Top execs share what the Chinese studios are looking for.
China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast – Episode 9
Host: Caryn McCann
Guest: Peter Iacono – President of International Film and TV Distribution – Lionsgate
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lionsgate @Lionsgate
Guest: Schuyler (Sky) Moore, Partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP
Youtube channel: Sky Moore Attorney http://bit.ly/2AklbIi
GUEST: Charles Morris Jr. Vice President of Acquisitions and Development of Global Genesis Group.
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/globalgenesisgroup/
Charles’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/charlesmorrisjr
China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast – Episode #9
Caryn McCann: This is the China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast, Episode #9.
Caryn McCann: This is Caryn McCann, the host of the China Hollywood Greenlight podcast. Welcome to the first episode of 2018. Today’s podcast will be a roundup of what several experts say Americans and Chinese studios are looking to produce in the near future. I took a few clips from a broad spectrum of guests – included a studio head, a lawyer, an independent film and TV company, and an animation company. I hope this information can crystalize for you – as it has for me – how to make your projects more marketable and get you closer to your own green light.
If you like the show, please go to iTunes, subscribe, and leave a rating so other people can find this podcast.
Any links mentioned in the podcast can be found in the show notes as well as a full transcript at chinahollywoodgreenlight.com / podcast and look for this episode which is #9.
Before we begin, I like to start with a motivational quote. Today’s quote comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson – and he said: “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
My first clip is from Peter Iacono is the President of International Film and TV Distribution Lionsgate. Lionsgate sealed a $1.5 Billion-dollar deal with China’s Hunan TV. That deal encompasses film finance, as well as Hunan’s foreign language output deal. And international markets, and a TV production component.
Mr. Iacono oversees international distribution, sales, marketing, 3rd Party Acquisitions, as well as international format sales and productions. Here is that clip.
Peter Iacono: I think, you know, the great thing about working at Lionsgate is twofold. I mean, and I will answer this question. Too, I think that at the end of it you might say, hum, did he really answer the question at all? Because you seem to say, the same thing for everything. So, let me, because we’re a very wide and diverse company, and we’re a very entrepreneurial company, we always look at everything. But, our calling card, we have a calling card, and what we are most known for, and what we are best at is?
Big drama, high quality, big drama, and it would be wonderful, to be able to figure out a way to make something in China that we could distribute around the world. It would be wonderful to take a Chinese story and perhaps, you know, make that in the English language. The language that could be distributed around the world.
So, maybe both could take something outside of China. Or maybe looking at a wonderful Chinese story that maybe could be distributed in China, and the region. Because, we are best known for high quality, great storytelling, big drama. That being said, we are also currently right now, looking at something possibly putting some unscripted competition game show formats on, right now, on the Chinese market. So, it’s very, very, difficult, for information, big-budget drama.
So, that’s why I think when I answer the question? It might sound like he’s fishing; it sounds like he’s looking at everything. Because if he’s looking at the biggest, highest quality budget drama. And also, looking at some you know, unscripted competition reality shows. Where our calling card is, unique, and good quality.
Caryn McCann: In what language?
Peter Iacono: You know, primarily we do produce in the English language, that we have been looking at getting a foothold in the Chinese market. And so, because this is new for us. Looking at an unscripted show, it’s a lot easier, it’s a big step, it’s a great, great, first step into that market. And then you know, with luck it can blossom into scripted television shows and feature film.
Caryn McCann: My takeaways are as follows:
- Lionsgate is known for big high-quality dramas. And they are looking for a Chinese story that can be distributed around the world.
- Parallel to big dramas, they are looking to break into the Chinese TV market by finding an unscripted competition gameshow format. They hope that will lead to making narrative TV shows and feature films.
In this next segment, I interviewed Larry Namer, the head of Metan Development Group which is a China-centric media and entertainment company. Here is what he said about what they are looking for and what the Chinese studios are looking for:
Larry Namer: 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 movies or anything like that 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 wants 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 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 McCann: The feature films, are those all one particular genre?
Larry Namer: A no. Those 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 the 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. In other words, more in her as a woman, who is really struggling in a male-dominated society and n 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 McCann: In the past, a lot of your content has been in Chinese, is this a sudden departure? Where you’re going to do more, in English.
Larry Namer: That’s a departure in actually is something that we suggested to us by 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, on 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 McCann: You can see that Metan Development loves internet content. Also – the big news from Larry is that they are now shooting in English. Another important market intelligence you can use would be They’re 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.
Next up is Sky Moore who is a partner in the corporate entertainment department of Greenberg Glusker, practicing entertainment, corporate, and tax law. and he represents various entertainment professionals including producers, sales agents, foreign distributors, and financiers. Author of several books including The Biz: The Basic Business, Legal, and Financial Aspects of the Film Industry, and Taxation of the Entertainment Industry, plus the book What They Don’t Teach You in Law School.
He points out the difference between American and Chinese producers in that the Americans are looking for money and the Chinese are looking for content. He mentions how the Chinese have turned inward. Here’s what he said:
CHINA TURNING INWARD?
Caryn McCann: Let me move, let me ask this what sort of future projects are your clients looking for – film, TV, genre, budget? And what do you think the Chinese studios are looking for?
Sky Moore: They’ve really turned inward right now and the markets been so big there – Wolf Warrior coming in and they like over like nine hundred million U.S. dollars. So, my clients are either doing Chinese productions in China and I’ve got U.S. clients that have gone to China.
