Larry Namer, President of Metan Development, discusses communicating with Chinese partners, his new film fund, and why he is now shooting some projects in English.
Larry Namer is an entertainment industry veteran with over 45 years of professional experience in cable television, live events, and new media.
Caryn: This is the China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast, Episode #2.
Caryn: This is Caryn McCann, the host of the China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast. A Podcast about creating and distributing main content for both Hollywood and China. Before I introduce today’s guest. I like to start out with an inspirational quote. I like to encourage listeners to continue on their path to achieving their own “Greenlight.” And today’s quote is, from
Albert Einstein, and he said, “You never fail until you stop trying.”
Our guest today is Larry Namer, who is an entertainment industry veteran with over 45 years of professional experience in cable television, live events, new media, Mr. Namer is the Co-Founder of E-Entertainment Television. And he is also the Founding Partner of Metan Development Group, a venture created to develop entertainment and media specifically for the Chinese marketplace. Metan is adapting several formats of popular western TV shows for localized Chinese markets, as well as developing an original sitcom. Recently it was announced that Mr. Namer would Executive produce a new TV series, “The Bruce Lee Project.” Which is an original competition format based on the iconic martial artist Bruce Lee.
Caryn: So, welcome Mr. Namer, and thank you for coming on the show today.
Larry: A, thank you for having me.
Caryn: I’ve given the audience a little overview of you. But, why don’t you tell them a little bit about yourself and your business?
Larry: Sure. I have sold “E” for a while back and started doing a lot of stuff, overseas and such. I’ve kind of decided that independent probably was advisable to start looking for new markets, and where you could be competitive with the big guys. And I discovered China, for the most. I’ve been in there for most of my years now. And we were kind of a broad-based media company that we do television, we do film, we do internet content, we do concerts, live events, all sorts of things. You know, it was, as far as western companies go, we probably been one of the most successful there.
Caryn: Wow, congratulations, great. Well, I’d like to ask you a few questions. The first one is – tell the audience 2 or 3 tasks, I know no day is typical in this industry. But, can you kind of give the audience an idea of your day? What are 2 or 3 main tasks you do on a typical day?
Larry: Well, we have multiple shows that are in production. So, you know, for me. We get, at my level, I’m overseeing you know, 5 or 6, or 7, different projects at the same time. So, it’s really a lot of what I do is just, the kind of weigh-in on technical decisions on casting for something, we’re down to the final pair. I’ll jump in on that if we’re, you know, looking at figuring out what to do? The distribution platform, it would be perfect for a certain type of show, I get involved in that. I kind of decision making, wading into the adventure of it, a new area, for us, again. So, a lot of my stuff is more business development these days.
Caryn: Okay. And is that mostly, are you most of the time in the U.S.?
Larry: A, no. I used to be 2/3 China, 1/3 U.S. Now I’m 2/3 U.S. 1/3 China. Because while we’re doing it, “The Bruce Lee Show” is a perfect example. We’re creating full formats in the East. And developing them, we’re finding them, bringing those to other countries. So,
“The Bruce Lee” project we developed well in China, and we’ve now sold it, that format in 8 other countries.
Caryn: Well, 8 is a lucky number, so that’s great. Now, how did you find your business partner, I mean, how do you suggest the listeners find their own Chinese business partners?
Boots on the Ground
Larry: Well, you know, you have to, Americans are a little bit naïve when it comes to that. They think that they can just sit in Hollywood, you know, and do business successfully. And try to, and it doesn’t work that way. You know, the one thing we’ve got if you want to do business in China, you’ve got to make a commitment to bring business in China. And you have to have, you know, boots on the ground and have people there. And you have to really get the very first-hand knowledge of the market. Not jump into just picking a partner, just because they sound good from a press release, something like that. And then really spend a lot of time doing research. The most important decision you’ll make there.
Caryn: Do you need to speak Chinese?
Larry: A, no, I mean, my Chinese is mediocre at its best. You need to have partners that do. Most of the people in the company are all they are all Chinese nationals. So, typically education educated them in the west, and return to China. So, they are bi-lingual by culture.
Caryn: Okay, great. Tell me about an obstacle you encountered in the past. How did you overcome it, and what did you learn?
