Leeding Media, a company which straddles the U.S. and Chinese film industries, has set up a development deal with prominent Hollywood independent producer Revolution Studios. The agreement follows renewal of most of Leeding’s portfolio of movie rights for China.
“This is a very flexible deal that see the two companies jointly develop film and television properties based on Revolution Studios’ extensive library. We are looking at possible TV adaptations, remakes and Broadway shows,” Leeding Media CEO and founder David U. Lee told Variety. “This deal is possible now that Leeding Media’s China library business is well established. Our new focus on development and production is about achieving global distribution, not just China.”
The development agreement was born from a long-standing personal friendship between Lee, who has previous executive roles at IDG Asia and the Weinstein Company, and Revolution’s CEO Vince Totino. As well as international insight, Leeding is expected to provide financial market relationships and co-financing opportunities.
While the first projects under the deal have yet to be announced, Leeding Media expects to announce a development effort with Vince Gerardis, who has co-executive producer credits on “Game of Thrones” and who last year signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios.
Leeding Media is also an investor in “The Professor” (formerly “Richard Says Goodbye”) starring Johnny Depp, Rosemarie DeWitt, Danny Huston and Zoey Deutch. The company co-financed with IM Global, and Lee executive-produced.
Economic, regulatory and trade issues have recently put the brakes on many Chinese-U.S. entertainment ventures. And Lee acknowledges that since 2017 much has happened to slow down the Chinese film industry – from a government-mandated block on overseas corporate acquisitions, to intervention in talent contracts, and a clean-up of the mechanisms of film releasing. But he argues that there are still huge opportunities in China’s $8 billion theatrical market and its fast-growing streaming sector.
Leeding Media controls Chinese digital distribution rights to nearly 500 international films, sourced from independent production companies including IM Global, Lakeshore, Myriad and Voltage. It has recently renewed many of those license agreements, giving the company strong forward financial visibility for the next few years.
“We don’t have the resources to own a library, but by selectively licensing evergreen classics, we put ourselves in a category of companies with longevity and predictable cash flows,” said Lee. “And within China there is continuing interest in U.S. content, despite the advances made by the local film industry, which has really improved in terms of story-telling and production values.”
“Our new emphasis on development and production and our library business are both built on the understanding that good content will continue to find its way into China,” said Lee. Its licensed library titles include Tom Hardy-starring “Locke,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Whiplash,” “Bulletproof Monk,” “Bobby,” “Lucky Number Slevin,” “K-19: The Widowmaker,” “GI Jane” and “The Wedding Planner.”
“What is different now is where previously companies tried to shoe-horn western content into China there was an audience backlash. But, happily, the old days of reverse engineering scripts (to suit perceived Chinese tastes) and major rewrites are long gone,” said Lee.