Earlier this year, what was formerly Oriental Dreamworks changed to become Pearl Studio, with China-based CMC Capital Partners taking over full ownership. That made Pearl a fully Chinese-owned production studio.
The studio had previously worked on Kung Fu Panda 3 and is currently delivering Abominable (formerly Everest) in 2019. Already there are several previously announced projects coming from Pearl, such as Glen Keane’s Over the Moon, Untitled Chinatown Project, The Monkey King, Illumikitty, and Lucky. A brand new project, Tiger Empress, has also just been revealed.
So, what has the journey from Oriental Dreamworks to Pearl Studio been like so far? And what about the long-term trajectory of the studio? Cartoon Brew spoke to Pearl chief creative officer Peilin Chou to find out more.
The biggest change, clearly, with the advent of Pearl is that the studio is no longer exclusive to Dreamworks Animation. While Abominable remains a collaboration with Dreamworks, Pearl’s future releases are with a range of other distribution and production partners, “which allows us cater to each specific project’s needs and sensibility,” said Chou. “For example, for our 2020 film Over the Moon, we are partnering with Netflix, which is the perfect platform and collaboration for that particular film.”
Which brings up the question, what kinds of films and projects is Pearl looking to make? Chou says the studio wants to be a “premier family entertainment brand.” The chief creative officer adds that the studio also has some fairly lofty goals that will apply to all of their projects.
“We are not afraid of our movies having a sophistication, and also being earnest, inspiring and joyful, versus cynical. Perhaps most uniquely, we are looking to awaken our audience. This means promoting diversity and global citizenry in our films – not in a way that is preachy or political, but in a way that just reflects the world as it really is. This gets to the heart of who we are as a company.”
With several films in production, Pearl is retaining its Shanghai headquarters, with development offices also in New York and Los Angeles. When the studio was equity partners with Dreamworks, all of its productions were executed in-house between Dreamworks and the Shanghai studio. That’s now changed; Pearl has evolved to a production outsource model and will work with different partner studios. “It gives us more flexibility to pursue films and projects of different budget ranges and styles,” noted Chou.
Pearl’s newest project, Tiger Empress, tells the story of a young tigress who grows from the obedient daughter of a ‘Tiger Mom’ into a transformational leader after a prophecy convinces her that she’s the only one who can save their kingdom. The film’s idea came from Justinian Huang, just announced as Pearl’s head of development. Tiger Empress is to be written by David Henry Hwang, who is best known as the playwright of M. Butterfly.
Meanwhile, Abominable has a U.S. release date of September 27th, 2019. Its name changed from Everest in May this year, and the film will be distributed by Universal Pictures stateside, and by Pearl in China. The director is Jill Culton (Open Season), with Todd Wilderman (Trolls, The Croods) as co-director. The film taps into Pearl’s desire to tell more Chinese-centric stories.
“One of the unique things about the film is that this is the first time a major global animated film will be set in modern day China, and will feature modern day Chinese teenagers,” said Chou. “Of course Kung Fu Panda 3, which we co-produced, was also set in China, but that was ancient China rather than modern day, and it was animals rather than humans. We are very excited to provide a backdrop and portrait of contemporary China, and believe it provides for a compelling hook, look, and setting for unique and engaging storytelling.”
With its future no longer tied to an American studio, Pearl is of course capitalizing on the changing landscape of cinema within China itself. Chou points out that the country has now become the largest theatrical box office market in the world, and the studio wants to take advantage of that momentum.
“The landscape has become such that it’s quite difficult to have a globally successful film without winning in China,” said Chou. “One of the great advantages of being a Chinese company is that we have roots on the ground in China, which gives us unique insight and a deeper understanding of the market, as well as how to appeal to its rapidly growing and constantly evolving consumers.”
AT 2018 ANNECY: Peilin Chou, and directors Glen Keane and Jill Culton, are presenting more about Pearl at Annecy. The event takes place Thursday, June 14, at 6pm in Salle Pierre Lamy.