Asia Life

James Packer, Warner Bros. Give “Chollywood” $450 Million Boost

The U.S., Australian and Chinese filmmaking industries have just struck a major deal.

Yesterday we reported that Angelina Jolie will shoot her second directorial effort, Unbroken, in Australia. It seems another mega-deal has been inked by a consortium of players from the United States and Down Under.

Aussie casino magnate James Packer and U.S. director Brett Ratner – the duo behind RatPac-Dune Entertainment, along with Dune chief Steven Mnuchin – have teamed up with Warner Brothers to produce a staggering 75 films with pooled funds of US$450 million, distributed over four years. Films in the running to benefit from the deal include Gravity (George Clooney, Sandra Bullock), Grudge Match (Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone), Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood), The Water Diviner (Russell Crowe), and the Batman-Superman project (Ben Affleck) set to hit theaters in July 2015.

Packer is best known for his global casino empire, Crown, which operates resorts in Melbourne, Perth and Macau. He is reportedly also eyeing Sri Lanka, Manila and Japan (where legalization of gambling is currently being debated). By branching out into the film biz, Packer is following in the footsteps of his late father, Kerry, who was also known for his love of the silver screen. Between the two – casinos and cinema – the younger Packer sees no conflict.

“The movie business has always had a love affair with casinos,” Packer said. “Casinos love the movies. Television and film sell emotion. Casinos sell adrenaline. There are also commercial benefits.”

Hollywood is well and good, but the group has also cast its gaze on the massive mainland market, driven by Chinese cinephiles. “There is a globalization play here,” Packer told Australian Financial Review. “There is a real chance to grab the opportunity in China. In 10 years' time, the Chinese box office will have overtaken the United States. I'd like to see my business interests spread out evenly across the US, Australia and China.”

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Ratner, who directed the Rush Hour trilogy staring Jackie Chan, echoed Packer’s sentiment, saying, “James is very savvy about Asia and understands the culture.”

He added, “Part of our strategy will be to expand into China, to co-finance Chinese movies and films that not only work around the world but Asia in particular,” Rather told me. “We are already developing some movies we feel will work in the Asian market.”

While doubts exist about whether “Chollywood” can ever creatively get off the ground – in the face of censorship and red tape – there is little doubt about potential gains to be had by catering to box office tastes in the People’s Republic.