After years of preparation, the Wanda Film Metropolis will formally open on April 28. Jason Wei handles marketing for the hotel portion of the project. Nick Zhang is in charge of marketing for the Wanda Studios portion of the project. I met with them last week at the site for a preview of what will be revealed at the opening.
The commercial part of the project includes a large retail mall, three separate amusement parks (theme park, water park, movie theme park, all indoors for year round operation), at least 6 separate hotels, two large exhibition centers, a large marina and a massive number of condos. Nothing except the condos have formally opened for business.
The movie studio project is being conducted under the heading of Wanda Studios Qingdao (青岛万达影视产业园）which operates separately from the commercial portions of the Film Metropolis. You can check out the studio complex on their website at www.wandastudios.com.
Since websites and reality are often different, I below report on what I saw and heard while I was on the ground at the Qingdao facilities.
a. The projected opening date is April 28. Management expects to begin formally renting out studios soon after opening. They indicate that some of the larger studios have already been used for Chinese domestic film productions. They would not discuss pricing with me nor did the person I asked know anything about the 40% subsidy that had previously been discussed in the media for using these facilities. I will though be discussing the subsidy with management next week and I will write more on that then.
b. The entire project is 2500 mu (400 acres). This is huge! The location is on the same side of the main road as the main sales buildings, away from the ocean, running up to the mountains to the west. This is a different location from what had originally been proposed, so for those of us who have been following the project for years and had been there previously, it takes a bit of effort to find the studio complex.
c. Thirty separate studio buildings have been built with another ten under construction and construction due to finish in October. The individual studios range from 10,000 square meters to 15,000 square meters. Each studio has a full sound stage, attached dressing rooms, full support set up (electronics, lighting, ventilation, etc) and 18 meter high ceilings. The studios were designed by a London architect and they have been built to meet an international standard. Management indicates that normal Chinese studios cost around 2000 rmb per square meter to build but that these cost 10,000 rmb per square meter.
Though I am not familiar with film studio construction, I have worked on construction projects all over Asia and the U.S. and i can state that the construction and facilities build-out appears to be excellent and the claim that the studios were built to an international standard seems justified. Management claims this is the largest studio facility in the world and this claim also seems reasonable to me.
d. The studio complex has a main headquarters building that can house a staff of 1000 people. The cafeteria can feed 1000 persons at a shift. Current staff is 200. The cafeteria complex is not being used. Presumably all of this will get into gear when formal rentals start in May of 2018.
My impressions are as follows:
a. Nothing at all is going on at the complex yet, so there is no way to predict what will happen down the road.
b. Nobody seems to know who owns the land or the facilities. Nobody seems to know what the financial objectives are. Everyone seems to know that Wanda has full management control.
c. Management states that they want to attract foreign movie projects and the elegant English language website evidences this. There was, however, no evidence of this at the physical site, I did not see any attempt to deal with any language other than Chinese nor any evidence that there had been any provisions made for services to any company arriving from outside China. But because I do not need any help with Chinese it is possible these services are available and I simply was not exposed to them.
d. The studio complex is located far from Qingdao in a beautiful coastal location in the middle of nowhere. That means there are no carpenters, no electronics technicians, no retail supply of equipment (no wood, no nails, no paint, no electric drills, no lights, no speakers, no recorders, no cameras) nearby. Management told me that the film producers will bring in all the equipment and workers needed. I have worked with construction and engineering projects in China in places where you cannot even buy a nail or a screw and so I know how frustrating this sort of thing can be. It is not clear management understands this nor made any concrete plans to deal with these issues.
e. The studio buildings are impressive. It was strange to tour all these expensive studios and not see a single project actually in operation. Will anyone come? And if they come, how will logistics be handled? Management seem confident enough, perhaps relying on the “if you build it and they will come” philosophy prevalent in China.