28 Aug 017: The Best Screen Hero for China: Underdog or Superhero?
Jean Su of Broadvision Pictures describes how China is opening up to stories with fewer superheroes and more everyday heroes.
She also offers a solution when Chinese investors ask for A-list talent that are impossible to attach.
China Hollywood Greenlight Podcast – Episode 17
Host: Caryn McCann
Guest: Jean Qing Su (蘇青) Sū Qīng
Film Grey Lady: https://imdb.to/2LpOeKQ
Silicon Dragon http://www.silicondragonventures.com
This is Caryn McCann, the host of the China Hollywood Greenlight podcast – a podcast about creating & distributing content for both Hollywood and China.
Any links mentioned in the podcast can be found in the show notes at chinahollywoodgreenlight.com / podcast and look for this episode which is # 17.
If you like the show, please go to iTunes, subscribe and leave a review so other like-minded people can find this podcast.
A quick update on what I’m working on.
- A few weeks ago, I heard back from the director Jon Chu who directed Crazy Rich Asians. He was kind enough to read two of my scripts however he is looking for studio projects. I knew it was a long shot but the fact that he gave me a shot is amazing. So I just started talks with a new director who has a huge following in China.
- I heard back from the agent of a top action star – I can’t tell you his name but his initials are Scott Adkins. His agent asked for a pay or play offer. Maybe since they know I have attracted Chinese financiers that I’d offer this. Sorry, Scott – no can do. Personally, I think everything is negotiable. But I do have good news.
- I reached out to an A-list action director and we’ve been emailing each other for a couple of months. He is a legend in martial arts films and I feel so lucky to have him consider two scripts of mine. In fact, his office told me he is working on his schedule to see if how he can work on my films. He’s also the kind of name that can attract financiers and talent from Hollywood and China. So – wish me luck.
- I finished a new script called Operation Fox Hunt which I plan to make into either a Chinese-Canadian co-production or a Chinese-German co-production. So I will have two versions of this script and depending on what the financiers want.
Before I introduce today’s guest – I’d like to start out with a motivational quote to encourage our listeners to continue on their path to achieving their own green light. And today’s quote is from Ella Wheeler Wilcox who said. “There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”
Today’s guest is producer Jean Su. Jean Qing Su (蘇青) Qū Qīng. She was living a very nice life in Napa Valley but decided to risk everything to enter the film / TV business. She will tell us how she and her husband sold their house, packed up the minivan and moved to L.A. to work in Hollywood. Here is the interview.
This is Caryn McCann with the China Hollywood greenlight podcast. Today’s guest is Jean Su who is the founder of Broad Vision Pictures a film television and digital media production company, creating content for the global market. Jean was Executive Producer of Grey Lady written and directed by John Shea and starring Eric Dane. Grey Lady was produced by Broad Vision in association with Beacon Pictures and was released theatrically in the US in 2017.
Jean also led the marketing strategy for the distribution of Grey Lady. Broad Vision Pictures has created and developed a slate of award-winning projects since its founding in 2014. Prior to completing the UCLA graduate film school’s professional producing program, Jean was a consultant and venture capital investor developing and building technology and new media companies in China, Silicon Valley, London, and Boston.
Born in Beijing, Jean received her undergraduate degree from the University of International Business & Economics in Beijing and her master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT where she was a Sloan Fellow. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and English.
So, Jean thank you for coming on the show today.
Jean Su: Thank you for the invite, Caryn. I really appreciate it.
Caryn McCann: Now I’ve told the audience just a little bit about you but why don’t you tell us about yourself personally and about your business.
Jean Su: Just one thing is not in the bio. I’ve never thought in my entire life that I’d be in the entertainment business. Until one day my husband I wanted to call this a midlife crisis. We were living in Napa Valley after our, you know dozen, ten years in Silicon Valley. We thought would try retired life. And then in Napa Valley, there was the first Napa Valley film festival. My husband says, ‘Well, I have some stories. There’s a pitch contest. They say you just come and tell your story.’
