Among the formality of an invite-only presentation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Dalian Wanda Group unveiled its big plans to lure Hollywood production to China.
Speaking through a translator, Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin announced US$750 million (S$1,040) in incentives over five years for Hollywood films to shoot at a US$5 billion studio in Qingdao, China, that is scheduled to open fully in 2018. The offer of subsidies on everything from stage and set rental to post-production editing, up to the value of 40 per cent of a film's budget, makes production in China a viable alternative to the likes of Canada and Romania.
In a flashy ceremony, an audience of Chinese and Hollywood production executives watched a sizzle reel and speeches from the Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Wang announced his plan to give "opportunity for Hollywood, not competition."
China's richest man laid out the massive growth ahead for China's box office, projecting that it would quickly surpass that of the US with potential have as many as three times the screens as in the US within ten years. Wang said the best way for Hollywood studios to access this Chinese market was "through co-operation with Chinese film companies."
"It's hard to find people who understand the Chinese market," he noted.
Wang also exhorted the audience to "increase the quality" of Hollywood movies, drawing some chuckles as he criticised US studios for having "less original stories," and for stressing technology rather than storytelling. He also insisted that it was a mistake to think the rise of Qingdao Movie Metropolis would result in a loss of job opportunities in Hollywood.
Wang's plan comes amid Congressional concern about Wanda Group's buying spree. Sixteen members of Congress asked the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the implications of foreign acquisitions, pointing to Wanda's acquisition of a string of companies, including AMC Theatres and Carmike Cinemas, as well as Legendary Entertainment earlier this year. The company's is currently in talks to buy Dick Clark Productions.
There's no question the company's ambitions are massive.
Jack Gao, the head of Wanda's cultural industry group, said Wanda's goal was to win 20 per cent of worldwide box office income by 2020, up from the 13 per cent of movie theatre seats it currently controlled.
But reflecting the mounting US concerns, his language was focused on co-operation: "We see the need for co-productions as well as a greater cultural exchange and collaboration on all facets of film making," Gao said.
"Wanda offers something that none of its global competitors does: special access to the fastest-growing film market in the world," Gao said. "We are able to provide productions with cost savings through an incentives fund, convenience through our Wanda Studios' full, end-to-end production services centre, and unparalleled access to Wanda's distribution platform."