13 Dec 008: Development Hell: How to Survive & Thrive – Jessica Wang, Seven Stars Ent.
The China/Hollywood Greenlight Podcast
Jessica discusses the clampdown on Chinese overseas investments and how that means more Chinese influence on content.
Guest: Jessica Wang
Company: Seven Stars Entertainment: IMDB: http://imdb.to/2Ajydla
Jessica’s WeChat: Qian5594
Host: Caryn McCann
HOW TO BULLETPROOF YOUR SCRIPT FOR CHINA
STRIKE GOLD IN CHINA’S TV MARKET
Caryn McCann: This is the China Hollywood Greenlight podcast. Episode number 8.
This is Caryn McCann, the host of the China Hollywood Greenlight podcast – a podcast about creating & distributing content for both Hollywood and China.
If you like the show, please go to iTunes, subscribe and leave a rating so other people can find this podcast. The more we work together – the more opportunities will be out there for everyone.
Any links mentioned in the podcast can be found in the show notes as well as a full transcript at chinahollywoodgreenlight.com / podcast and look for this episode which is #8.
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 Buddha who said: “The mind is everything. What you think, you become”
I’d like to introduce today’s guest. Today it’s Jessica Wang and Jessica is the director of development at Seven Stars Entertainment where she oversees co-production film projects for the Chinese and global markets. Seven Stars Entertainment is one of the biggest private media and investment companies in China run by media pioneer Bruno Wu. In 2016 also formed a joint venture with veteran Hollywood producer Arthur Sarkissian who produced the Rush Hour franchise as well as the recent film The Foreigner starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan, to launch a new venture Peak Time Entertainment which will create international projects. Jessica is an experienced film executive who provides insight for both creative and business aspects of the development of US-china co-production projects she also produced and line produced several projects which include the Chinese film entitled Run For Love starring Zhang Ziyi. So, Jessica welcome to the podcast and thank you for coming on the show today.
Jessica Wang: Hi Caryn. Thank you so much for having me here.
Caryn McCann: Great. Well, I’ve told the audience a little bit about you but why don’t you tell us more about yourself and your business.
Jessica Wang: Yeah sure. So, my name is Jessica Wang and I’m from China. In 2013 I earned my master’s degree in film production from Florida State University film school. And after graduation, I worked as a freelance producer for about a year before I join an international film sales agency. And now I am the director of development of Seven Stars entertainment. Before I talk about other things, please allow me to introduce my company a little bit – the business we engaged in.
So, Seven Stars is a Los Angeles based China-US co-production company established by the Chinese investor and media entrepreneur Bruno Wu. We’re dedicated to develop, produce and distribute co-productions. And in the movies, Seven Stars have worked out so far, ranges from critically acclaimed ones like Grace of Monaco, The Immigrant to the very brave and unprecedented co-production endeavor Hollywood Adventures.
Caryn McCann: Well, let me begin with – you know you told a little bit a little bit about yourself. Some of the listeners are experienced, some of them are starting out. So, tell us – I know to no two days are the same. But what are two or three main tasks you do on a typical day? And that will help explain to the listeners what your job is about.
Jessica Wang: So basically, my job consists of two parts – the creative part and the business part. So, from the creative side, on daily basis, I work with our producing partners, writers and sometimes even actors – developing original scripts. We will have many development meetings discussing what is to be changed in the next draft. Then we consolidate our notes and send it to the writer. So, the writer goes back to work on it. And then upon receiving a new draft, we all read it immediately. And following that is the next round of discussion.
As you can imagine the development phase ranges from a few months to several years. But I personally find it very rewarding because you know for young development executives like myself, I’m not only just applying skills that I learned from film school and getting professional experience, but I also hear the impact insights from the top writers about the industry, about screenwriting, sometimes even about life. The experience you know, you cannot get it from production or post-production. It only exists in development
Caryn McCann: I hope you’re keeping a journal because that would make a good book. You should write a book. People out there want to know this mystery about how to get these scripts developed for China and Hollywood. So, take good notes. Tell me how do you find – of course, Seven Stars is famous – but how do you find your business partners and how do you suggest the audience finds Chinese business partners?