The Language Barrier
Larry: Well, you know, one of the biggest things, you know, I think most people don’t learn unless you’re there is, just the difference in Chinese business culture. You know, even among our own staff. I would you know, be ready to go back to L.A. take the people through. You’ve got to do this, this, this, this, and this. Do you understand what I mean? And they would shake their head, yes. And I would assume that that means yeah. That really means, I totally don’t understand what you’re talking about. But, I’m not going to say that. So, it’s really, you know, that’s the cultural thing. Chinese don’t like to admit that they don’t understand something.
So, they just kind of shake their head and indicate the shake of the head is, yes. That’s not what it means in China. So, you know, really learning those nuances and stuff is really, probably the most difficult. And probably the best thing that we’ve ever done.
Caryn: So, when someone shakes their head and says, yes. You know the meaning
Larry: We take it, we take it as yes. But when they shake their head, it means, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.
Caryn: Okay, so you’re very aware of how to handle that situation since you’ve been through it so many times.
Larry: Yes, a-huh.
Caryn: Okay. This is like a pretend question. If you could magically solve 2 pain points, what would they be
Larry: A one, is just the difference in cultural things, you know. One of the things we find in China. Even though there are cultural differences. There are also things that shouldn’t just be accepted as cultural differences. Like, for example, when we were, you know, we would do a TV show, when we were here in the U.S. There would never be an excuse for an editor being off, you know, a frame then. In China
Caryn: An editor what? Frame?
Editing Mistakes in China
Larry: You know, be off frame, you know, a minor glitch, would not be acceptable here. And then, in China we would, you know, we would look at something and say, that’s edited as well. But tell ya, yeah but it’s only through 2 frames. You know, but it can’t be off that. They go, well, this is China. Here, the biggest thing, that you know, drives me nuts, is that this is China, kind of stuff. I don’t worry about it, it doesn’t have to be good. Yeah, that changing. But that’s probably part of the main one, that you know, bugs me.
Caryn: Is there a second? A pain point, you would like to solve.
Larry: A no, not, you know, I think that’s it, it all relates to that. You know, it’s like well, you know, you say something, and they go, well, you don’t understand China. You know, yes in many ways they’re right. They try to, but they do understand the business, the way it’s done around the world. And just because it’s done a certain way in China, doesn’t mean, that’s the way the rest of the world is going to accept it.
Caryn: So, when you are in those circumstances – is there a little push back? You can say that yeah, I don’t understand, maybe I don’t understand China, completely – but, I know how business is done worldwide.
Larry: Yes, and that’s, you know, you got to take time to learn, when to push back and when to just roll your eyes and move on.
The Bruce Lee Project
Caryn: Okay, you mentioned, “The Bruce Lee Project.” What are some of the future projects that you are looking for? For example, film, TV, the genre, the budget range, the story elements. And what do you think the Chinese Studios are looking for?
Larry: I well, you know, the Chinese Studios are looking for great hits. That’s the simple answer. We are not going to be players, you know, the big, you know, the big “Transformer” kind of anything like that, that’s not where we shine. So, we tend to stay, we love doing internet content. We love doing things for more brands. That really want to influence and relay the brand message, into a story that rolled over episodes of a TV show, not as a 30-second commercial.
So, we love developing those because you get the immediate feedback you know whether you’ve been successful. Or, in China, a successful show can you know, move the acceptance for a brand some points. Which you know, here in the U.S. you can’t do that anymore. And so, we look for films, that we think to transcend both China and the U.S. And so, you know, we’re doing 3 films now, that are in some form of pre-production, we’ve got several TV shows. Where we’re looking at some music opportunities, so that’s kinda it.
Caryn: The feature films, are those all one particular genre?
Larry: A no. Those two feature films are across the board. The biggest one we’re doing, of course, is something called, Empress which is about the first woman ruler of China. You know, it’s been done in China’s TV shows many, many times. And you know, she’s kind of George Washington, of China. So, everybody there knows her. But nobody outside of knows who she is. And in China you know, she’s been dealt with this famous historical figure. We’re looking at doing this movie a little bit differently.
