Disney Teams with Shanghai Media, Producer Forms New Studio

Disney has signed a multiyear deal with Shanghai Media Group that will have writers in the U.S. collaborate with Chinese writers and filmmakers to develop Disney-branded movies that incorporate Chinese themes. The partnership will also expand training opportunities between the creative teams of both countries. Meanwhile, film producer Robert Simonds is forming a new movie studio that intends to meet the growing needs of China and self-distribute the types of films that have been displaced by summer blockbusters.

Disney teamed up with Shanghai Media’s digital media unit, BesTV New Media, last December to produce entertainment leveraging both companies’ tech and marketing expertise.

“Tony To, the studio’s executive vice president of production, will oversee the co-development program, which could allow for easier releases of English-language films in China,” reports The New York Times. “The 37-member Film Censorship Committee vets every movie in China for nudity, violence and politically sensitive scenes. Western films in addition must meet the committee’s ‘amendment opinions’ to be one of the 34 Hollywood films permitted in China each year.”

Disney’s “Iron Man 3” had its debut in China last year, which was helped by including a leading Chinese actress and footage shot in China. According to the article, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation have also hired Chinese performers and established co-productions with Chinese companies.

“In 2012, Disney was named founding partner of a National Chinese Animation Creative Research and Development Project, an initiative to advance China’s animation industry and train local talent and promote the development of Chinese content and franchises,” notes NYT.

In related news, producer Robert Simonds — along with backers including TPG Growth and the Chinese investment firm Hony Capital — plan to form a new studio that will invest more than $1 billion over the next five years in new movie projects.

“Its focus: $40 million movies featuring big-name stars, the kind of comedies and dramas that have lost some currency in Hollywood, displaced by giant summer spectacles,” according to The New York Times in a separate article.

Formation of the studio is propelled by recent trends in the film industry, including a desire to address China’s growing appetite for new movies — and the studio shift to more blockbusters with targeted windows, which often leaves theater owners “scrambling to fill seats the rest of the time.”

“Simonds and his backers are betting that they have solved both issues. By lining up Hony as an investor, they have formed close ties to the Shanghai Media Group, one of China’s biggest entertainment companies and a key to the world’s fastest-growing movie market,” suggests the article. “To compete with its larger competitors, the new studio has forged an unusual distribution agreement with four of the biggest movie theater chains in America, including AMC Theaters and the Regal Entertainment Group, guaranteeing that up to 10 slots of the company’s features will play nationwide each year.”

Editor’s Note: Thanks to our community member Lee Lanselle for forwarding this news.