Wang also detailed a plan to incentivize production at the sprawling studio complex by rebating up to 40% of a production’s costs. The rebate — first reported by Variety — will amount to $150 million per year over five years, and will be jointly funded by Wanda and the Qingdao municipal government.
Wang vowed that the facility could make China a competitor on the global stage, with state-of-the-art facilities that could draw production away from London or Australia.
“The Hollywood companies will be able to see less cost and more return,” he said, through an interpreter. “This is an opportunity for Hollywood, not a competition for Hollywood.”
Stanley Rosen, a professor of political science at USC, said the initiative shows that regional governments, outside Beijing and Shanghai, are willing to spend to boost their international standing.
“Chinese municipalities are competing to be better known,” he said. “(Wang) is helping to put them on the map.”
“Wanda has continually worked to advance international collaboration, and we are pleased to introduce Wanda Studios and the ambitious Qingdao Movie Metropolis to filmmakers around the world,” Wang said in a press release announcing the news. “Wanda Studios and QMM lay the groundwork for a unified and streamlined global production community, and we are pleased to leverage our platform and significant infrastructure in China on behalf of our partners in the US and abroad.”
The gala event — with appearances from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs — announced Wanda’s arrival in Hollywood with a flourish. The company has been on a spending spree over the last few years. In 2012, it acquired AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion. A recent deal to purchase Carmike Cinemas for $1.1 billion would — if approved — make it the largest cinema operator in the U.S. The company has also moved aggressively into production, acquiring Legendary Entertainment earlier this year for $3.5 billion.
It is also expected to finalize a deal this week to buy Dick Clark Productions for a figure in the range of $1 billion.
Wanda’s rampant acquisitions have raised alarms in Congress, where several members have urged greater scrutiny of China’s use of “soft power.” That may scare off studios that might otherwise be interested in taking advantage of the 40% subsidy to shoot in Qingdao, Rosen said.
“Production companies are going to be very careful not to go full steam ahead because Congress is watching,” Rosen said.
At the event, Wanda announced that Legendary is among a handful of companies that are already planning to produce films at the 408-acre Qingdao facility, which is slated to officially open in August 2018. Legendary expects to produce its “Pacific Rim” and “Godzilla” features at the studio. Representatives from several companies — Legendary, Lionsgate, Arad Productions, Arclight Films, Kylin Pictures, among others — took the stage for a “signing ceremony” to formalize their commitment to the new facility.
The facility will include 30 sound stages and an underwater stage, and will be in close proximity to a massive mall complex and a marina. The company also announced that soon there will be direct flights between Los Angeles and Qingdao.
In his speech at the L.A. County Museum of Art, Wang touted the growth of the Chinese movie market and took the opportunity to advise Hollywood on how to appeal to the Chinese audience, telling them to add “Chinese elements” into Hollywood blockbusters.
“You cannot just disregard Chinese tastes or Chinese audiences,” he said.
Wang also said that while Hollywood has a great tradition of storytelling, in recent years story has been sacrificed to technical wizardry.
“To purely depend on scene and on effects will probably not work forever,” he said. “Now that Chinese audiences are smarter, they are not made happy so easily.”