So, he went there and told two of his stories and came back was a big magnum bottle of wine. And he won both of them. So, from that point – because the Hollywood executives – they wanted to read the script. And he’s ‘Oh I need to write a script.’
I don’t know how. So, he ended up going to – well first he could we both kind of come from academic backgrounds. When we want to do something, we want to go to the school. What’s the best school that teaches screenplay? And it turned out UCLA came up as the number one school. So, he first signed up online and studied when we were living in Napa – the good life. And then 2013 he said, one day he just said ‘Oh Jean, I’m moving to L.A.’ Because he signed up a full time at the graduate school at UCLA. I said okay. So, he drove a truck, you know actually rented a truck and brought himself. I said truck it’s not – whatever – he went down. Then signed up as a student, rented an apartment near UCLA and went to school full-time.
And in that one year, 2013 he produced five – he wrote five scripts and six TV pilots. And most of them had won some kind of awards. So, by 2014, I decided okay it’s time we go. So, we then sold our house in Napa, sold our house in Silicon Valley. I drove our minivan with our truck – oh I mean I keep saying truck – I don’t know what happened to me today. Our minivan with our dog. He rented an SUV and brought a wine so the two of us we drove down April 11, 2014. That’s our starting of the endeavor of our life in Los Angeles.
Caryn McCann: Wow. Well now the first question – now obviously, you were born in China but you live in America. So, I’m going to kind of change my first question. Why did you want to enter the Hollywood market
Jean Su: Well, Hollywood it’s the top of the world. So, if we can if I can make stuff and produce stuff that’s brought by the global market then I basically made it. Right?
Caryn McCann: Right.
Jean Su: So, the way you do things – that’s how I do things. If I want to do anything I do it right. And I go with the best in the industry. So, that’s where we are. So, that’s why we moved to L.A. Risking all of our retirement and everything in this brand-new world.
Caryn McCann: Well you really went for it. Good for you. Now some of the audience is, you know experienced filmmakers some of them are just starting out. Tell us what just to explain more – like you’re a producer – what are two or three main tasks you do on a typical day now. Now I know there’s no such thing as a typical day.
Jean Su: Well on a typical day I start with my tennis playing. That’s why we can’t do Skype. But seriously I think the most important to the producer – you have to have good material. Now for me – it’s not difficult because I love to read novels. I just think that moves me – things that bring tears to me – I know it’s good material. But the other thing is other people have to buy your story. Other people have to be moved to tears. And that is the investors. How can you convince people to give you millions of dollars? This is not a normal business- not a mom-and-pop soda shop or something, you know.
You have to have millions to make a good story you know – big – the best picture you can. I’m not saying all of them are millions – but still, unless you’ve got that kind of money, you really – a lot of the videos you would like to bring in the A-listers – it’s just not possible.
Caryn McCann: So you so you have to party your day is looking for new material – stuff that moves you – moves the investor? That kind of thing?
Jean Su: Right, exactly. For materials, we’ve got plenty. As I mentioned, my husband you know he produced, he wrote basically six movies and five TV pilots. And so, we’ve got plenty of materials. And they’re all the people that we knew through our lives you know. I gravitate towards real-life heroes, not the superheroes. Because I believe anybody, you and me we can be some hero during extraordinary situations. And I want to bring those stories to the big screen so people get inspired. You don’t just go to the movie to get entertained and say okay bye-bye. I want people to learn something. And that’s what I go for movies – for things that teach me something – bring me to tears bring me a lesson that I say you know, I can be a better self through watching the movie.
Caryn McCann: Yeah that’s good, that’s a good yardstick. Now how do you find your business partners and how do you suggest the listeners find – let’s say for our American listeners how they find a Chinese business partner?
Jean Su: Well, for me – my business partner is my husband. We run several businesses and which through ups and downs over the last 15 years. So, for me I didn’t I didn’t go out to seek – because we are – we sink together, we swim together. So, that’s our life.
Caryn McCann: Would you have any suggestions, let’s say you know with your Chinese background, how would Americans find a Chinese business partner?