Jessica Wang: Oh Sorry Caryn – do you want me to – because I started with consists of two parts.
Caryn McCann: Oh, sorry yes. I was I was so excited about this new idea about a book. Go ahead.
Jessica Wang: Yeah no worries. Except for the projects that we already developed – I also constantly look for and identify the next project that works to develop. That could be a script, a novel, comic books or a movie remake. And speaking from the business side, for some projects I negotiate directly ways the other party co-producing and distribution deals. For some bigger projects that involve you know, as a top producer or IP, I work with our lawyers directly reviewing and revising deal terms. Usually, it’s our lawyer who goes out to negotiate with the other party’s lawyer. it’s very interesting that you know, in the industry the business part relies on the lawyers a lot. You have to find a knowledgeable and reputable attorney to represent yourself or your company.
Caryn McCann: Are those projects coming to you from America or China?
Jessica Wang: Most of them come from America.
Caryn McCann: So, you have obviously, this very famous company, great reputation – but how does Seven Stars find the business partners? Is it just people come to you? And how do you suggest the listeners find Chinese business partners?
Jessica Wang: A lot of times many producers or writers just come to us. Then you know, social skills are one of the most desired qualities in the film industry. A lot of projects and partners are just introduced by the partners you’ve worked with before or friends or your so-called contacts in other companies or maybe somebody you just got to know in last night’s party. And on a more professional level, some companies are represented by agencies like CAA or UTA and these agencies can introduce you to their clients or projects that they helped package or they somehow are involved. Sometimes lawyers can make introduction and broker projects as well.
Caryn McCann: that is that kind of answers the next question on how to suggest listeners find Chinese partners? Maybe one idea is these lawyers.
Jessica Wang: It’s lawyers and different events. There will be many events and parties in early November because of AFM and the Chinese-America Film Festival.
Caryn McCann: Right okay. So, listeners should be going to the AFM and be probably going to this LA Chinese Film Festivalkay well now I know you’ve got a mixture of projects on your slate but can you tell us about an obstacle perhaps you encountered on a past project and how did you overcome it and what did you learn?
Jessica Wang: You know there’s a challenge that we face every day and I think most co-production companies – and that it is difficult to make a co-production to be appealing to both Western and Eastern audience. So probably haven’t really seen any co-production that you know both the markets responded to very well. But that doesn’t necessarily make us lose hope or become negative because when it comes to co-productions like The Great Wall or Hollywood Adventures we cannot discharge them based on its box office numbers. Even if it’s not that bad either because co-productions also mean so much for the general collaboration and in the future between China and Hollywood.
So, I think all the co-productions that have been made took us that closer to the win-win situation we were pursuing. And then there are also successful films that could be co-productions but they’re not for example like The Martian, Fast and Furious they are rare but they are worth developing and discovering.
So, what I’ve learned- I think we need we need to look for those great stories with universal subject matter or see and organic Chinese elements instead of just forcing in Chinese actors and the storylines. Because actors are always the driving force for the projects but the content is always king.
Caryn McCann: I totally agree. So, the obstacle you would say is finding projects that appeal to both markets. And then finding the universal theme in the script. Is there a desire for your company to shoot in America or China or it doesn’t matter?
Jessica Wang: Well wait it’s all based on the script you know it’s based on the story. It depends on the story needs.
Caryn McCann: Okay now talk about if you here’s a here’s a question if you could magically solve two pain points what would they be?
Jessica Wang: There are still many gaps between China and Hollywood from our perception of film as an art, our government policy, work ethic. So, I think it’s normal to have this difference but sometimes it destroys the trust and hurts the deal. So, first I hope in the future we could understand each other more. And I’m very happy to see that you know many very high-level executives from both China and America are very open-minded and embrace and try to solve these problems positively.
