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Zhang Zhao and Adam Goodman: Their LeVision for the Future

By Daisy Lin

Oct. 27, 2016
Zhang Zhao and Adam Goodman of LeVision Entertainment
Zhang Zhao and Adam Goodman of LeVision Entertainment at the Beverly Hilton Hotel

Zhang Zhao is the Vice Chairman of Chinese digital giant LeEco, which offers a streaming service as well as an integrated ecosystem that spans smartphones, TVs, transportation, sports and entertainment. Adam Goodman, the former president of Paramount’s motion picture group, has been named president of LeVision Entertainment, and is charged with producing English-language original entertainment content including tentpole films, TV shows, and digital projects.

How did this partnership come about?

ZZ: I met Adam first when he came to Beijing as the head of Paramount. Then, every time I came to LA, we spent time together talking about globalization. We became friends and have a lot of things in common. We both are trying to figure out how to build up a bridge between China and Hollywood, as well as solve the problems that we are facing in both countries about what kind of movies we should make and how to deliver movies to audiences. Also, what are the new technologies and most effective ways to make movies? After so many talks, I said, hey, why don't we just work together? (laughing) Right? I mean, we are all filmmakers so it was natural.

Adam, you were in the process of starting up a new film label, Dichotomy Creative Group. Now LeEco has acquired it and tapped you to head up LeVision. Quite a turn of events.

AG: We were looking for the right partners. The Dichotomy business instinctually wasn't something that you'd necessarily knock on a Chinese company’s door for; but the fact that ZZ got it so clearly was the thing that made me so interested. Every single time I sat down and had a conversation with him, I walked away with my head spun around because of the speed at which the Chinese business industry is growing and also specifically the way LeVision is approaching the entertainment experience. It made me feel like the ground was moving underneath me. In Hollywood, the ground never feels like it's moving underneath you other than in ways that you can't affect but this was a business that was in full control of its own destiny and trying new things, really participating in this kind of offline theatrical distribution business and moving into the digital space. For me, being able to be in a company that was really bridging Silicon Valley and Hollywood just feels like it's one of the most awesome opportunities that exists out there.

What were the most mind-blowing parts of your conversations?

AG: It's easy to be impressed by the scale of the organization and the speed at which they were able to create this success. But the real thing was this was a filmmaker who was running a business. It wasn't a businessman who was trying to pretend like he was a filmmaker. We were always talking about movies. We were always talking about the same problems. He would commiserate about an experience he was having under production and I knew exactly what he was dealing with. Even though we didn't grow up in the same town, we didn't grow up speaking the same language but we grew up having pretty much the same exact experience, literally going back to the streets of NYU, which we both attended. It always felt like I was talking with a partner from another place. I was inspired and that's something in today's business is hard to come by, which is to find someone that can present new ideas to you and act on it.

That's the thing that I think LeVision has done which is so different than anyone else. It's one thing to have big provocative, prophetic ideas about where the business is going. It's another thing to actually be implementing those every single day. Look at the speed at which they've built out incredible franchises, biggest movies and co-productions — on every level, it's executing in the way in which the studios wish they could execute out here, and for that you’ve got to start drooling when you look at it.

Adam Goodman, the president of LeVision Entertainment
Adam Goodman, the president of LeVision Entertainment
"I was inspired and that's something in today's business is hard to come by, which is to find someone that can present new ideas to you and act on it."

- Adam Goodman

Box office tickets were down this summer both in the U.S. and China. What do you think is the solution?

ZZ: I’m trying to find a global solution. The Internet changes the relationship between filmmakers and audiences. That's the key. It's going to change everywhere, sooner or later. That's the wall that the Chinese film industry hit this year. The reason that LeVision is doing fine right now is because it started as an internet company and we use big data to guide our content strategy. We started dealing with this issue earlier, but that doesn't mean that we are going to be safe forever.

For Hollywood, how you're going to connect filmmakers to the audiences, where's the data going to come in from? Everybody is live on the Internet but not Hollywood. They don't know when they're making movie, where is the data? It becomes a very inefficient industry, right? Hollywood needs to be more interactive with audiences from the beginning. You get the users involved in the planning. What kind of content? How do you make it? How do you change the ending? It's a lot of issues, right? You make the movie specifically for your target demographics.