Jean Su: Oh, find a partner. I think the business part you really have to work together. You have to go through the ups and downs together and you have to have common goals. So, people – it’s not just people with money or people with skills you can get together. The chemistry has to be right. And people have to be at the same wavelength, the goal has to be the same. That’s why you see so many businesses – they were probably the same goal at the beginning and then when the business grows, then they’re not together anymore. And it’s for good reasons. So, you have to feel comfortable. It’s like a family. I run a small business so it’s like a family. But then I think bigger companies – also the whole team has to feel like- it’s the common goal that drives the process.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. Now you’ve done several projects. Tell us what obstacle did you encounter on a past project? And how did you overcome it and what did you learn?
Jean Su: Well there’s so much in this one question Caryn! (laughs) I guess the most difficulty in this business are different from the other business There’s a lot of egos. People feel – you constantly have to be careful not to bruise their ego in order to achieve the goal. And then the money, of course, is probably one of the most difficult things to come by. Because nobody will part with millions of dollars for your story – especially for someone like me who had no history in Hollywood. How can I prove to people that I can actually make a really good movie? So, I started by supporting other people making Grey Lady to learn the business and learn about how to make a movie. And from that point on I then continue raising the fund for our own projects for the scripts my husband wrote.
Caryn McCann: Could you point to a particular let’s say regarding raising funds – any particular problem or obstacle you faced with that -and maybe how you overcame that?
Jean Su: Yes, because at the beginning I thought a lot of my stories are also you know, female-driven, Asian driven, male or female Asian characters. And I thought I should go to the Chinese investors because they would buy my story, right? They feel what I feel. But unfortunately, none of them came to my rescue if you will.
In fact, most of them kind of looked down upon because I don’t have an A-lister attached. But I thought unless I have the money how can I attach anybody? But it turned out that through the trials and errors, I ended up with mostly American investors. So, thank God three of our scripts have been fully financed at this point. So, I’m in pre-production and I don’t have a lot to report to you. But I hope the movies come out and your audience would support them.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. Well, it sounds like that the obstacle that you faced with the Chinese investors was that they wanted a big-budget, A-list talent. And what you did – you wanted to get your movie made – so you found different investors. You kept the budget at a comfortable level and made the movie. So sometimes the investors want A-list – but that’s a big thing to ask.
Jean Su: Right. If you look at the current movie there wasn’t such a big list. The most successful Asian-led movie Crazy Rich Asians is the top box office in the last weekend beating up all the A-list blockbusters. And there’s a reason why. Because the movie had all this heart. That’s what I’m the kind of movie that I’m trying to make.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. That’s a great example because it’s a lot of actors, a lot of talent I mean there’s a few that Americans would recognize – but there’s a lot that they wouldn’t. And that movie did fantastically.
Jean Su: Yeah. It’s a movie with the heart. It’s a movie that moves people. It makes want to learn new things, new cultures. And that’s something I think Hollywood has yet to really gravitate towards. I hope that Crazy Rich Asians’success they would see this point of views that we see as an audience. And they haven’t made such movies for so long.
Caryn McCann: Well I think after this week they’re definitely – Hollywood studios are definitely sitting up and taking notice. So, let’s hope for more Asian stories. Now my next question is – if you could wave a wand and magically solve two current problems – what would they be? Like two things you’re working on currently and you’d like to solve a problem.
PROBLEMS TO SOLVE
Jean Su: Well I actually the way I hate to say this Caryn – I’m you know I know there are always problems in life – but there’s always a solution to a problem. I don’t think God gives us only problems. Problems come because they test our capabilities, skills, and persistence to see how we overcome them. So, and there are always problems.
Like one of my movies and I think it needs the bigger budget. But the investor gave me a very little budget to make a movie. So, I’m trying to think okay what kind of cast I can bring that’s really great? And what kind of team I’m going to bring to make a beautiful picture with so little money? And what friends and people can I ask for favors, so the movie really makes money and I can give them their investment back. We run you know businesses in Silicon Valley – we’d get people stocks. We give them a backend. So, I try all these creative ways in order to bring more money, more labor to make a better movie than the budget allows.