And another point which is I think it’s already happening is that China’s involvement should not be just a source of financing. We will have more influence over the content. And driven by the recent clampdown overseas investment by the Chinese government, I think now Hollywood studios you know are looking to enter China and get out the ground to work with Chinese companies locally and you know have a share of the Chinese market. So, that’s very inspiring.
Caryn McCann: So would you say that the first pain point is Americans and Chinese having a cultural difference and understanding each other.
Jessica Wang: Yeah okay.
Caryn McCann: And then the second pain point was you would like what you ‘re hoping that the Chinese content – the Chinese be more involved in the project, not just a source of financing out of China right?
Jessica Wang: Do you want me to like a recap it?
Caryn McCann: No I this is good. But tell me it’s it’s you’ve got Chinese language projects, English language projects. What sort of future projects are you looking for? A) what language? B) Is it film or TV? What genre? What budget range? And what do you think the Chinese studios are looking for?
Jessica Wang: Well I think we’re open to anything I can if I can just summarize in one sentence instance we’ re just looking for great content with the universal theme that both Eastern and a western audience can relate to.
I’m not gonna stay a certain genre or you know language even if we all know that action or sci-fi a very popular. But I think filmmaking should never be just copying a previously successful movie. I think writers or directors should just generally tell a story and you will find your audience.
And then on another note, I think you know web series are very popular nowadays in China with a slightly looser censorship. You can join many interesting concepts that you think might be too risky to do for the big screen. I think the Internet is gonna be a great outlet for content as well especially for young or upcoming filmmakers in China because usually the cost is lower and it’s less risky for the investors. And you know you don’t need to compete with some blockbusters on the same release date. But the downside though is there’s only a few popular video websites. If you don’t if they don’t take it then you may have a problem to find a good distribution platform.
Caryn McCann: That’s a good point. But at least it sounds like this would be an exciting project if someone were to introduce it to you.
Jessica Wang: Right yeah we’re open to anything. I cannot say that for other companies but I think most companies are very open they just need great content.
Caryn McCann: Now what do you think the Chinese studios are looking for?
Jessica Wang: Well you mean in terms of TV or films or web series?
Caryn McCann: Let’s start with film.
Jessica Wang: Well like I said it just needs to be a great story that the audience can relate to. It can be anything. Have you heard of the movie called Dangal?
Caryn McCann: Yes, yes.
Jessica Wang: Before that movie, we all know that sports movie won’t work and Indian movies are just not very popular. But that be it’s just so different.
Caryn McCann: That was the family themes that resonated.
Jessica Wang: And then also you know it’s just that the audience can all relate to the expectation that you hope some of you win the game and then the father-daughter relationship.
Caryn McCann: Okay well that’s a new – you could call it sports drama – that could be it could be an area of opportunity. So, listeners right that sports drama. Let me ask this but what are you hoping to accomplish this year?
Jessica Wang: Workwise I try my best to drive the project’s forward and I hope we can achieve the script that can satisfy all of us. And on the personal level like I said there are many subjects that I would love to learn and improve myself.
Caryn McCann: Do you want to share any or any of that? You don’t have to but if you want to.
Jessica Wang: Yeah I thought you were going to ask another question about if I can do my career again?
Caryn McCann: Oh, yeah. Let me ask that. If you could do your career over again what would you do differently?
Jessica Wang: I think personally I would train myself to be more business savvy. I studied production in school and I was training to be a director. And now I’m working more like a producer so I need to consciously learn more about financing, about negotiation, about law etc. So, I think it really depends on what you would like to do. If you want to be a director or if you want to work on set then that’s different but I noticed the many students, no matter what their majors are, they all want to pursue a career as a producer. In that case, in addition to having good taste in stories and knowledge in filmmaking, you have to have some business sense. So, that also something that I would like to improve myself on.
