China's E Stars Inks Production, Distribution Deal With Filmula (Exclusive)

'Dangal' (2016)

The Beijing-based distributor — known for the $190 million China release of the Indian blockbuster 'Dangal' — will co-finance and co-produce a range of U.S. film projects with Johnny Lin's Los Angeles production outfit.

Beijing-based distributor E Stars is partnering with Johnny Lin's production outfit Filmula to co-finance U.S. and international film projects for distribution in China. The partners will also draw on Indian financing for the projects.

E Stars, headed by entrepreneur Allen Liu, is widely credited with pioneering the Chinese film market for big-budget Indian cinema. The company distributed Aamir Khan’s family sports drama Dangal in 2017, followed by his musical dramedy Secret Superstar in January. The Bollywood hits earned an astonishing $190 million and $119 million in China, respectively.

Filmula, led by Lin and based in Los Angeles, develops, finances and produces film and television shows independently or in partnership with other production companies and studios. The company is also a participant in a film fund at Brian Oliver’s New Republic Pictures, which has an overall deal with Paramount. Filmula is currently co-producing and co-financing the Mexican Revolution thriller The Creed of Violence to be directed by Todd Field, and a remake of the 1978 action adventure The Wild Geese, both with New Republic. Lin previously executive produced Tom Cruise's narco thriller American Made and Richard Linklater's Bernie.

E Stars and Filmula say the projects they plan to co-finance and produce will run the gamut from commercial tentpoles to prestige Oscar-targeted titles.

"Allen’s record speaks for itself," Lin said in a statement. "E Stars opened the Chinese market and is now shattering boundaries. Its distribution prowess has exceeded all expectations, providing us with an opportunity to replicate success with a new breed of films for the Chinese audience.”

The partners say their relationship stems back to the 1990s, when Liu was working with Johnny's father, Jimmy Lin, who produced Jet Li's martial-arts classics The Legend and The Legend 2. The elder Lin also launched an output deal with New Line Cinema for distribution in Taiwan. In recent years, Filmula has continued that business line, with the company acquiring Taiwan distribution rights to a range of high-profile Hollywood titles, such as The Hunger Games, Magic Mike and The King's Speech, among others.

“Early on, I was exposed to an intriguing and collaborative environment created by Johnny and his father Jimmy, a most formidable producer and distributor in the 1980s and early 90s," Liu said in a statement. "I modeled my business on their market-cornering methods and output deal with New Line Cinema. We started with 25 films, and I was able to slowly grow our distribution strategy to what it is today." 

Added Liu: “I trust Johnny’s taste in projects. He has handpicked many of the blockbusters and Oscar winners throughout the years, and now my job is to facilitate successful China releases while he structures financial plans and amasses and develops quality content.”  

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 3 daily issue at the American Film Market.