Mario Andreacchio is never short of a story.
As a kid growing up in a coal-mining town in South Australia in the 1950s he used to watch the coal trains late in the afternoon go off and disappear over the horizon. Lying there in the grass with his friends, the five-year-old son of Italian migrants would watch the stars come out until a light came back over the horizon. This time it wouldn't be a coal train but a train full of people.
“We used to imagine that something magical happened over there,” Andreacchio says. “That the coal changed and came back as people, supplies, sweets and lollies.”
“I don't want to look at things that are right here in front of me where everybody else is looking.”
When he was six years old Andreacchio’s family migrated back to Italy and on the boat journey he continued to look over the horizon for magic. Except this time it was exotic places like Sri Lanka, Port Aden in Yemen and Cairo that caught his imagination.
He continued his restless search, first studying experimental physics and then switching to psychology before eventually studying film at Flinders University, in South Australia. He ended up at the prestigious Australian Film Television and Radio School.
"I actually like to look beyond the horizon,” says Andreacchio. “I don't want to look at things that are right here in front of me where everybody else is looking.”
Looking over the horizon to new places has continued throughout his career. Through his Adelaide based production company AMPCO Films he has directed feature films, television specials, telemovies, children's mini-series, and a variety of documentaries. He has collaborated and worked with investors from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada and Japan. Unafraid to look internationally for his productions Andreacchio is now one of the few Australian producers whose eyes are firmly set on the Chinese market.
"I began to see that there were American studios looking to engage with China,” says Andreacchio. “I realised that there was going to be a lot of emphasis within film and the development of film because it's the way that China presents itself to the world and they know how important it is as a cultural component.”
Throwing himself in to the deep end his first co-production was the children’s movie The Dragon Pearl in 2011. Although Australian actor Sam Neill was cast to play one of the lead roles, Andreacchio made a dragon -- the Chinese cultural icon -- the star of the film.
The $US18 million film was one of the first films to be made under Australia’s China co-production treaty that began in 2008 and debuted at number one in the Chinese box office.
Yet it was Andreacchio’s respectful treatment of the dragon that positioned him firmly in the Chinese film market as a western filmmaker who could be trusted and make a return on investment.
“After we did Dragon Pearl that then gave us the foundations upon which to build our China production policy,” he says. “What we're aiming to do (now) is two to three China co-productions per year.”
Luisa Rust of the Australian Trade Commission in Shanghai has been working with Andreacchio on this plan for over a year.
“Mario has impressed the Chinese industry and his partners with his strong knowledge and passion,” she says. “(He) has established an extensive network of contacts across the film industry in China. This has been a significant investment in time and money to visit the market regularly and build strong relationships to foster cooperation.”
She goes on to say that professionalism is also very important when conducting business with China, so is a sound knowledge of the industry you are hoping to work with.
“A long term view and patience is also needed if we are to achieve the aim of greater commercial cooperation between the Australian and Chinese industries,” she adds. “I am sure that Mario is also thinking in those terms.”
While Andreacchio admits working with the Chinese market has at times been a mystery it has taught him to abandon the Australian model of film development and production.
“Customarily (in Australia) you develop the project and make it finance ready then you go out and finance the film and then you make it,” says Andreacchio “With China you almost need to finance the film first and then develop it, you actually finance on storyline or treatment and then you co-develop.”
The co-development of the final script is crucial to the process, as the Chinese film authorities need to sign off on it before you can commence production. While this may be daunting for some filmmakers, Andreacchio believes it is possible to do this without compromising the integrity of the film. However if producers do not understand this and willingly go in to a co-production without the ability to collaborate on all fronts the production will not work.
“It is a creative collaboration,” says Andreacchio. “You actually have to accept that there is going to be a creative contribution coming in from the China side as much as the Australia side. So you can’t go in to it and say this is my project but I want your money.”
Turning the Australian production model on its head has worked well for Andreachio and this July AMPCO begins pre-production on their first Australia China collaboration since The Dragon Pearl. Called Tying the Knot and directed by Nadia Tass with producer and writer David Parker, the romantic comedy is a co-production between their company Cascade Films, AMPCO and Shanghai Film and Video Technology Company.
Next in line is action/adventure film, Shimalaya that begins in August. Based on the true story of the world’s greatest aviation airlift in WWII, it is a collaboration between Chinawood Media Corporation, represented by Adelaide production company KOJO, and AMPCO .
His experience in China has made Andreacchio confident that he has found an answer to turn the struggling industry around in Australia.
"China co-productions actually confronts all those fundamentals elements in which our whole film industry is actually based,” he says. “The reason why you make a film is for profit, you don’t make a film because it is going to be a really good film.”