If you’re in China – it’s a totally vibrant market. It’s what the U.S. was thirty years ago. It’s growing, it’s vibrant, there’s a lot happening. So, to the extent they’re doing anything in the U.S. it’s looking to acquire films that have worked – like franchise films that worked in the US, for example – that means that work in China.
I had a client that bought – there was a film called Escape Plan that worked very well in China. A client that had bought the sequel rights to Escape Plan two and three. And then there was a film called Now You See Me and so they did the sequel to that. And so, you see a lot of acquisition of films that they think will work in China – particularly franchise films that the first one worked in China. So, you see a lot of that activity.
Caryn McCann: Is there a difference between your American clients – what they’re looking for and what the Chinese studios are looking for?
Sky Moore: Yes, U.S. companies are always just looking for money and Chinese companies are looking for content. So, you know that’s really the big difference.
Caryn McCann: And are the Chinese clients is there a particular, I mean you mentioned Now You See Me and Escape Plan. Everybody knows it’s about Wolf Warrior. Is it a lot of action movies they’re looking for? A certain budget range?
Sky Moore: Different budget range. Yes, action-adventure.
Caryn McCann: Later in the interview, Sky made an explosive comment about the future of US-Chinese co-production which could possibly sink your project. Here’s that clip.
Caryn McCann: Great. Well, this next question is a little bit tricky what question did I not ask you that I should have?
Sky Moore: Well I’ve alluded to it. But you really need to ask about the currency issue. The key thing that’s happened since January is it just completely turned on its head. There were ten billion dollars of money that came from China to Hollywood in the last from 2014 – 2016. And then in ’17 it just shut off. And I mean shut off. So, everyone that had a contract breached it and no new deals are happening. And it’s all because of the currency restriction. And what’s happening is that and the and it’s important to know the reason behind that.
There’s a couple of things. One is that China wants the Chinese companies to invest in China. But another is absolutely the Trump effect. China absolutely wants to keep its powder dry to see what Trump does. Just to pick one example again North Korea, and I will tell you that the taps are turned off intentionally because of they- it’s a loud message to the U.S. which is they were a big driver at least of a Hollywood economy for three years and that cap is off. And they’re there waiting to see what Trump does and I think people are underestimating the impact that that has. And I think people are totally underestimating the impact that North Korea will have.
You cannot – if there is any military action in North Korea – you’re going to have a very unhappy China. The very threat of it is making a very unhappy China. And there have been loud vociferous threats. So, you already have a very unhappy China. You can’t overlook that. You can’t just talk about China and the U.S. in a vacuum without really looking at the geopolitical implications of what’s happening. And its no I don’t see it lightening up for four years.
Caryn McCann: Well, let’s assume we don’t go to war- I hope. What would need to happen to mollify China do you think- that we want to work with China? Does Trump wants to work with China? This is way off topic but I’m curious.
Sky Moore: No but it’s important. You would have to stop the chest-thumping. You’d have to back off North Korea and you’d have to back off this all anti-China rhetoric and embrace them and treat them as equal partners trading partners like we do Europe although that’s become contentious too, remarkably. You have to embrace them as partners and not as the evil empire.
Caryn McCann: The takeaway is this: Sky says Chinese money has been turned off intentionally due to the Trump effect. What can you do? Get a European producer on your team. Make it a German-China co-pro or a UK- China co-pro.
If the currency restriction continues – your best bet is to film your script in China.
Now, this leads to my interview with Charles Morris Jr. – the VP of Acquisitions and Development of Global Genesis Group. He talked about their recent animation success in China. When asked about what he’s looking for they mentioned their current slate which included a period piece, a horror film, and animation projects with connections to China.
When I asked what he thought the Chinese studios were looking for – he pointed out that Chinese money was no longer leaving China. But he had an interesting solution to that. Here is the clip:
Charles Morris: A lot of it has been in the news that not as much money is leaving China to come to productions in the United States. A lot of Chinese companies want to film things in China. And so you know, those are the types of projects we are talking to them about. Whether we have a script that can be adapted to take place in like, Cabo San Lucas at a resort then why can’t we put it on an island off of China or something like that.
Those are the conversations we have. We have a creature, a creature feature, called, “Hogzilla” that takes place in the south. But, supposedly in Hong Kong, they had problems with these giant wild boars. And so, what’s the difference if we have giant wild boars in Arkansas or if we have them in Hong Kong or some rural city in China? And so those are the kind of thing we are talking to them about.
Caryn McCann: Charles said not as much $ leaving China to do production in the US. Chinese companies want to film in China.
He talked about how they are adapting a US script to be shot in China. Now, this is a great idea but the caveat is – it has to appeal to a Chinese audience. You can’t just change the location from New York to Shanghai and expect it to work. So, if you do adapt your screenplay to be shot in China – my suggestion is to find a Chinese reader who can give you some feedback. But as Charles said – the trend is Chinese companies are looking to film in China, not the U.S.
So, that’s my wrap-up for 2017. Going forward I hope this market intelligence helps you shape your projects so you can get own green light.
In this last segment, I like to update the audience on my own projects. This is the “episodic” part of the podcast where you get to see how I am progressing on my own path.
- I sent a few scripts to folks I met at the AFM.
- Found a story that mentioned a Chinese financier who wants to make international films. I contacted them yesterday. They emailed back that night and asked to read my scripts…so always read the trades.
I hope you had a great 2017 and an even greater 2018. If you are interested in being a guest on the podcast or want to suggest someone – shoot me an email at podcast@ChinaHollywoodGreenlight.com
If you like the show – go to iTunes and leave a rating and a comment. This will help others find the show.
Thank you for listening. And I’ll see you at the premiere.