China’s Only Female Emperor
In other words, more in her as a woman, who is really struggling in a male-dominated society. In all the things for she went through because she was the woman as opposed to the traditional male emperor. So, that’s been written by Ron Bass, who won an Academy Award for “Rain Man.” And the movie is going to be done with all ethnically Chinese actors. But, the movie will be done in English. Yeah, so it, you know, it gets, again we’ve managed to give it a universal theme. A woman struggles to make it in a male-dominated society. And if we just, you know, make a good movie people actually learn a little bit about Chinese history and Chinese culture. Where if we did the movie in Mandarin, and then sub-titled it, then 1% of the people around the world to go see it.
Caryn: In the past, a lot of your content has been in Chinese, is this a new departure? Where you’re going to do more, in English.
Larry: That’s a departure in actually is something that we suggested as far as some folks in the Chinese government. You know, at first, we kind of raised our eyes, and said, really? Ah, but then we thought about it. And they were right, really. People said, sub-title it, who’s going to go see it? If we make it in English, someone might actually learn a lot. She’s not a controversial figure in a political sense, you know. She’s controversial in you know, maybe other ways. So, she’s, it’s quite a while back, in history, not a sensitive subject.
So, yeah that’s a little bit different, we look for a, we like low budget because it’s the business model that. You know, we can work in, you know, a new thing that we did, is that we actually, started a film fund. Where you know, which is outside of China. Which where we’re doing tax credit lending, pre-sales lending, for independent films that we think have a chance of playing in China. Even if it’s just digital platforms. So, we’re now in the film finance business a little bit, and that’s a new thing.
Caryn: Oh, congratulations, wow that’s great. Now I just want to clarify one thing. You said, that the films, your ideal film is, low-budget. Can you give me an idea, of what the numbers are, what the budget was?
Larry: So, if you take a film like “Empress” you know you’re looking at the $40-Million-dollar range, that’s not low-budget. But, in general, we look for things that are, you know, kind of in the $5 to $10-Million-dollar range. So, we’re not looking low-low-budget, we’re not micro-budget. But you know, we’re below $10.
Caryn: And you had Chinese partners, on this Chinese film fund?
Larry: Yes, we did.
Caryn: Great, well congratulations on that, that’s really great news. I look forward to reading all about that. Now, I would like to ask a question. Because some of the audience members are, some are established, some are just starting out. So, the guests here can give them career advice. If you could do your career over again. What if anything could you do differently?
Larry: What would I do differently? I’m not sure there’s really, my career has been kind of varied and sorted. I kind of reinvent myself, ever seven years because I get bored with whatever I’m doing. You know, I started out you know, a cable installer. And you know, been in that, then I started building cable systems out in California, and then “E” and I did a lot of stuff in Russia. I’ve been reasonably successful, everything I’ve done, but I keep just every 7 years. I’ve just come up with some grand new idea. Chinese is a little different,
I’m just trying to do so well, that I’ll stick with what I’m doing, for a while, probably, you know, I would have done investments a little bit differently. You know, I probably should have invested more in cable systems, which I didn’t, but you know. Like I say, there’s not a lot of different complaints.
Caryn: Yeah, well, you’ve had a stellar career. Congratulations to you again. Now, you sort of already eluded to this. My next question is what do you, what are you trying to accomplish this quarter? You mentioned the film front, that’s new. You’re now shooting in English, that’s new, anything else? Any surprises ahead, that you can give us?
The World of Fashion
Larry: Yeah, I’m doing, you know, later-stage development that we actually shot over a little proof of concept stuff. A big show, kind of a news magazine, about the world fashion, for the Chinese market. So, we’re shooting it in Mandarin. But, we are going around the film weeks around the world. Just covering the films in a week. Not the film, I’m sorry, fashion week. And so, we’re really looking at the fashion of this pop culture. As opposed to you know, high fashion. So, it was more and more street fashion, the music, the models, the people, the stories around the fashion world is most of the fashion itself.
Caryn: Oh, wow, that’s great content, I look forward to seeing that. Now, tell us what skills or talents are essential to being effective in your job?
Larry: 1. You have to be incredibly thick-skinned. Because you are going to be wrong more times than not. Most of the time people are not afraid to tell you that. Yeah but, you know, that’s okay. You know, it’s persistence, knowing when you’re right. And just not letting go. Because you can’t do it. If you look at me, when Allen and I started, “E.” Where we told people about the idea of people looked at us and said, “Listen, you’re not with Murdock, you know, you can’t start a TV network.
