Ellen Eliasoph

President, CEO & Producer, Perfect Village Entertainment


As a teenager growing up in the States, I developed a passion for all things Chinese, especially literature, film and food. At university, I double-majored in English and East Asian studies, learning Chinese and Japanese in the process.

I was the first Hollywood executive to work in China, opening Warner Bros.’ office in Beijing in 1993 then being appointed managing director of Warner Bros. Pictures China, where I built the business, importing movies, establishing Warner China Film HG Corp., the firstever Sino-foreign joint venture film studio approved by the Chinese authorities, and I produced seven Chinese features.

A desire to be more involved in hands on production saw me hired by Village Roadshow to set up its Asian production arm six years ago. I am now President and CEO of Perfect Village Entertainment: a three-way joint venture between Village Roadshow, leading Chinese content company Perfect World Entertainment, and WME/IMG China.

The sci-fi action thriller Bleeding Steel is a unique project for us as our usual mode of operation is to develop a film from the get-go. Chinese production company Heyi Pictures owned the script and had Jackie Chan attached to star and produce, and Jackie had said that he wanted to shoot the film in Australia. Heyi recognised that they had no experience setting up an overseas movie shoot and so they asked for our help.

They needed an intermediary to guide them through issues like the incentives, production regulations, and employment of local crew. We said we’d love to be involved as I could see it being a groundbreaking project, but in order that our full resources could be brought into play, we asked to come on as investors.

Shooting in Australia was an invaluable education for all involved. We ended up with fabulous footage for the film. However, bringing the two film cultures of China and Australia together was quite challenging, as they couldn’t be more different.

The Chinese approach to production is very loose. Films are not tightly scripted (sometimes not scripted at all), there are no guilds, we shoot seven days a week and nobody complains. It’s very directordriven and Chinese crews are masters of creating things spontaneously. Chinese directors and crews have great flexibility to improvise and solve things on the fly. It’s a very different approach to Hollywood and Australia.

Filmmaking in Australia draws on the best of global and Chinese practices. It’s got a more indie sensibility than Hollywood. Australian productions are very well regulated and focused on safety, but at the same time Australians understand how to be creative on the fly.

The Sydney Opera House shoot was planned and executed by our Australian producing team. It was handled very professionally, and Jackie was thrilled.

But what we had to go through upfront to explain to the Chinese about getting the Sydney Opera House – the first time a fight scene has ever been filmed on its roof – was a bit disconcerting. They are such a proud and ancient culture that I realised the only way I could explain to them the uniqueness of this opportunity was to tell them that the Sydney Opera House is to Australians what The Forbidden City is to the Chinese – iconic and almost sacred.

In the end, Bleeding Steel was a wonderful coming together of two very different producing cultures and systems.

Sharon Miller was on the line 24/7 and under enormous pressure to get things right. Sharon and I had previously worked together on the first Village Roadshow Pictures Asia film made on the ground in Beijing: Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut Man Of Tai Chi, which was a difficult shoot for many reasons and she was the person on set for problem solving.

Since then we’ve travelled together, scouted locations for other projects in Australia and elsewhere. We’ve had a great time and become great friends, so when I learned she’d come on board for Bleeding Steel I said, “hallelujah”.

I’ve spent such a long time and effort solidifying the interface between Hollywood and China, and been immersed for so long in the immense challenges of working in China as a foreigner, that I haven’t focused properly on gender issues. But there are a few insights I can share.

As a woman, I must always fight to make sure my work is fairly valued and compensated – and that’s not going to change for a long time. Many things male executives take for granted and don’t hesitate to spend on, like adequate staff, support systems, resources and perquisites, women are more self-effacing about. We are afraid to ask for these resources and we do ourselves a disservice. Thinking we can and should do everything ourselves can be career destroying. I constantly remind myself that I’m no less qualified than my male counterparts.

My advice for women in the business is: you have to start by doing the work. Roll up your sleeves and get on with it and don’t assume that you will be on the same level as men. Build up your resume and your bona fides, and take on new experiences and learning opportunities. Eventually you will be entitled to, and hopefully receive, recognition for what you’ve achieved.

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Sharon Miller

Unit Production Manager