This 26 x 30-minute live-action fantasy/adventure, targeted at eight to 14 year olds, follows the adventures of two teenagers who stumble into a series of parallel worlds via a strange boat from the land of the Dragon Lord. While on their journeys, the land of the Dragon Lord comes under attack, and to save it, they must battle the ruthless and power-hungry villain Ashka.
Southern Star, Australia
Telewizja Polska, Poland
Shanghai Film Studios, China
How the partnership began:
Ron Saunders, an executive producer at Southern Star and an avid science-fiction fan, develops Spellbinder, a program in which parallel worlds exist and the history of the world is changed dramatically. The project is developed specifically to attract a foreign co-production partner.
Telewizja Polska joins Southern Star on the series, which airs in 1994 in more than 50 countries.
In June 1993, Saunders begins to think about creating a second series with a Chinese setting and begins to develop the storyline for Spellbinder II: Land of the Dragon Lord.
Saunders brings the story for Spellbinder II: Land of the Dragon Lord, to Shanghai Film Studios in China. Shanghai Film expresses interest in working on the co-production and agrees to look into the possibility further.
Telewizja Polska is enthusiastic about continuing a partnership for the second series and welcomes the idea of a co-production with a Chinese partner.
Shanghai Film agrees to a co-production deal, though a final contract must still be reached. Saunders notes that the process takes longer than usual because Shanghai Film had never entered into an international co-production before.
For further financial backing, Saunders approaches Film Australia, a production and distribution company funded by the Australian government and the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) that provides funding for Australian feature films and TV programs.
The first draft of the script is completed and the finances are secured for the production. The total budget is set at US$8 million. Telewizja Polska and Shanghai Film contribute a combined 40 percent. Australia’s Film Finance Corporation kicks in an additional 40 percent. The remaining 20 percent is split between Film Australia and Australia’s Channel 9.
A preliminary location search is held in China and Poland. Shooting begins in Poland in March and in China in August. Filming is set to begin in January 1997 in Australia.
Still photos of the series will be brought to MIPCOM for sales and promotional purposes. Saunders points out that ‘you don’t want too much material out before the release. It feels like old news when it finally hits the market.’
The program is scheduled initially to air on Channel 9 in Australia in October 1997.
Saunders expects a positive reaction from buyers and believes that the series will be acceptable to broadcasters around the world. Dubbed versions will be made for additional foreign markets.
Evaluating the partnership
In terms of the partnership itself, Saunders notes that ‘Poland works very well. This is our second series there, so we know on each side what works. We know what problems to expect.
‘With China, it was slightly different for us. [Shanghai Film] is very accommodating and they want it to work very badly, [but] China [can be] a very difficult country to work in. It is pulling itself after the rest of the world, but it is pulling itself up very quickly.’
Saunders also notes that to do these kinds of drama productions, ‘we need foreign sales or co-production deals to be in place. The amount of money available in the local market is never enough to complete the production. We need it to be a co-production. It defrays the cost substantially and lets us benefit from each other’s strengths.’