We just kept looking at it, knowing, why not? People kept saying, when did you know, it was going to be successful. And you know, our answers from the first day we thought about it. And it was such an obvious, you know it wasn’t from great scientific experiments, that it was obvious to us. That, that was missing in the landscape, of media. And we knew it was going to be successful, just had to get it going. But, it took 3 ½ years, before somebody would give us the first dollar to get it going.
Caryn: Wow. Now, this is kind of a trick question. What question did I not ask, that I should have?
Larry: Huh, let’s see, ‘how do I relieve stress’ is a good one.
Larry: I love cooking, more than I do television or movies.
Caryn: Oh, you need to do a cooking show.
Larry: Eh. You know, it’s funny because I actually, did 4 episodes, of a cooking show in China. On Beijing TV. Where they basically they did a, they followed me around from here. Cooking, I’m a very good cook, a Chinese Cook. I can cook a lot of things. They covered me cooking Chinese, they were fascinated by the fact that I could do it. So,
Caryn: What kind of cooking, you like?
Larry: I do Chinese food.
Larry: All different types of Chinese, I cook French, I cook Italian, just over as I cook up most everything.
Caryn: Okay, well we’ll look forward to your next cooking, your future cooking show.
Caryn: Now what advice can you give those aspiring to tap into the Chinese market.
Learn Chinese Culture
Larry: Well, I mean, number one is, get yourself over there. And you know, spend, make the commitment that you’re going to spend some time, live there, don’t live in the expat area. Live among the Chinese and make sure you’re going to be comfortable doing business in that market. Because, you’re not going to do it, sitting in the U.S. You’re going to have to spend a lot of time there, for all sorts of reasons. If you’re not going to be comfortable, doing it, then you know, better to find out, early on, than later on. So, first thing is, get yourself over there, you get to live among, you know, the Chinese community, and begin to learn the culture.
Caryn: Okay, now, thank you for that information, you’ve given us some great tips and great stories. In conclusion, is there any projects that you mentioned, “The Empress Project.” Any other projects you would like to plug, social media handles, or website links?
Larry: Well, you can find us you know, www.metandevelopmentgroup.com
We now have a little site up for our fashion project – www.fashionx.us
and we have some preliminary information up there. But those are 2 new ones.
Caryn: Okay. Well, thank you, Mr. Namer, for sharing your expertise with us today. You’ve given us, some great information and a peek at some new, news, so thank you for that, thank you for being on the show today.
Larry: Okay, thank you.
Caryn: We’ll see you at the premiere.
3 Key Points
Caryn: Larry Namer of Metan Development had some key points.
Boots on the Ground
You can’t sit in Hollywood and do business successfully in China. 1 thing – you have to make a commitment to doing business in China. Need boots on the ground. Have people there. Needs 1st hand knowledge of the market.
Research your business partner
Don’t jump into picking a partner because they sounded good in a press release. Spend a lot of time researching this.
Understand the language barrier
Chinese don’t like to admit they don’t understand. In China, yes doesn’t always mean yes. Learn those nuances.
Metan Development loves internet content – so writers/producers – listen up. Here is just one of many opportunities Metan has.
Shooting In English
They are now shooting projects in English. Surprisingly the Chinese government suggested this. Why – because you’ll reach a bigger audience if you shoot in English.
Their ideal budget is between 5-10M.
They started a film fund outside of China. They can do tax credit lending and presales lending for indie films that can play in China –even if it’s just on digital platforms.
They’re starting work on a new TV show about the Chinese world of fashion. It will highlight the music, the models, and the people. It will be stories about the fashion world as opposed to the fashion itself. Who knows – they may even be keen on a feature film script that includes some fashion angles that could cross over to their TV show.
Larry loves cooking – so here’s a crazy idea – develop a script that revolves around fashion and I’m sure Larry will love it.
China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast – Episode 02
Host: Caryn McCann
Guest: Larry Namer – President and CEO – Metan Development Group,
Founder of E! Entertainment
The Bruce Lee Project (TV series) http://imdb.to/2h2Ejie