20/03/02 - Interview with William Pfeiffer - U. Notre Dame:
CEO brings Asian film to U.S.
U-Wire (University Wire)
© 2002 Copyright U-Wire. All Rights Reserved.
By Lauren Beck, The Observer (U. Notre Dame)
SOUTH BEND, Ind.-In an era seemingly dominated by American pop culture,
William Pfeiffer, CEO of Hong Kong-based Celestial Pictures, promotes
globalization by targeting local audiences. Pfeiffer, a 1982 University
of Notre Dame graduate, described his experience with the business of
contemporary Asian media as he delivered the keynote address in the
Conference on Globalization and Media in Asia on Friday. Pfeiffer has
pioneered the globalization of the media, leading film studios to adopt
the philosophy "think globally, script locally."
"We are bringing Asian film outside, exporting it to many countries
around the world, and having an impact on the quality of entertainment,"
said Pfeiffer, citing the Oscar nomination for best picture that "Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon" received as proof. Celestial Pictures, which
owns the largest film library in Asia, distributes films to studios
worldwide and also features them on new television networks it has created.
"There is a value in showing these films in their local languages.
They have crossed over and are appealing to audiences they were not
originally intended for. I think audiences appreciate the original language,"
Pfeiffer is currently developing a new Chinese film-based channel that
will be broadcast around the world. The channel also includes some Korean
and Japanese films, as well as other Asian films produced directly by
Celestial Pictures. Pfeiffer made 10 films this year, but he said he
hopes to produce 30 to 40 each year in the near future. Pfeiffer said
he viewed his work as a positive effort to promote cultural diversity
in media around the world, rather than a means to bring Hollywood to
Asia. "I don't feel like a purveyor of American culture around
the world. I have a responsibility to show local cultures in a positive
light. We have these talented actors, and I provide them with
the proper resources to make their story come alive. We create stories
with a local context." Pfeiffer has a history of melding East
and West. After earning an MBA from Stanford University, Pfeiffer moved
to Asia in 1983 and served as head of marketing for Smith Kline Beecham.
He developed a campaign to achieve acceptance for American pharmaceuticals
on the Asian market, and his success merited recognition from Walt Disney.
Disney appointed Pfeiffer head of their Asian operations and hoped
he would strengthen its presence in Asia. "There was a resistance
to change in international business because every country is unique.
It was my job as a businessman to find a new and better way," he
said. Pfeiffer brought the culture of Disney to Japan through a television
program called "The Disney Club," which combined Japanese
hosts and children with Disney animation and merchandise. The show expanded
to over 50 countries, with localized content for each one. When the
booming Japanese economy of the late 1980s failed in 1991, Pfeiffer
looked for a Future elsewhere in Asia. He moved to Hong Kong and began
working with Sony pictures. "Sony was looking for new opportunities.
Rather than go after a smaller niche, we looked at the competition around
Asia and saw the opportunity to go after the mass market with localized
content," said Pfeiffer. Sony became the first major Hollywood
studio to set up office in China, where it distributed programs to major
networks in China. But faced with restrictions on foreign production
in China, it explored other markets in Asia.
Pfeiffer and his associates saw India as a promising potential market,and
in 1995 they launched a television channel called Sony Entertainment
Television. "We developed a network of channels that would appeal
to a variety of audiences with diverse tastes," said Pfeiffer.
As more studios saw the growth opportunity in Asia and pursued their
interests there, Sony also backed Columbia TriStar International TV.
Today, Pfeiffer continues to diversify his programming by region. "You
look at regions like China, Malaysia, India-these markets are currently
depressed, they have huge populations, and they are primed for growth.
We're trying to ride the wave of the next growth in Asia," he said.
Pfeiffer said he sees a bright future for the globalization of media
as he helps transcend cultural barriers. "We are all part of
the same world. People make up many of the differences; I think we are
in reality quite similar," he said.
19/03/02 - Update
Apparently the release date is now Summer 2002 for the first batch.
Celestial Pictures, UTSB's Hong Kong subsidiary, is busy restoring
original prints, brightening faded colors and filling in broken frames
in preparation for their release this summer on DVD and other video
formats. Celestial is negotiating with potential video distributors.
UTSB plans to use the library as the foundation of a Chinese-language
movie channel, to be distributed to Chinese communities worldwide.
The channel plans to begin operations this year.
Celestial plans to issue 20 remastered movies a month, "enough
for a Shaw Bros. rack" in video stores, said Shirley Chung, Celestial's
corporate affairs general manager. This would include box sets for
Shaw's various genres, including historical dramas, ghost stories,
swordplay epics and erotic films
The First Ten wuxia titles are: Golden Swallow, Temple of the Red Lotus,
Oath of Death, Chinese Boxer, One-Armed Swordsman, Return of the One
Armed Swordsman, 14 Amazons, Last Woman of Shang, King Boxer, King Eagle
and Wandering Swordsman
24/01/02 - Email from Celestial to SB fan:
Thank you for your enquiry and your interest in the Shaw Brothers movies.