The Chinese film industry is facing a lot of crisis too. The industry is growing too fast so they have to go to Hollywood to learn a lot of basics of storytelling.

The global film market is facing same environment so we need to work together, and learn from each other. Every territory is waiting for our help. India is going to be the next largest fast growing market in the world for sure, but they need Hollywood for the specialties of movie making. They need China to tell them how do you view the industry based on the Internet? If we work together, we are going to be providing a very good help to the Indian film industry. That's why I call it the G2 strategy, the great two film industries, we have to join forces and work together. It’s not about we’re coming in or we’re hiring anyone, it's about how we create a new joint force facing the global problem.

AG: That's why I think the biggest opportunity here is that, if you go around Los Angeles and talk with people in the movie business, everyone is sort of talking about how China is now the wallet and America is now the factory; but what's different about our company is that's not what this is at all. They're not the wallet, we are not the factory, we are building a studio together. I really believe this is the first Chinese studio that is being built in the USA. There is not just one channel in terms of where we have to go with our product, we are not in a business that is sort of calcified in terms of how we do things because it takes too long to move the ship. We are really at the start of the next 100 years of this industry here, and because of that I think it gives us opportunities to really do things in ways that are inspired by the traditions of where we come from, but driving towards the technological disruptions and opportunities that a company like this provides, which is pretty thrilling to filmmakers.

"It’s not about we’re coming in or we’re hiring anyone, it's about how we create a new joint force facing the global problem."

- Zhang Zhao

Zhang Zhao, the CEO of Le Vision Entertainment
Zhang Zhao, the Vice Chairman of LeEco

LeVision is going to produce a slate of ten movies telling Chinese stories in English, but so far Chinese movies don’t seem to travel well outside of China. How can Hollywood help bring them to a global audience?

AG: I think if you look at it as a Chinese story then it can become confounding because I don't speak Mandarin, but if you look at it as a story and say okay, no one knew who "Shrek" was before Shrek was created, or many other fabulous movie franchises — they may as well have come from China. We are approaching everything that we are being inspired by from China and putting it through a global lens. I hope that what comes out on the other end of it is a movie experience that looks like a movie. It doesn't look like a Chinese movie, it doesn't look like a US movie, it just looks like a movie and I think that's where the business is going right now, which is we are all making movies for global audiences and global audiences are watching movies in many different languages right now. The opportunity for us is to create stories that are inspired from stories that come from all over the world.

Specifically, we have an advantage because these guys have incredible stories that they can expose us to and we will run with them as aggressively as we possibly can because there are some giant hits that are sitting there, that are prime for the opportunity. Whereas here, we are looking at the same ideas over and over again and just trying to figure out how we can make the light on the robot look a little bit cooler than on the last one. These are movie ideas that no audience has ever seen before here and that's going to be pretty fun to play with.

Any new projects in the works?

AG: We are able to present to producers, writers, and filmmakers a new set of toys to play with that no company has ever been able to provide for them before. It's not just, let’s make a movie and we can go theatrical. This business has so many different pieces to it. It's everything from theatrical, to streaming, to consumer products, to mobile to cloud — it is all connected by one thing which is the stories that live on all these different screens. We don't ever have to make a movie decision based on what we think yesterday's information told us. We can make movie decisions based on what we don't know that is going to happen tomorrow and that's where the biggest disruptions and opportunities take place in this industry. That's the goal for us.

ZZ: To really bring the storytelling up to a different level, that's a thrilling experience for the industry back in China. Once we have this company setup here with first class executives from Hollywood, who are able to tap into China creatively, that’s a huge opportunity. I think it will be a huge thing for us as the first Chinese company to come over to the U.S. to build up a creativity institution. Hopefully when you see “Great Wall,” when you see “Lord,” our new movie coming out in October with the help of East West Bank, you will see how much the Chinese film industry will benefit from Hollywood. I think we are really just saying this is a milestone for both industries.

Read more stories related to China film and entertainment.

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