The China-U.S. film relationship is set for a much-needed shot in the arm from the launch of Maverix Pictures. The company is a Hong Kong entity set up to finance and produce major international pictures on both sides of the Pacific.
Maverix is backed by Michael Lechner von Leheneck, an Austrian-born, Hong Kong-based billionaire, who has significant interests in mainland Chinese real estate development. Maverix Pictures, an affiliated company of the parent, Maverix Group Holding, was co-founded with Ian Jessel, who takes on the roles of president and CEO. Jessel is the Los Angeles-based former president of Spelling Films and Miramax Intl.
Five projects are already in advanced development. Jessel will be working closely with the leading L.A.-based talent and finance agencies to package the initial slate of films for worldwide release in 2021 and 2022.
Maverix Group is a Hong Kong company with registered capital of over $250 million and a mission to develop large-scale theme parks in China. One of the largest financial backers of the Maverix Group is China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC), the second-largest construction and engineering company in the world.
Relations between the U.S. and Chinese film sectors enjoyed a boom time between 2012 and 2016, a brief period when some of China’s largest players aggressively pursued corporate and financial acquisitions in Hollywood. The gold rush came to an abrupt end when the Chinese government used a battery of measures to rein in adventurism.
Since then the deal flow has dwindled, but the Chinese entertainment market has continue to grow in value and sophistication. The last two years has also yielded the most successful bi-lateral co-productions, some of the most profitable film investments and a growing number of English-language films that have performed better in China than North America.
Although sovereignty over Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, the territory continues to operate as an entrepot between East and West, and as an offshore financial center.
Maverix Pictures is well-capitalized and is able to hold much of its financial resources outside mainland China, meaning that its funds are freely available for use without the currency and conversion restrictions that have held back other Chinese players in Hollywood.
In addition, the Maverix Group is currently in the process of raising additional funds for its studio business in Hollywood and its theme parks in Shanghai, Chengdu and Penglai. The first park is due to begin construction in 2020.
The additional funding will be utilized to cash flow Maverix Pictures’ initial slate. Some, but not all of, the films will shoot on location in mainland China, and augment Maverix’s theme-park business.
Two of the first projects are China-centric properties that will take full advantage of strong government support. One is a contemporary version of the legendary “The Eight Immortals” of Chinese mythology. The other is a film inspired by the novel “French Concession,” a sensual thriller of espionage and international intrigue set in Shanghai in the 1930s.
“Spearheading a new film company with a mandate to produce quality films with worldwide commercial appeal is a challenge I relish. To have a chairman with taste and ambition is a bonus,” Jessel told Variety.
Maverix Pictures’ group board is headed by von Leheneck and Stefan Krause, a former CFO at Deutsche Bank, who also served for many years as CFO of the BMW group and as chairman of Rolls-Royce.
Jessel has been closely associated with films including “When Harry Met Sally,” “The Player” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” which together have won 16 Academy Awards. He recently served as deputy chairman of BAFTA/LA.