Caryn McCann: That’s great. So, basically what you’re what you’re saying is a current problem we all face this – having to fit the budget. Having an investor give you some money but maybe it’s not enough. So, that’s a big problem for everybody. We all want to solve that one. And then number two would be – you know you have a particular budget how do you how do you stretch it? Maybe you offer a back-end deal to get the talent or something like that. So, those are problems we all face and we magically wish we could solve those
Jean Su: Totally. And it will happen it will happen. You just have to be persistent and keep working hard and focus.
Caryn McCann: Now what sort of future projects are you hoping to make? Could you talk a little bit about – maybe it’s a film or TV? The genre, the budget? Things like that.
Jean Su: So, the way the movie business goes – I’m making movies because that’s the only area where I have power. We’ve got TV pilots we’ve written but those have to go through networks. And we need to make a name in my opinion – we have to make a name on ourselves first and then those TV deals will come. Because then people will say oh what else do you have right? And that’s where we are.
I also produced a reality show which is being taken by a well-known company that has 20 network shows. But oh, that takes time because again this business runs by who you are, what kind of connections you have. And I’ve only been here for four years. So, I can’t possibly have all these connections that all these other people have been working on for the last twenty or thirty years. So, that’s what I’m up against.
Caryn McCann: Right. And would you have any idea what perhaps the Chinese studios might be looking for?
WHAT ARE THE CHINESE STUDIOS LOOKING FOR?
Jean Su: Iknow what they’re looking for but that’s not what I have. But I think once I have a movie if I add an A-lister here I’m pretty sure the investors from the studios they would come to me for the content. But at this point – no because most of them, they follow either a follow-on investment or they have to hear there’s a great story that already made a lot of money. Then they come to you. It’s a very different market right now.
Caryn McCann: So would you say the Chinese studios are looking – I mean you did mention A-list talent. We all would like to have A-list talent. But are the Chinese studios – what you hear – are they’re looking maybe for big-budget, blockbuster kind of movies – that kind of thing?
Jean Su: I think they’re all betting on this big-budget A-list stories. That’s what they’re doing. I don’t think at this point the market itself understands what’s a great story. I’m hoping it changes with all these indie movies. There was a big success from India and there was another success with a Brazilian football player. All those are based on real-life stories. And I hope the Chinese audience is telling the investors to say ‘Hey we want more of those hearts moving stories, real-life based stories.’ And hopefully, we’ll get there when my movie comes out. I hope to ride that wave.
Caryn McCann: Good point. Now I know you said you were just in the business for the last four years. This this is a funny question. If you could do your career – your film career over again – is there anything you would do differently?
Jean Su: I wouldn’t – the reason – I know the last four years have been extremely difficult funding a company, building it up and constantly worrying how long my money’s going to last before I go bankrupt. But I think that’s the reason – there’s also a reason for everything that happens. I think because of this hardship, because of all this learning I have gone through the past four years – that’s what made my movie if they do come out when they come out I think it’s going to be a better movie. Because you just need the time to learn and improve yourself.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. And You mentioned something in pre-production. What are you trying to accomplish this year?
Jean Su: This year I have one movie that we are making for Singapore. They’re hiring our team to write and direct a major action movie there. And another one is the one I am producing. It’s a lead female Chinese character. Actually, two of them I won’t just go I know you don’t have enough time to hear all the details. But another one was optioned about 20 months ago. It’s a little bit out of my control. But it’s a sci-fi thriller and the lead male is a Chinese husband. So, that one is a bit of a fiction. The other two are old based on real stories.
Caryn McCann: Wow you’re busy! Good for you.
Jean Su: Yes, finally. In the right direction for the right project.
Caryn McCann: Now what do you think what kind of skills our talents are essential? You’re a producer and you’ve got all this stuff in development. What kind of skills or talents are essential to being effective at your job?