Caryn McCann: Oh, well and as you know with your directing background or studying directing in school – that would help you as a producer because then you know what happens on set, how that affects the budget so it all it all helps. okay so tell me what are you hoping to accomplish this year. You’ve got the learning – you mentioned some learning some new things. Do you want to share anything?
Jessica Wang: Yeah, I also take some classes like business classes on the side, and law that will be very helpful for my work. And that’s also something that I didn’t learn at school. So yeah that’s something that I’m working on right now.
Caryn McCann: So, tell me what skills or talents are essential to be a development executive?
Jessica Wang: Well for first of all you have to have good taste in scripts. And that is something that cannot be taught. And then you have to be a fast reader. You have to be mentally strong because everyone knows that development is the hell. You have to keep your faith and believe in the projects that you are developing and also be nice and make people like you because a connection is super important. And last I would say just never stop learning – always improve yourself.
Caryn McCann: Good advice. Now here’s a trick question what question did I not ask you that I should have?
Jessica Wang: I think we covered everything.
Caryn McCann: ok, no worries. Now you’ve given us a little bit of advice have this last question. What other guidance or advice can you give those aspiring to tap into the Chinese market?
Jessica Wang: Again, I would say content is king. Just genuinely in telling a story and you will find your audience. Like we just talked about the movie Dangal.
We might see a few of those next year. We might see more Wolf Warrior imitations.
Jessica Wang: There many companies trying to create something similar or in the same vein.
Caryn McCann: Well, that problem is it’s no longer original. But right you can see why people loved it okay well, in conclusion, Jessica is there any projects you would like to plug or any social media you’d like to share or website links?
Jessica Wang: Well you know all of our projects if they are announced – you can find it on Hollywood Reporter or Variety so we don’t really have a website but we definitely update our status you know through the trades.
Caryn McCann: Are there any like social media handles that you want to share just about yourself?
Jessica Wang: I don’t have like any like public accounts but if you’d like to I’m fine to share my WeChat account name with you.
Caryn McCann: Whatever you like. We could put that in the show notes.
Jessica Wang: It’s Qian5594. That’s my WeChat – you can add me.
Caryn McCann: good Jessica thank you for coming on the show today. You had some very interesting stories and some really good advice. And I want to say thank you for being a part of this podcast.
Jessica Wang: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. It’s been an honor.
Caryn McCann: Okay Jessica and we’ll see you at the premiere.
Jessica Wang: Thank you.
3 key points:
- Actors drive the project but content is king. Jessica used Dangal as an example of universal theme – in this case – the theme of “Family”. So, look for universal themes. I’ll put a link in the show notes for two of my blog posts –
- The Chinese don’t want to be just a source of financing. They want to have influence over the content. And thanks to or due to the clampdown on Chinese overseas investments – US studios are getting smart about working with Chinese companies locally.
- Web series are easier to finance than films and you don’t have to compete with the big films for a release date. But the downside is you have to get on one of the few major video websites.
- Jessica is a smart lady and not only doing her job well but taking outside classes that will allow her to grow and move up in her company. She’s a development exec but taking law classes. She also mentioned how lawyers broker deals and can make introductions to future partners. So, she is definitely moving up and making great connections.
- Teamwork – Jessica said as we all know – development is hell. You need to be committed to the long haul (and that goes for everybody – execs, writers, producers). But it’s not enough to be super talented – you need to be a team player but connections are everything – Or they say in Chinese –
- I am reviewing the Chinese version of my action-thriller script and will start sending it out this week.
- I sent out a few scripts to some of the folks I met at the AFM.
Thank you for listening. To show your support – go to iTunes, subscribe and leave a rating so other people can find this podcast. The more we work together – the more opportunities will be out there for everyone.
And I’ll see you at the premiere. Bye! Yī huǐ jiàn! 一会见!