×

Thomas Tull Says ‘No Road Map’ For Partnership with China’s Dalian Wanda

The blockbuster announcement of Dalian Wanda’s $3.5 billion cash acquisition of Legendary Entertainment was billed as the “largest cross-border cultural acquisition to date” between China and the U.S. It also marks a striking watershed for Legendary founder and CEO Thomas Tull, who always previously appeared to be master of his own universe, despite substantial slate deals with big American studios.

Tull told reporters that he jumped at the merger, and being absorbed into the Chinese conglomerate, as an opportunity to build an entirely new international company. He and his new partners, while making clear Tull will continue to lead Legendary, declined to detail his stake in the newly formed partnership created by the merger. A lawyer who worked on the deal said only that Tull would “have a significant incentive tied back to the performance of the company.”

Tull appealed to the media to have patience in letting the new alliance congeal, adding that details would emerge “in the coming days and months.”

“This is brand new,” Tull said. “This has never happened before. There is no road map for this.” Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin had echoed those thoughts in an earlier statement, saying the transaction would turn Wanda Film Holdings Co. into “the highest revenue-generating film company in the world.”

During the brief Q&A with American reporters, Tull stressed that the company he created more than a decade ago “will continue on and to be front and center and to be bolstered by Wanda.” He added that he would have “a meaningful rooting stake in making sure the company is successful and we will elaborate more in the future.”

Jack Gao, head of Wanda Film Holdings Co., also sounded a vote of confidence for Tull, saying that the Legendary boss will remain “very central and very important in the overall Legendary in the future,” adding: “We will support him by all means. He is the one to run the show.”

More specifically, Tull said he and Legendary’s leadership would continue to lead day-to-day operations and to have responsibility for green-lighting film projects. He added that “it would behoove us to take advantage of the vast resources Wanda has especially in China….with direct access to consumers [and] theater chains. Those are some of the things I will be more focused on” from the partnership, going forward.

A Tull confidante previously had said that it was important for Tull to gain the financial and strategic partnership with the Chinese concern and the rapidly-growing Chinese market, while maintaining his leadership role with Legendary. The confidante said Tull felt the deal accomplished that.

The Wanda investment helps Legendary further defray the risk inherent to the sort of high-budget fantasy and hero pictures that the company specializes in. Legendary lost tens of millions of dollars on its October release “Crimson Peak,” which it self-funded, while Universal handled marketing and distribution. Other setbacks came with “Seventh Son,” triggering an $85 million write-down in 2013 and this year’s “Black Hat,” the thriller that took in just $18 million on a production budget of $70 million.

Tull said he did not expect any immediate impact on the kind of films Legendary would produce, noting that the company is already making the big-budget “The Great Wall” and other films. He said: “Our films have done well in China and connected with Chinese audiences before.”

Legendary has been luckier with its co-financing arrangements, most recently with Universal. A particular bright spot last year came with its 25% investment in “Jurassic World,” which collected $1.7 billion in receipts worldwide. Legendary also fared nicely with its share of “Straight Outta Compton,” which took in more than $200 million worldwide on a modest $28 million production budget.

While other companies have made noise about deals with Chinese firms, then failed to close them, Legendary has sealed a number of the pacts. The Chinese exhibitor Golden Harvest bought and then quickly sold a small minority stake (3.33%) at a small profit. Legendary also got China’s Tencent Pictures to take an equity stake in the American company’s “Warcraft,” based on the video game “World of Warcraft.” It is set to debut June 10.

The company also started a Legendary East subsidiary to enhance production in China. The subsidiary is in post-production on the $150 million “The Great Wall,” from acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou. It’s pegged for a November 23 release.

More Biz

  • Bert Salke and Jennifer Salke

    Feds Looked Into Amazon Studios Chief Jennifer Salke in College Admissions Scandal

    Federal investigators looked into Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke and her husband, Fox 21 Television Studios president Bert Salke, as they conducted a sprawling probe of cheating in elite college admissions, a source close to the case told Variety. It does not appear, however, that prosecutors will charge the Salkes in the case. The Salkes [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Big Blackout Looms as CBS, AT&T Go Down to Wire on Renewal Talks

    A blackout affecting CBS stations in major markets throughout the country looms as CBS and AT&T executives go down to the wire on negotiations for a retransmission consent deal covering 28 O&O stations. The sides have sparred publicly during the past few days as 11 p.m. PT Friday expiration of the previous contract approached. AT&T [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    ICM Responds to WGA Packaging Lawsuit: Claims are 'Baseless' and 'Absurd'

    ICM Partners has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against four major talent agencies by the Writers Guild of America as part of the larger war between agencies and the guild over packaging fees on TV series and movies. The guild sued ICM, CAA, WME and UTA in California state court in April, [...]

  • New York City NYC Placeholder

    CityFM Podcast Takes a Deep Look at New York’s Music Scene (Listen)

    First among the many projects listed at the beginning of New York Music Month in June was a WNYE radio show and podcast called CityFM that promised to “explore the city’s music culture, emerging artists and trends, and upcoming events told through the lens of what’s happening around the city in Summer 2019.” And while [...]

  • Live Nation Logo. (PRNewsFoto/Live Nation)

    Live Nation Confirms Placing Tickets Directly on Secondary Market at Artists’ Request

    Representatives for Live Nation, the world’s largest live-entertainment company and owner of Ticketmaster, confirmed that it bypassed conventional channels and directly placed thousands of concert tickets on the secondary market upon artists’ request, in an article published in Billboard. In a statement shared with Variety, the company acknowledged that it has facilitated the transfer of [...]

  • Costume designer Michele Clapton

    Costume Designers Fashion a Plan to Fight for Pay Parity in Upcoming Contract Talks

    The Costume Designers Guild Local 892 is gearing up to fight for pay equity in its 2021 contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, establishing a pay-equity committee to raise awareness of the scale disparity between the mostly female CDG membership and the mostly male membership of the Art Directors Guild Local [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content