I wanted to see it for myself, the arrival of a giant player from across the Pacific Ocean, landing on our shores to declare: We have arrived.
Everyone who was anyone in the movie business made it their business to be at Dalian Wanda’s presentation on Monday, cramming into a smallish theater at LACMA in Los Angeles, filling the seats and lining the walls to hear what CEO Wang Jianlin had to say.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was there, as was Motion Picture Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, producer Avi Arad, Lionsgate executive Patrick Wachsberger and, of course, Thomas Tull, whose Legendary Pictures Wanda acquired for the stunning sum of $3.5 billion less than a year ago. Also, a lot of pretty ladies in peach floor-length sequined gowns.
What Wang Jianlin said, essentially, was that China is going to dominate global moviegoing for the foreseeable future and it intends to dominate movie production, too.
“Any negative outlook on China’s film market is incorrect,” he told the room via simultaneous translation, noting that despite some economic slowdown elsewhere, the Chinese box office is growing at about 15 percent per year — a “sustainable” figure he said that is expected to continue for years.
Backing up his claim is money, lots of it, and consumer demand, a lot of it.
A few points to ponder:
* In 2016 the Chinese box office will reach $8 billion
* By 2018 the box office will surpass North America to reach $10 billion
* By 2026 the Chinese movie market will be $30 billion, 40 percent of the global box office
Then he showed a short film narrated by Matt Damon unveiling a “movie metropolis” in Qingdao (in China’s eastern Shandong province), aiming to become a kind of Hollywood East.
Qingdao Movie Metropolis is to be an $8.2 billion, 408-acre mega studio that will include Wanda Studios, China’s first world-class production facility, and much more: sound stages, a back lot, a theme park, a convention center, six resort hotels, a marina, international schools and China’s largest cinema, with 5,300 seats.
And to draw Hollywood producers to the site, Wanda also announced a 40 percent production rebate and a stunning $750 million in production funding for the next five years. The official press release noted almost as an afterthought: “By 2020, Wanda Group aims to become a world-class multinational corporation with assets of $200 billion, market capitalization of $200 billion, revenue of $100 billion and net profits of $10 billion.”
So their ambitions are not exactly subtle.
For those who were here in Hollywood when the German money was flush, when the Japanese were spending big in media and entertainment, when the Gulf Arabs were throwing around cash, the China foray may have a familiar feel.
I remember visiting cash-rich Dubai and Abu Dhabi in fall 2008 just as the world financial markets were failing, and being given a tour around the massive production facilities that were being built with the aim of making the Arabian Gulf a hub for global movie and television production.
But the financial crisis endured, oil prices fell and that never happened.
China is different, and it feels like everyone knows it. Wanda has lined up allies in Hollywood – not just Tull but AMPAS elder statesman Hawk Koch, and Boone Isaacs, who got Wanda to endow a wing in the new AMPAS museum.
Wang was no supplicant in his evening presentation. He didn’t hesitate to tell Hollywood how they should fix their storytelling ills: “You have to find ways to please the Chinese audience,” he said, adding, “Now Hollywood tells less of a good story. To depend just on the scene and [special] effects will not work forever.”
As the group of Chinese VIPs were being given a private tour of the unfinished museum, Hollywood’s moguls gathered on the plaza for a few drinks before the Wanda-hosted dinner – Warner’s Kevin Tsujihara, former Fox chief Jim Gianopulos, UTA partner Jim Berkus, Sony’s Andrew Gumpert, MGM’s Gary Barber to name a few.
None would be so foolish as to ignore the arrival of a foreign potentate. The moment feels like a new turning point in the history of Hollywood. When a Chinese behemoth lands on your shores and lays claim to future partnership, whether you want it or not, even in clubby Hollywood the natives learn to play nice.