Dalian Wanda, the Chinese conglomerate, unveiled plans for an $8 billion “movie metropolis” in Qingdao at an extraordinary event in the heart of Hollywood on Monday night, surrounded by a who’s who of Hollywood luminaries.
Wanda founder and CEO Wang Jianlin, possibly the most talked-about man in entertainment today, announced the latest steps in his plan for world domination, telling the crowd: “This is an opportunity for Hollywood. This is not a competition for Hollywood.”
The crowd filing into the “U.S.-Sino Business Evening” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater — which included the likes of Screening Room founder Sean Parker, Lionsgate co-chair Patrick Wachsberger, MGM CEO Gary Barber, Marvel Studios chairman Avi Arad — was greeted with a video montage featuring a dramatic classical music score highlighting Dalian Wanda Group’s of mega-malls, skyscrapers, theme parks and financial milestones.
It also laid out some of the Chinese conglomerate’s ambitions, including reaching $100 billion in revenue and $10 billion in profit by 2020, and — mindful of its Hollywood audience — underlined its green building credentials. And soon after, Wang — who sat next to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — took the stage to present the next chapter in Wanda’s plans to become a global force in entertainment.
Wang announced a 40 percent rebate — jointly funded by Wanda along with certain Chinese regional governments — intended to lure Hollywood production to China. More specifically, to Wanda’s under-construction Qingdao Movie Metropolis, a 408-acre studio that will include the world’s largest indoor sound stage. He noted that the incentives will total $750 million over the course of five years.
Wanda also announced the first batch of projects that will take advantage of the offering and shoot in Qingdao. “Pacific Rim 2,” produced by Wanda-owned Legendary Entertainment will be the first movie to shoot at the park when cameras roll later this month. Legendary’s “Godzilla” will also be shot there.
Lionsgate, along with China Media Capital-backed Infinity Pictures, Arad Productions, Arclight Films, Kylin Pictures, Base Media, Beijing Dirty Monkey Culture Industry Development and Juben Pictures have also agreed to shoot upcoming films at the $8.2 billion studio complex.
Wang repeatedly framed Qingdao Movie Metropolis as something that would complement Hollywood, not take business away from it.
He also provided details on the 40 percent rebate plan, which would be one of the world’s most generous. It’s being underwritten by the Qingdao regional governments in partnership with Wanda — the first time a private company has directly bankrolled an incentive plan like this.
Wanda has had an eventful 2016, beginning with its $3.5 billion purchase of Legendary Entertainment, a bout of theme park brinkmanship with Disney in June, and ongoing talks to acquire Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion. Wanda’s AMC Theaters is also in discussions to acquire Carmike Cinemas, making it North America’s largest exhibitor.
The conglomerate is on pace to spend $30 billion on deals this year — half in sports and entertainment. And last month, Wang confirmed his long-rumored desire to buy a major studio, telling CNN he’s interested in buying at least 50 percent of one of the “Big Six.”
And while Wanda has been scooping up entertainment assets since buying AMC Theaters back in 2012, Washington has recently taken notice. In a three-day span earlier this month, two separate government agencies were asked to take a closer look at Wanda’s entertainment dealings, and the Washington Post published an acerbic editorial warning that “China could seek to spread pro-regime propaganda via ownership of U.S. entertainment media.”
With that backdrop, Wang decided to tone down his trademark bombast — he’s previously boasted about Wanda’s theme parks and said Disney “really shouldn’t have come to China” on state-run TV. On Monday, he adopted a more conciliatory tone, viewing Hollywood as partners, not opponents to be vanquished. However, he did state that adding Chinese cultural elements in movies makes good business sense, as China is on pace to have the world’s largest box office as soon as next year.
“From a business perspective, just look at the best way to make money,” Wang advised. “Don’t make it a political issue.”
Wang said the best way for Hollywood to capitalize on that under-tapped market is to add “Chinese cultural elements” to blockbusters. “How do you add those elements?” he asked. “You can figure it out.”
Wang was preceded on stage by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Boone Isaacs said Hollywood benefits from “cross-pollination” between American filmmakers and international partners.
“We’re not growing if we aren’t gaining new perspective,” she said. “And China is a wonderful land in which to explore new horizons.”
Boone Isaacs also announced the naming of the Wanda Library at the Academy’s museum, currently under construction.
“Simply put, Wanda has the potential to create an unprecedented bridge between the American and Chinese movie communities,” she said, citing its ability to help U.S. filmmakers wade through “political and cultural challenges” in China.
Garcetti took the stage next — to the “Indiana Jones” theme. “Dalian Wanda has been an exceptional friend to Los Angeles,” the mayor said, mentioning the company’s significant local real estate developments — such as a condominium and hotel project in Beverly Hills — and “the investments you are now making in our signature industry, the entertainment industry.”
Garcetti said he wanted to welcome companies like Wanda — even as Wang comes to town to explicitly try to recruit filming elsewhere.
Wang argued that the Qingdao park wouldn’t directly pull production from Hollywood, but from other foreign destinations that have recently become popular filming spots, such as Australia. And while Garcetti reiterated that he would be “strong in promoting Los Angeles as a place to film.”
Despite all the talk about working together, Wang couldn’t resist needling Hollywood a little bit, such as when he talked about the behind-the-camera jobs his new studio will create.
“Qingdao Movie Metropolis will increase a lot of employment opportunities for technical people in Hollywood,” Wang said. “They might even make more money at Qingdao Movie Metropolis.”
He also took a bit of a shot at what he perceived is the over-reliance of blockbusters on special effects rather than storytelling.
“From a Chinese perspective, Hollywood is the professor and Chinese filmmakers are the students,” he said. “How do you tell the teacher to increase their quality?”