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Navigating Restrictions In China’s Film Industry

Inside the World’s Biggest Film Production Studios in the Making

By Daisy Lin

Aerial rendition of Wanda Studios Qingdao
Aerial rendition of Wanda Studios Qingdao (Art credit:) Wanda Group

Dalian Wanda’s massive production facility will feature high-speed connectivity with a direct data path to Hollywood.

This past summer, Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe and Zhang Yimou – the acclaimed director of “Hero” who staged the Beijing Olympics – were making history at Wanda Studios in Qingdao, a coastal city halfway between Beijing and Shanghai, shooting epic outdoor fight scenes for Legendary Pictures’ production of “The Great Wall,” the biggest U.S.-China co-production in history. The Chief at Wanda Film Holding, Jack Gao, thinks it’s a sign of what’s to come.

“Wanda Studios Qingdao will be one of the major places in the world for film production. It will be a big push for China’s movie business and will attract a lot of Hollywood players,” Gao says.

Gao, a former Microsoft Corp. and News Corp. executive who now oversees Wanda’s film production, distribution and movie theaters, is counting on Wanda Studios Qingdao to bring China and Hollywood even closer. A sprawling development stretching 408 acres along the Yellow Sea near the Qingdao harbor, Wanda Studios Qingdao is the centerpiece of the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, a $10 billion mega-development that – according to Wanda – will be the world’s largest all-inclusive film and TV production center when completed, featuring the world’s largest purpose-built stage – measuring 107,639 square feet, along with an indoor, all-season, temperature-controlled underwater studio.

Thirty sound stages, designed by UK-based Pinewood Shepperton, are currently being built in clusters of six, each cluster with its own open outdoor area prepared for any outdoor shooting, according to the Qingdao Studios marketing team. “So the production team can build a smaller-scale set right outside of the sound stage, and when they need to transfer the shot from indoors to outside, they can do that very conveniently,” the Wanda Studios marketing team adds.

Wanda studios overhead architectural rendering
Wanda studios overhead architectural rendering (Art credit:) Wanda Group

Alongside the studio, Wanda is building an urban living project that supplies living quarters and resources for the crew, with hotels, condos, a hospital, schools and full-service vendors from all over the world specializing in various aspects of film and television production.

“I met with a film producer who shot at the studios and he told me the U.S. crew enjoyed Qingdao way better than Beijing and Shanghai,” Gao says.

The Wanda Studios website gives a better sense of the scale of the Metropolis.

This year, Wanda plans to announce details of an incentives package for filmmakers so it can compete with countries like Malaysia and Australia. Companies that register and operate on the studio lot will receive competitive tax rebates for qualifying productions. Both Wanda and the city of Qingdao contributed funds for the incentives package, totaling RMB $5 billion over the five years, which amounts to close to USD $160 million per year.

Whether or not Wanda Studios Qingdao will attract a large number of big-budget Hollywood film productions remains to be seen, even in the context of Wanda Film Holding’s recent Legendary Pictures acquisition, but there’s no question the relationship between Hollywood and China is getting closer, according to Stanley Rosen, a University of Southern California political science professor who studies the topic. “China has the market and the money and Hollywood has the screenwriting and film-making skills, as well as the star power in terms of actors, directors and image.”

The Qingdao project is the brainchild of Wanda Group founder and Chairman Wang Jianlin, named by Forbes as China’s richest man, who acquired the ailing AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. theater chain in 2012, and turned it around in 18 months.

“Wang Jianlin has already established his bona fides in Hollywood by putting his money where his mouth is, and in Hollywood, money talks,” Rosen says. “What he won't be able to do is make Chinese films any more popular on the international market, particularly in North America, since no foreign-language films have really succeeded there since Jet Li's ‘Fearless’ in 2006.”

Gao is hoping Wanda Studios Qingdao will help to turn that tide. “We will be a major player in Hollywood. We have that commitment. We feel very relevant,” he says.

Wanda Studios Qingdao will have a soft opening the summer of 2017.

Read more stories related to China film and entertainment.

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