ON THE JOB
Jean Su: I think the important thing is to pick the right project because there are so many projects out there. Obviously, I’m focusing on what my team and my what my husband wrote first and foremost. But it’s also stories that I said yeah let’s go for it. Because you just have to have a few I don’t know how do we explain this – but certain things I just feel like well maybe a few years down the road – is not for the current market.
But some things I say yeah let’s go for it. But also, you have to have certain deals. Like our Investor want to work with the studio and the studio is interested in this project, not the other one. Even though I want to push the other project more but in the end, you have to get everybody together. When I was in school at UCLA going to film school and the instructor would say you know it takes a whole village to make a movie. It really is true because from the top and from the distribution – all the things have to line up in order to make a great movie.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. Now, this next question is sort of a trick question what question did I not ask you that I should have?
Jean Su: Well, we have very limited time Caryn and I’m always open for you to ask any question that you can think of later on.
Caryn McCann: Thank you.
Jean Su: I can’t think of any right now. But later on, you think of something that is really tricky and you want to come back and do another podcast. I’m more than happy to accommodate.
Caryn McCann: Okay. Well in summing up – what advice can you give those aspiring to tap into the Chinese market?
Jean Su: Well, I’m certainly not an expert in that market. But I guess keep working, keep making yourself better and better. The market will follow. That’s how I think.
Caryn McCann: Exactly. In conclusion are there any websites you want to share, any social media information with the audience so people can follow you? Is there any way they can keep track of you?
Jean Su: They can find me on either Facebook or LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn quite a bit. I do some videos and I’m invited to speak at certain events. Recently I spoke at a Silicon Dragon event. So, I think probably there’s some information there.
We do have a website – it’s not published yet. So, you need a can a password to follow. But I think LinkedIn is really the best professional network if people want to keep a tab on what we’re doing.
Caryn McCann: Well, Jean thank you very much. This has been a very positive interview, very interesting. And I want to say thank you for being on the show today.
Jean Su: Well thank you so much for the invite, Caryn.
Caryn McCann: And we’ll see you at the premiere.
Jean Su: Thank you. You’re definitely invited.
3 KEY POINTS
- THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: Jean said the most important thing for a producer is to have good material. So, you have to be well read (scripts, novels, newspapers). It’s not easy but that’s how you find good material.
- THE MARKET IS CHANGING: Jean said she gravitates toward stories w/ a heart – where an average person in an extraordinary situation. And we see in China this trend is catching on. Films like Dying to Survive and stories based on everyday people have broken through. And you can count on the fact that these stories are going to be even more popular in China.
- NO BUDGET: Jean mentioned the challenge of not having a big enough budget. Jean solved this problem by asking for favors from friends and people could help with her production. There’s always a way to lower the budget if you’re willing to be creative by offering people incentives that don’t include more money to get your project off the ground.
- ASIAN LEADS: Jean suggested that Asian leads are not a sure bet with Chinese investors. She added that many Chinese investors wanted an A-list talent attached which isn’t realistic. So, she went with American investors who did invest in her films which star Asian leads.
- MOVIES WITH A HEART: Jean mentioned Crazy Rich Asians’ This is a key time right now because now Hollywood is sitting up and looking for more Asian stories.
- TV DEAL: Jean is hoping to use her growing clout in the film to build up the TV side of their company. And since many films are made into TV series, TV is where the opportunity is. You must have a TV component in your business model if you want to be a producer.
- NOT UNDERSTANDING THE MARKET: Jean mentioned Chinese investors currently are asking for A-list talent and that they don’t understand what a great story is. But indie films in China are making headway in – for example – Dying to Survive, Dangal). And with Crazy Rich Asians’success – Asian stories are going mainstream. So, this is a watershed moment thanks to Jon Chu’s movie and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more Asian themed films and TV in the future.
That’s the show. Thank you for listening. To show your support – go to iTunes, subscribe and leave a review so other people can find this podcast.I’m also looking for more guests for my podcast. So, spread the word. And if you’d like to join the podcast or would like to recommend a guest – send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
And I’ll see you at the premiere. Bye! Yī huǐ jiàn! 一会见!