Bruno Wu Q&A: Is He Mr. Chinawood?

Bruno Wu is called the ‘CEO of China’ as in Chief Entertainment Officer. Known for blending work and pleasure during nightly dinners at his Shanghai supper club, he is decidedly a controversial media mogul. Even more so after he made a spate of high-profile announcements over the past 15 months with very little to show for them so far. Little wonder there’s a lot of skepticism about his complex network of companies plus important relationships with major filmmakers. He came to Hollywood to kick the tires about acquiring Summit Entertainment in late 2011, and by February 2012 formed the Harvest Seven Stars Media Fund with an initial capital-raising target of $800M to invest in mergers, acquisitions, distribution, marketing, and content. This was followed by a series of joint ventures with Fast & Furious 6 director Justin Lin and Spider-Man franchise producer Avi Arad plus plans to remake John Woo’s The Killer. He also has intentions to build a mega-media hub in China called Chinawood.

Wu is based in China but is a fluent English and French speaker who earned his PhD from Shanghai’s Fudan University, has his Master’s from Washington University in St Louis, and also studied at the Université de Savoie in the French Alps. He was COO of Asia Television Ltd in the early 1990s before co-chairing, the owner of China’s version of Twitter. He is currently chairman of the Chinese online video portal Ku6 Media Co Ltd. His own companies include the Sun Redrock Investment Group, Sun Enterprises, and the Sun Media Group, which is headed by his wife Yang Lan (known as the ‘Oprah of China with 55 million social media followers) and owns a TV production banner and a female-skewed media and marketing company called Her Village among many entities. Wu’s new Seven Stars Media Group houses all of the entertainment-related ventures announced in the past 15 months, including Tiger TV which will be a mixed martial arts channel launching later this summer in both the U.S. and China. Wu himself is an executive producer on two movies that were showcased at last month’s Cannes Film Festival where he traveled with an entourage consisting of bodyguards and two Michelin-starred chefs. That’s where I conducted this rare interview:

DEADLINE: There’s a history of people who make splashy announcements and tarnish themselves when they don’t follow through. You’ve had this series of announcements and little seems to have actually happened. There’s been some skepticism.
BRUNO WU: Again, first of all, everything that we have announced is in very good proceeding. So far they all made their schedule and are exceeding their schedule. With the exception of our partnership with Jake Eberts because he suddenly passed away which was a real setback on Last Empress. And except for the remake of The Killer that, because of the difference of opinion over the script, we’ll probably turn into a TV series through Justin Lin’s company. So we so far are at the point where everything we’ve done we are well ahead of schedule. Normally, we don’t like to make announcements. But when we work with a partner, you announce it, and certain things must be announced to make it clear. But we don’t have to announce every progress until we have a product coming to the market. In a way, I understand the skepticism but it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not bothered by it. To me, I focus on the fundamentals of business. It’s how do I build lean-and-mean scalable high-value creation, great IP creation, great brand creation with the best talent for the content, very strong digital distribution, all distribution, partnerships with best partners in every silo, control pay and platform digital distribution and control the new generation of P&A which is social media marketing and viral. Those to me are the fundamentals.

DEADLINE:  What do you think the perception of you is outside of China, specifically in Hollywood?
BRUNO WU: Well, I tend not to worry about what the perception is. I think people have their different views over different things. They have different opinions over different business models and over different business interests. And I think anybody who tries to follow the conventional Hollywood rule, will probably be better liked than the ones who try to think a little bit out of the box. That will probably be more likely the case for a foreigner. I think that’s all natural. Understandable. But we don’t worry about this. We worry primarily about the fundamentals of a business in the entertainment field.

DEADLINE: Which is?
WU: I’m about building a next-generation entertainment company that’s lean and mean and scalable. Building an ecosystem for the bigger Chinese movie scene. Exploring a new pathway and being a pioneer. As we say in Chinese, “Being the first brave man who has the guts to taste the crabs.” I see that there’s a very strong need to develop the next generation of film and TV companies. Which means that you have to be very highly concentrated only on IP and brand, and have a strong partnership with talent. I believe that IP is more people-driven than project-driven. That’s why I don’t buy the model of “hire somebody, write a script” – that you have an idea and then hire the people to go with it. I don’t do that. I’m very soon going to be announcing my deal with two of the top Chinese producers who just broke records like you wouldn’t believe. I invest in people. I think: people first, projects second. Also, you don’t have to do a lot of quantity. It’s the quality that counts. You don’t need these complicated development processes or very big overhead. You can outsource everything with every partner in every niche that’s highly specialized and are the best in the world. I’m happy to share. I like to work with the best people. (more…)

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