Father & Daughter Film Report
We know. We know. When you hear the words “China”, “U.S.A”, and “Summit” all in the same sentence the first thing that comes to mind is some news report on CNN over negotiations on missiles, aircraft carriers, or the currency rate exchange between the Dollar and the Yuan.
Not at this Summit.
The word “Film” in the title changes everything. Somehow this one word changes the sense of the entire event from one with the usual air of confrontation we often hear, to one that radiates co-operation.
Held by the Asia Society of Southern California and EM ASIA (Entertainment & Media in Asia), the Sixth Annual U.S./China Film Summit on November 5th, 2015 was just that, a shinning example of co-operation between these two world - and film - powers, in areas of production, content, growth, distribution, creative development, legal & policy matters as well as financing & investments.
Hmmmm….perhaps the Dollar and Yuan do enter into this...
The speakers at this event was a who’s who of not only film leaders & CEO’s in China, but some of the biggest names in the USA as well, from China studios such as Alibaba to Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros., Paramount and DreamWorks Animation, and leading American and Chinese entertainment companies, including Creative Artists Agency, IMAX, Dalian Wanda Group, and LeVision Pictures Group. For example, to list a few:
YU Dong, CEO, Bona Film Group
Barbara Robinson, CEO, Celadon Films
Peter Kujawski, Managing Director, Universal Pictures International Productions
William Pfeiffer, CEO, Dragongate Entertainment
Michael Ellis, President/Managing Director Asia-Pacific, Motion Picture Association
Simon Sun, Executive Vice President, Le Vision Pictures USA
Michael Andreen, Senior Vice President, Fox International Productions
Pang Hong, CEO Kylin Films
Chris Edwards, CEO, The Third Floor
LI Yansong, CEO, iQiyi Pictures
Patrick Frater, Asia Bureau Chief, Variety
Michael Uslan, President, Branded Entertainment
Cao Yu, Entertainment Law Partner, Haiwen & Partners
WU Man-Fang, Dean, School of Management, Beijing Film Academy
David Linde, CEO, Participant Media
Jingyan (Maggie) Huang, Managing Director, Pictures, Entertainment and Derivatives Division. Fosun
Ethan Sawyer, Managing Director –Head of Entertainment Investment Banking, Morgan Stanley
Seriously, folks, this list could go on for 6 or more pages with names of all the power players, power brokers, and big decision-makers that were speaking or in attendance of this Summit - that’s what a huge yearly event this is.
Moderator Janet Yang, Producer (Shanghai Calling & The Joy Luck Club) facilitates speakers Michael Uslan, President, Branded Entertainment, Wang Hui, President, Datang Brilliant Media Co. Ltd., Peter Kujawski, Managing Director, Universal Pictures International, Chris Edwards, CEO, The Third Floor Inc, & Wei Zhang, President, Alibaba Pictures.
The all-day Summit was skillfully MC’ed and kept on schedule (not an easy task considering all that was involved) by Jonathan Karp the Executive Director of the Asia Society for Southern California, who even made the effort to hear out some of the questions that were not able to be taken at the end of each session with its panel of experts. Now that’s class. If only our State Department had such culturally astute individuals.
Chris Edwards describes holograms & the future of entertainment to FFT’s David Perkins.
Naturally the future of China & U.S. film co-operation was a major part of the discussion, and a standout panelist was Chris Edwards, CEO of The Third Floor Inc. who was certainly the one to talk to about the future technologies of not only making films, but how they would be shown. You may not have heard about his company The Third Floor, but you certainly have seen examples of Chris’s work in Star Wars, Disney’s Dinosaur & Treasure Planet, and in one of my favorite films of all times; George Lucas’ first feature film: THX 1138. The phrase “the future is here” certainly rings true in the film industry as a whole, and the expertise in this field can certainly be seen by this talented artist...and CEO.
The summit was also a news release of sorts, with Simon Sun, Executive Vice President of Le Vision Pictures discussing the opening of an office in the USA, as well as welcoming the Shanghai International Film Festival as a partner in the event itself, and as Stephen Saltzman, co-chair of the U.S. - China Film Summit and partner in the entertainment and China practice groups at the international law firm of Loeb & Loeb notes: “Like our Film Summit, SIFF is the leading event of its kind in China, and a dynamic forum of building understanding between China and the global film industry.”
Again, that spirit of co-operation…an energy that radiated throughout the Summit. If only we could bottle up what was flowing around this Summit and spray it around the United Nations...
Sharon Zhang, representing the East-West Bank noted the mutual need - financially - between the USA and China, and also pointed out how much more important film is to the Chinese people than what most of us would expect. “Many in American do not understand the importance of film to the Chinese people. I believe there will be many more good internationalized films produced by both Chinese and American producers which will play in both China and the U.S. that’s where we see the film financing opportunity.”
And she should know, she's one of those calling the shots on many of those financing opportunities....
One of the most intriguing panelists was Barbara Robinson (also known as Lao Ba to the Chinese) who appears to be America’s 21st Century Marco Polo in the film industry, having 25 years’ experience in the China film and television industry.