It is exciting to receive so many responses from fans of SB movies all
over the world.
Please find below answers to your questions.
1) Yes. The movies will be released in their most complete, uncut versions.
2) Yes. The movies will be released in their original screen ratio.
3) The tracks will be in their own languages (Mandarin or Cantonese)
with English subtitles.
4) and 5) We are still preparing our strategy on these matters. It
will be a worldwide launch some time around Spring/Summer. The exact
release dates have not yet been decided. The titles to be released will
include martial arts, action, adventures, period drama, comedy and musical.
12/12/01 - General Article on Shaw Brothers - Celestial (from
Celestial readies Hong Kong studio power-play
Patrick Frater in London December 12, 2001
Hong Kong, whose once famous studios now lurk like decrepit ghosts,
is about to take Asian film and TV on new thrill ride.
Celestial Pictures, which will be a vertically integrated studio operation
spanning production, distribution and broadcast, is poised to unveil
its debut slate. A series of pan-Asian film channels will follow within
One industry insider described the move as: "the most significant
thing to happen to Hong Kong cinema over the last five years."
The company is headed by William Pfeiffer, a 20-year veteran of Asian
media and until recently executive vice president, Columbia TriStar
International Television Asia. It is backed by Usaha Tegas, the privately-owned
media empire belonging to Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan. Its other
assets include the Measat and Astro satellite operations and the Maxis
mobile phone company.
Celestial started life when it paid for $77m (HK600m) for the 760-title
Shaw Brothers feature library early last year. It now owns all rights,
in perpetuity. But Celestial took on a new dimension when Pfeiffer,
who had pursued the same catalogue for Sony, persuaded Krishnan that
the collection was merely the backbone for something much bigger.
"What we are developing is a vertically-integrated, Asian-language,
focussed entertainment company," said Pfeiffer. "We are looking
at the world-wide Asian market, not just those living in Asia. This
is a strategy that proved itself at Sony."
The films, which include classics such as The One-Armed Swordsman and
The Five Deadly Venoms, are now being restored and digitally remastered
with an initial investment of $14.8m (HK$115m). Celestial sees the films
being released by its new TV arm, on DVD and possibly theatrically.
Theatrical release is the firm target of Celestials development
and production arm. Headed by the celebrated and prolific actor-director-producer
Wong Jing this is planning an initial slate of 12-15 pictures. These
are likely to include some remakes of classic Shaw titles, but is likely
to also include original material in a number of different Asian languages
Although Pfeiffer would not confirm, Stephen Chiau, the director of
recent smash hit Shaolin Soccer, is widely rumoured to be on board.
Celestial will unveil its debut slate in January.
Once up to speed, feature production could exceed 20 films a year.
TV programming and animated series are also on the agenda and being
At the same time Celestial is negotiating carriage deals on cable and
satellite networks in Asia and around the world. It envisages rolling
out a bouquet of film channels from mid-2002. The first is likely to
be a Chinese-language channel, which includes Japanese and Korean films
in its mix. "We are acquiring as many films as we can reasonably
get our hands on. They are a mixture of first run and library pictures."
While the whole Celestial project could involve total investment approaching
$100m, before it starts to see any revenues, Pfeiffer said: "we
are strongly supported and backed by Usaha Tegas. It is a long term
commitment. We would consider a strategic investor if they brought something
with them. But we dont need to that for the finance."
Pfeiffer sees Celestials multi-media approach as a means to overcome
some of the structural weaknesses of film in Asia, such as a lack of
adequate theatrical screening outlets and video piracy.
23/11/01 - Email from Celestial Pics:
Celestial Pictures will be releasing the classic SB movies on DVD in
Hong Kong, America and the UK some time in Spring. The exact release
dates have not yet been decided.
For your infomation, we are in the process of remastering the negatives
and will re-package them in a high quality standard DVD format. The
soundtrack and sub-titling will be greatly improved and it will have
a widescreen format.
The titles to be released will include martial arts, action, adventures,
period drama, comedy and musical, and they will be in their original
language with English subtitles.
Celestial Pictures owns the world's largest collection of Chinese feature
films, including the Shaw Brothers library.
Once again, thank you for your patience and we look forward to your
Executive Assistant to CEO
Although normally I am a great advocate of Subtitled movies in the
original language, this is Shaw Brothers we are talking about!! One
of the great charms of Shaw Brothers films is the fact that they manage
to persuade 10 English residents in Hong Kong at the time (some who
sound like relaitves of the Monty Python cast) to dub several hundred
films. I can only suggest that the way forward is to do dual language
(Hong Kong Legends style) if you want to rule the waves. But I'm sure
the picture quality will be superb compared to the mediocrity and sheer
crap coming out of Ground Zero, Crash etc at the moment.
4/09/01 - Celestial Pictures are going to spend $15,000,000
on re-mastering the Shaw Brothers film library!!