Listen to (and share) episode 8 of Deadline’s audio podcast Global Showbiz Watch With Nancy Tartaglione. Deadline’s international editor and host David Bloom look at Downton Abbey’s big UK debut in Season 4; controversy around the Oscar Foreign-Language candidates, including India’s choice, The Good Road; Dalian Wanda Group’s massive movie-related projects in China and whether they’re real or just real estate; and Icon’s return to film distribution in a diminished field of UK competitors.
There’s a saying I often hear when it comes to big business in China: The bigger the announcement, the less real the deal. So it’s no wonder that when Dalian Wanda Group‘s Wang Jianlin said he was going to buy AMC in 2012, folks were skeptical. And then, $2.6B later, he became the world’s largest movie theater owner last September. Now, the Wanda boss has unveiled even more ambitious plans to bring Hollywood closer to China when, surrounded by a Hollywood’s who’s who, he broke ground on the $8.2B Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis complex this weekend. Wanda separately unveiled plans to build a $4.9B Cultural Tourism City in Wuxi with theme park and movie elements. Now, it’s important to balance the hoopla with the understanding that Wang Jianlin’s core business is real estate. In China, access to prime property is overseen by a government which wants to see development. That’s why some see this as a land grab wrapped in a Hollywood story.
Hollywood turned out in force for the unveiling of the Movie Metropolis complex, with moguls like Harvey Weinsten and Patrick Wachsberger, and stars from Nicole Kidman to Leonardo DiCaprio and John Travolta rubbing elbows with China’s richest man (rumors that talent was paid 7-figure appearance fees were refuted). Even AMPAS president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs was there, on the heels of a $20M donation from Wanda. The Movie Metropolis complex will create 10,000 square meters of studios, a film museum, movie theaters, resort hotels and other “cultural tourism projects.” It will open in June 2016 and be fully operational in 2017. Wanda also announced plans to bring in over 50 domestic production companies to make 100 films and TV shows per year, with another 30 foreign movies expected to be made in China, which was a reason that some talent agency honchos made the long trip; as well as to support talent and see the level of Wanda’s commitment. Among those present was UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Dalian Wanda Group wants a Hollywood studio to join a joint venture meant to build a massive studio and grow film and other media investments in the region. This has been part of a weekend in which stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman, moguls like Harvey Weinstein, and agents including UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer and WME’s Mike Simpson attended a launch party for Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin to unveil plans to spend up to $8.2 billion on an entertainment center in Qingdao he says will include a theme park and the world’s largest film studio. Wang Jianlin is reportedly China’s richest man, and WSJ reports he has made deals with four top talent agencies to attract talent that will be part of his plan to make 30 films each year.
We will have to see how this works out. India’s Reliance Entertainment made first-look deals five years ago with a coterie of stars and their companies to generate films with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Nicolas Cage, Brett Ratner, Chris Columbus, Jay Roach, Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts, Playtone’s Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment. Each was a seven-figure commitment from Reliance, which has nothing to show for its investment.