Opinion

Do China’s CCTV and Australia’s ABC show the future of co-production in Asia?

ABC/CCTV co-productionA new children’s TV co-production between China’s CCTV and Australia’s ABC may show were the future of co-production lies in the region.

Filmed over six months across freezing winter and the heat of summer on a set the size of a football field, located outside the city of Zhou Zhou two hours south of Beijing, Hoopla Doopla posed a number of challenges for the Australian and Chinese production teams working on it – not least the language barrier.

Australian director Mark Barnard worked alongside Chinese director Liang Tong with three Chinese and three Australian cast and just one translator for the first half of production, before a second joined the crew.

“We did have lots of confusing communications, like a week spent trying to communicate the difference between a first assistant director and the director’s assistant. Luckily the Chinese have a similar sense of humour and we got through with lots of laughs,” said creator and executive producer Melinda Wearne.

Wearne spent ten days in China through the six month production while the cast and crew lived on the remote set throughout the freezing temperatures of winter to the extreme heat of summer, escaping to Beijing only on weekends.

“No one spoke English. We all lived on site and rode bikes from the living quarters to the studio. Each day we’d pass a shepherd and her sheep,” she said.

Summing up the production as an “adventure”, Wearne said the circus-inspired set designed around the layout of an Italian villa, with a central courtyard, secret garden and five houses surrounding it was “amazing”.

“We could never have pulled that off without the Chinese co-production,” she said. “It needed to be strong enough to have characters jump on it, slide down poles, climb houses. The floor alone took several months to figure out the exact design so that acrobats could summersault and tumble across the floor safely, unicycles could ride across it, circus sliding tables could be secured and all without making the camera bounce.”

Simon Hopkinson, head of commissioning and development of children’s content for ABC TV, said the show would have been “prohibitively expensive” without the Chinese investment.

Hoopla Doopla!However the co-production also builds on a relationship with CCTV the ABC has been developing since 1997 when the public broadcaster co-produced the pre-school series Magic Mountain with Southern Star producer Ron Saunders. Saunders again produced Quest, a 12 part factual entertainment series while with Beyond Productions 12 years later, and is also an EP on Hoopla Doopla.

Hopkinson said: “ABC TV, and particularly children’s TV, has actively pursued opportunities for closer collaboration with our Asian neighbours in recent years, such as Serangoon Road, and the Asian Animation Summit,” Hopkinson said.

And following Hoopla Doopla he said both sides are keen to further develop the relationship. “It’s a question of finding the right project which will meet the needs of both broadcasters,” he said.

He said the ABC’s budget for the series was in line with other live action series, but would have been prohibitively expensive without the Chinese contribution.

“There are always challenges in any international co-production,” he said. “Obviously language is a major one, but there were also differences in production methodologies.

“Perhaps surprisingly we found few differences in the kind of stories we wanted to tell and the way in which we wanted to tell them.

“Of course this was helped by the Chinese sense of humour being remarkably similar to our own.

“Probably the greatest challenge was for the Australian cast and crew who spent over six months away from home. The main thing learned from the experience is that the differences between us and our Chinese colleagues are far fewer than the things we share in common.”

Credits:

Cast:
Jango – Daniel Gorski
Mimi – Kate Wright
Zap – Simon Wright
Bop – Zie Ning
Squidgie – Liu Wanting
Ziggy – Zhang Haoran

Narrator: Zindzi Okenyo

Produced by The Content Agency and Beyond Screen Productions for ABC and CCTV

Created by & Producer: Melinda Wearne
Executive Producers: Ron Saunders and Simon Hopkinson (ABC)

Australian Director: Mark Barnard
Chinese Director: Liang Tong
Circus Directors: Debra Batton
Series Script Editor: John Armstrong

Megan Reynolds

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