By Robert Cain for China Film Biz
February 23, 2012 from Tokyo, Japan
(Note: In order to protect the interests of a business partner I have modified this article to remove all references to the name of an investor and his fund.)
I have word directly from a Chinese investor that his fund struck a deal on Wednesday morning with Lionsgate to co-produce a slate of 10 films over the next three years. The fund says it will invest 50 percent of the total production costs in a ‘portfolio’ of Lionsgate movies, primarily in the action genre, with a wide range of budgets.
The investor, who wishes to maintain anonymity for himself and for his fund, told me the news in person in a meeting on Wednesday afternoon in Beijing.
He also told me that his fund will invest in a low-budget movie to be directed by Michael Bay, for which the director and crew will be paid not in cash but in equity participation in the project. And he said he’s planning to invest in the Avatar sequel together with China Film Group and Fox.
However, Lionsgate has yet to confirm the news of their supposed deal, and I am inclined to take the investor’s pronouncements with a grain of salt.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, numerous claims and pronouncements have been made by Chinese investors regarding their intended partnerships with American film producers. And although I’m glad to know of their interest in Hollywood, I must caution readers that many of these purported deals will fall well short of expectations.
Exaggeration and mis-represenation are not uncommon in Hollywood and elsewhere, but they are unfortunately endemic in China. With so much naïve exuberance in the U.S. about potential fresh sources of capital from China, and with so many Chinese individuals and institutions flush with cash and opportunity, there are high hopes on both sides. With few long-term relationships or experienced guides to shepherd deals, many hopeful fundraisers in Hollywood will be burned with false promises, and many eager investors in China will be bilked of their renminbi.
As a producer, fundraiser and consultant who has for many years been in the middle of the U.S.-China film trade, I believe it is important to root out dishonesty and inefficiency wherever it occurs. The main reason that I started writing China Film Biz was to bring a clear and sober perspective to the cross-Pacific dialogue and to help others benefit from the mistakes I’ve made. I see it as very much in everyone’s interest to help elevate the level of integrity and accountability in U.S.-China entertainment dealings.
It is in this very spirit that my friends at TransAsia Lawyers, a prominent entertainment and media law firm based in Beijing, have launched ChinaGoAbroad, a web-based information and transaction platform dedicated to bringing new standards of transparency to inbound and outbound investments in and from China. They do so with the full blessing of SARFT, China’s state administration that oversees all media investments.
ChinaGoAbroad’s mission is to serve as a resource and matchmaker to facilitate business and to help honest dealmakers find one another. In this age of instant communications, of internet blogs, of Twitter and Sina Weibo, the posers and charlatans had better watch out.
Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at email@example.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.