Barbara spoke on overcoming some of the legal, financial, & production disconnects when making films cross borders. Extremely interesting was her explanation of the big issues that arise from simple nuances of language itself, for example in a contract. Of course she is fluent in Mandarin Chinese - well, let’s be more specific - she is what is considered Full Professional Proficient in Mandarin Chinese, which deserves an award in itself to put next to her four Oscars ®, Multiple BAFTA’s, as well as Best Film prizes at all three of the major international film festivals - Cannes, Venice, and Berlin.
Actually, someone needs to make a movie on this woman’s life…!
To boldly go where no American film-maker has gone before...CEO of Celadon Films, Barbara Robinson is also on the advisory boards for the UCLA Confucius Center, the US China Film & Television Expo, as well as having been a senior consultant to Wanda Media and Managing Director to Sony Pictures, where she launched their Asia film production division, established offices in Hong, Taiwan, & China back when most in Hollywood had not idea of the Chinese film industry...
The panel titled: “The China Wave: How’s Chinese Investment in Hollywood Doing and What’s Next?” not only let us know whoever wrote the program had a sense of humor, but also foreshadowed the great down-to-earth style of moderator Sheri Jeffrey (partner at Hogan Lovells) in describing complex financial investment banking trends, terminology, and concepts so that a simple high school teacher such as myself could not only get it, but obtain a qualitative sense that I might be able to actually use the factors in my own life. Wow!
Now there’s an epiphany…but some of the facts presented in this panel really should make all of us wake up and realize the dynamic film movement in China, for example, the huge 25 - 30% growth of the industry each year. Now if you are more of a visual person than one who responds to numbers, then check this out:
Now do you get the picture…?
Representing producers, distributors, & entertainment lenders internationally, Sheri Jeffrey finances all kinds of domestic & international distribution agreements, collateral packages, acquisitions, to name a few...
When asked: “How has the dynamic between US entertainment companies and Chinese entertainment companies seeking to do deals changed in recent years?”
Sheri answered:“Surging Chinese box office numbers have certainly made everyone sit up and take notice, and there is currently a scramble among US players to gain access the Chinese market. Meanwhile, Chinese entertainment companies are well funded and are very motivated to find ways to tap into the talent pool in Hollywood. This has resulted in more successful US-China partnerships recently, and the pace of cross-border cooperation is likely to continue to accelerate.”
And it was this kind of insight and knowledge being discussed & shared on every panel in all of the areas presented (for those needing a reminder, that’s in the areas of production, content, growth, distribution, creative development, legal & policy matters as well as financing & investments…to name a few).
I believe tickets to this event cost $250, what you’d pay for an average law firm for an hour of their time. However, if you consider the insights, perspectives, and knowledge that was constantly being cast out to the audience - from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm - a ticket for a couple of thousand dollars would have been well worth it.
Attendees listening to the panel of experts at the beautiful Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
But let’s forget the money side of the industry for a moment, shall we? (I did say for a moment...)
Of course the film industry has a creative side too, and some of the interesting relationships that both China and the USA share are what Mike Hsu, partner at C2M Media, describe as “genre fatigue” where a film audience becomes weary of a particular type of film that either Hollywood or the Chinese film industries over saturated its audiences with, due to a past success. Genre Fatigue. I love that term. It almost shouts the need for a change.
One change noted by Wei Zhang, President of Alibaba Pictures, was that such changes used to occur every 30 years in the Chinese film market, now it appears to be changing every 5 years. The sociological implications of that are mind blowing....but so are the actions of the Asia Society, strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders, and institutions in Asia and the United States in the fields such as the arts, business, culture, education, & policy.
Honored at this year’s Summit were director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, to name a few) and Le Vision Pictures Chief Executive Officer Zhang Zhao, who founded two of China’s biggest private-sector studios, as well as being the flagbearer for the “renaissance” of China’s film industry, according to the Hollywood Reporter...and many others.
2015 China - U.S. Film Summit honorees, Zhang Zhoa. Le Vision Prictures, (left) and director Zhang Yimou (right).
To sum it up: the China - U.S. Film Summit is a must attend for any who are thinking of not only wishing a China connection, but seeking some insight to the future of film-making altogether. All of this done in a very elegant and classy atmosphere created by the Asia Society of Southern California, EM ASIA, and the Shanghai International Film Festival, in the spirit of co-operation that reminds one of the earliest co-operations found between America and China: - the Flying Tigers - a co-operation that created actions & spirits that boosted the morale of both countries during one of the most difficult times in world history.
And it appears now, these wonderful groups & individuals above are creating a film network that is also facilitating the action of co-operation to lift the morale & spirit of both peoples.
The Flying Tigers - or American Volunteer Group (AVG) - who assisted the Chinese in the air war over the skies of China even before Pearl Harbor.
Notice the U.S. and Chinese flags sewn on the back of the flight jacket, with instructions in Chinese that the wearer was an American, fighting for the people of China, should the pilot get shot down in an area that have never seen an American before.
"I saw it. With my own eyes, I saw
him fly out of the clouds and spit
fire on the Japanese. Then one got
him. Didn't any of you see?"
- from the screenplay FLYING TIGER®
David Bryant Perkins