the first animated series under the AAR, is in production now. It is the story of Annie, a young Chinese-American girl whose parents send her off to a remote village in China to spend a summer with her grandmother. (Annie would rather have gone to music camp in America.) Determined to teach Annie the traditional ways of her Chinese culture, Grandmother gives her the mysterious ancestral Power Masks that have been handed down through the family for generations. These masks enhance the wearer’s own talents, gifts, and personalities, as well as bestow additional abilities and extraordinary powers. Together, Annie and her male cousin, Qi, become the Guardians of the Power Masks. They embark on incredible adventures, battle the forces of evil, and learn to appreciate their Chinese heritage and traditions.

Twenty-six 30-minute episodes have been written and production is well underway. The first episode is expected to air in November 2009. According to Rann, “The show has been approved by the Ministry of Culture in China [to air in] primetime.” It’s a wholesome series, aimed at children; however, adults will enjoy watching it with their kids. Rann says, “It’s humor for all ages.”

Given HFP’s track record, Guardians of the Power Masks should be a winner. Their first production, award-winning Flight 29 Down, premiered on NBC in October, 2005 and continues to air almost daily in 100 territories.

HFP’s most recent production, Ape Escape, is a series of 38 two-minute animated episodes which air on Nickelodeon’s NickToons™ Network. Ape Escape is based on Sony PlayStation's popular 1999 interactive game of the same name. Ape Escape was animated at HFP’s animation facility in Hawai’i Kai on O’ahu and is historic in that it marks the film time a television program has been animated in Hawai’i for a national television network.

Rann and I talked briefly about HFP’s first live-action feature film, You May Not Kiss the Bride, which was filmed in Hawai’i in March 2009. It is in post-production and may be released in 2010. Written and directed by Rob Hedden, it is a romantic adventure comedy film about a mobster who tries to arrange for his daughter to obtain U.S. citizenship by setting her up with an American photographer.

“The story is so funny,” said Rann. “You know when you see the cameraman laughing, you’ve got a winner. I knew every line of the script, but [when I was on set during filming,] I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. They’d scold me, like ‘Hey, you ruined the take!’”

As we near its release date, I’ll write a more detailed column about You May Not Kiss the Bride, including how I accidentally crashed the auditions (it was not my fault) and also how I found out Tia Carrere and I have the same shoe size. You’ll want to stay tuned for that.

**NOTE: Hawai’i Film Partners is co-owned by Rann Watumull, Gina Watumull, and David Jackson and Shauna Shapiro Jackson, executives and owners of Showcase Entertainment, a worldwide film distribution company. Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, Hawaii’s largest law firm, is also a minority owner. The telephone number for the studio is (808) 447-7529.

For more information, please visit Sandy's TNNW Bio.

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