China's Top Tycoon Plans Mega-Studio to Eclipse Hollywood

China’s top tycoon plans to build a studio big enough to dwarf those operated by the major Hollywood studios and help shift the global cinema’s center of gravity to China, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Wang Jinlian, founder and chairman of the developer Dalian Wanda Group, announced that the $8.2-billion Oriental Movie Metropolis (OMM) project will comprise 20 different studios and a permanent underwater stage. It will also serve as a Universal-Studios-style theme park and will be located in the suburbs of Qingdao in coastal Shandong province about halfway between Beijing and Shanghai.

In terms of sheer physical scale, however, OMM’s real rival isn’t anything operated by American movie studios but the Hengdian World Studios (HWS) in Zhejiang Province. HWS aka Chinawood is a studio is operated by Xu Wenrong’s Hengdian Group begun back in the mid-1990s. It remains under construction, but with over 5 million square feet of building space it already claims the title of world’s biggest studio. One of its components is a full-size replica of the Old Summer Palace, also known as the Imperial Gardens located in Beijing.

In terms of the sheer amount of ongoing filming activity, too, Wang’s real competition for the “biggest” title is more likely to be HWS than the Hollywood studios. Since 2005 HWS has held the world record for the most movies and TV episodes filmed.

Even in terms of the sheer scale of the theme-park area, Wang may have to set his sights on HWS which already boasts full-scale replicas of the Emperor Qin Palace, Dazhi Temple, the Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and the streets of Guangzhou and Hong Kong Street. HWS remains a work in progress, continuing to turn more farmland into backdrops for China’s frenetic canned-entertainment industry.

But of course Wang’s real goal isn’t merely to undertake the world’s biggest studio construction but to match or eclipse the importance of the five major Hollywood studios. On that level, he has already laid groundwork with the astute acquisition last year of the AMC theater chain. It gives Wang an important movie pipeline, and that gives him the clout with which to secure cooperation from Hollywood’s studios and talent.

As a preview of the kind of access he will enjoy with Hollywood Wang got John Travolta, Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta-Jones to travel to China for the unveiling of his plans Sunday. The stars were paid to attend, but they were motivated by more than appearance fees. They want an inside track on any the projects Wang’s studio will produce in partnership with Hollywood.

A big part of the $10 billion Wang plans to invest in the US during the coming decade will go toward movie production partnerships as well as real estate, hotels and department stores.

“We would like to invest in film production, and we’d like to partner with directors, actors and filmmakers from Hollywood,” he told the LA Times. “They need to know the Chinese market is growing very fast, and they should come as early as possible.”

China will pass the US in box-office revenues by 2018 and double it by 2023, by Wang’ reckoning. Given the emergence of about two-thirds of China’s 1.35 billion into the middle class by then, the estimate is sound. And as he points out, any Hollywood studio would be foolish not to want to get every possible access to the market, including aggressive production tie-ups with ambitious tycoons like Wang.