China woos Hollywood

Beijing gives blessing to CityWalk-style complex

Looking to capitalize on the growing number of production banners Hollywood is setting up in China, a consortium of investors is ponying up $3.3 billion to back the first phase of a studio lot, theme park and CityWalk-style entertainment complex outside Beijing.

The venture, branded Hollywood Movie World East, is skedded to be completed by 2015. The studio will include soundstages, post-production and animation facilities to handle films and TV shows once completed.

Backing the development is the government-run China Culture Industry Investment Fund, along with production shingle CC2 Media, which owns an undisclosed piece of Hollywood Movie Works, formed to manage the entertainment complex.

Despite the name, no studios have yet to sign on to back the project or add movie-themed attractions to the planned theme park, reps told Variety. Many remain cautious after having quickly signed on to license their names in support of several high-profile entertainment complexes in the Middle East, many of which ended up never being built.

That’s largely because developers — led by a group of American expats who set up shop in China to consult for companies seeking a way into the country — have only just begun to reach out to the majors for deals, as well as global brands to sponsor key elements like hotels and other planned destinations.

So far, Legendary Entertainment, Relativity Media, DreamWorks Animation, 20th Century Fox, Sony and Warner Bros. have been the most active in China.

What might help attract entertainment partners is that Gary Goddard’s North Hollywood-based Goddard Group is handling the design of the various phases.

Goddard’s firm designed several high-profile projects for Universal Studios, including its “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” and “Jurassic Park” rides, and “Terminator 2/3D: Battle Across Time” attraction, as well as the conceptual development of Six Flags’ Dubailand and Six Flags Qatar. It also created the “Star Trek: The Experience” for the Las Vegas Hilton, Sanrio’s “Hello Kitty”-based Puroland park in Japan, and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

“The purpose of the project is to provide an official headquarters for the global film industry in China,” said Ong Hong Hoon, president of the New China Culture Industry Investment Fund, formed in 2005.

For now, Hollywood Movie Works will finance and produce pics through CC2 Media and Hong Kong-based film shingle Sil-Metropole.

Productions will include English-language films with Chinese themes, but appeal to worldwide audiences, the companies said.

CC2 Media is a subsid of ChinaClicks2 Group, a consulting firm run by co-chairman Susan Pattis, a former Edelman PR rep in China, who now aids brands operating in China. She also worked on Beijing’s Summer Olympics campaign. Pattis also serves as co-chairman of HMW, with John Robison, a Beverly Hills-based venture capitalist.

Sil-Metropole is managed by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and TV, enabling it to partner on co-productions with foreign studios seeking distribution in the country.

The entire Hollywood Movie World is being developed as eight phases to be built over 10 years, at a cost of as much as $30 billion, with others to include the theme park, hotels and retail, offices, residential housing, sports facilities and a film school, according to HMWE’s reps.

The 6.5-sq.-mile venture is situated in the Mentougou district, a mountainous tourist destination about 16 miles from downtown Beijing that’s connected by high-speed rail.

The complex will face some stiff competition, however. China boasts some 3,000 theme parks all over the country, which have sprouted thanks to stimulus money from the government to encourage consumer spending. Many have struggled to turn a profit.

But the Chinese government sees films as an advantage to bring business to Mentougou.

“I am delighted to see real progress take place between China and filmmakers from the west,” said Toni Leonte, chairman of New China Culture Industry Investment Fund. “China is investing exponentially more capital in its number of physical screens and expecting more films to break through the $100 million mark at the box office.

“For years we have been working with our partners in China to identify the very best place in China to locate this grand vision. Nothing like this can occur without government support and access to the entirety of the resources that Beijing and Mentougou can favorably provide.”

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