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UTA is deepening its engagement with the massive Chinese film market.
The Hollywood agency has partnered with Los Angeles-based entertainment company Tang Media Partners and Chinese film studio Joy Pictures to set up a major new film fund that will be used to acquire U.S. films for distribution in China.
“The first round will be $50 million-$100 million, and it will start in June,” Joy Pictures CEO Zhang Jin told The Hollywood Reporter at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. “We’re already looking for films for this fund and have some things in mind.”
The fund will be based in Los Angeles, and the partners expect to acquire and import approximately 12 films per year, Zhang said. The films will be imported into China via the country’s flat-fee import system, outside of Beijing’s official quota, which limits revenue-sharing studio imports to 34 titles per year.
“We will purchase some action films — which are [safe bets] for China — and a smaller percentage will be used for more diverse films,” he added.
Zhang’s Joy Pictures is becoming known for its deft marketing of U.S. movies in the Middle Kingdom. In February, it bought the rights from Lionsgate to distribute multi-Oscar winner La La Land in China. The movie went on to earn $36 million, the most ever made by a musical in China, where viewers have traditionally been cold to the song-and-dance genre.
Zhang said his company is setting up a similar fund in Tokyo to acquire the Chinese distribution rights to Japanese film titles. Joy Pictures’ partner on the Japanese fund will involve a major Tokyo talent agency, he said.
Tang Media Partners, meanwhile, is positioning itself as an ambitious operator of film and television content businesses, with an emphasis on forging connections between China and international markets. While headquartered in Los Angeles, the company — which was founded in 2015 by Donald Tang, a former chairman and CEO of Bear Stearns Asia — has an office in Shanghai and counts an impressive array of Chinese backers and associates, including the investment firm China Media Capital, leading studio Huayi Brothers and internet giant Tencent.
TMP made its first big international splash last summer, when it acquired majority ownership of IM Global, the Los Angeles film financing, production and foreign sales outfit led by former Miramax exec Stuart Ford. The deal marked the first time an entity with such deep ties to the Chinese industry has come to control a major foreign sales and film finance company. In February, TMP acquired Luke Ryan’s content developer Chaotic Good Studios for an undisclosed sum.
The new fund marks a major step in UTA’s ongoing Asia expansion, as rival agencies CAA and WME-IMG have been laying the groundwork for big China ambitions of their own. Last June, WME-IMG launched a Beijing-based Chinese joint venture with Sequoia Capital. And in April, CAA partnered with powerhouse Chinese equity firm CMC Capital Partners to form the new Beijing-based media and entertainment platform CAA China.
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