• Starlight Culture Entertainment Group remained a low profile after bankrolling Crazy Rich Asians. But that will change with the company signing 10 leading Hollywood directors.
• Peter Luo, CEO of Starlight Culture Entertainment Group, shoulders the mission of transforming Hollywood. He understands what Chinese and North American audiences want to see.
Hollywood itself is a republic, where the only currency is popularity and what matters is who is in your address book. This makes the story of Starlight Culture Entertainment Group even more compelling.
Few among the showbiz elite know about company, which has offices in glitzy Beverly Hills, Hong Kong, and Hangzhou, China, but that is about to change.
Under the leadership of CEO Peter Luo, Starlight Culture Entertainment Group has signed contracts with 10 of Hollywood's most famous directors, including Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), Roland Emmerich (2012), F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious), Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), Sam Raimi (Spider-Man), Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables), and Alan Taylor (Terminator Genisys).
Peter said: "We have reached an agreement with 10 directors. Each director and their team has agreed to develop two or three TV and film projects for us in the next three years. In addition to the development deals, we also financed one-off features like Crazy Rich Asians.”
In 2018, Peter laid out his business plan to the entertainment magazine Variety. He said that Starlight Culture Entertainment Group would set up two film funds that would seek and support cooperation with Hollywood's sought-after directors.
At the time, the company had raised $100 million from investors, and had a goal of reaching $1 billion.
Starlight Culture Entertainment Group has also established its own business model in China, generating revenue from mobile gaming, merchandise and theme park development.
Mr. Luo is not a typical businessman. He is passionate about film and seems sincerely concerned with the medium’s potential as art. He has a film background and graduated from a film academy in China in 1993.
He started out making music videos and commercials in China before entering into television industry, then leaving for Australia and later the United States.
“I want to see how the film industry works there,” Mr. Luo said about his time in Hollywood, “and how Hollywood movies are made.”
Mr. Luo’s experience influenced his vision of Starlight Culture, and seeded his dream for the future of global entertainment.
"Change is needed, especially in Hollywood. We keep seeing the same stories over and over again. The film is not as attractive as it used to be." "We need more films like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther. Film needs to be more diverse, that is the lifeline of the film. We need to find new talents and new ways of thinking about film."
“That’s why, outside of Hollywood, we also work with India, Thailand and South Korea – so that people in all of these places would have the opportunity to tell their own stories and showcase their own cultures to audiences around the world.”
Diversity is a hot issue in both Hollywood and China. The American film industry seems to be more committed than ever to reaching China’s massive cinema audiences, and has belatedly shown its desire to learn what Chinese audiences are interested in.
Mr. Luo knows what the audience on both continents wants to see and what kind of film production and marketing methods can attract the most audiences. He also shows that he is willing to spend money to make money.
The Starlight Group has a $100 million development fund, which makes its presence felt. At this year's Shanghai International Film Festival, Emmerich announced a television project bankrolled by Starlight - Those About to Die. It is adapted from the novel of the same name, focusing on the violent world of the Roman Arena.
Another Starlight-invested film, based on the teen horror book series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, will premiere on August 9th. It boasts the Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro as a producer.
Among the Starlight’s upcoming projects, the most highly anticipated one, which is also the most representative of Luo’s vision, is Gold Mountain, a historical adventure film. The film is directed by Alan Taylor, who made a name for himself directing episodes of prestige television dramas – The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Game of Thrones – as well as blockbuster films such as Thor: The Dark World. The cast includes Malaysian-Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh, who is also listed as a producer.
“It is a story of immigration. Through this film, you can get to know a different world, a different culture and different people, as well as how people lived then and how they thought,” said Mr. Luo. “This is our mission. This is the magic of the film. And this is the primary reason why we work in film industry."
Mr. Luo has proved that he has good instincts. In addition to Starlight's development cooperation deals, it also bankrolled films that match the company's vision and untold stories with international appeal. These include Crazy Rich Asians (which cost US$30 million to make and has earned $238.5 million); thriller Greta , starring Chloë Grace Moretz; Marshall, the biopic of civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, starring Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman; and the hotly anticipated World War II film Midway.
Considering the tensions between China and the United States, Luo’s timing does not seem to be very good. US President Donald Trump's administration has not facilitated Chinese investors, while China made it official policy in 2018 to restrict Chinese investment in foreign films and entertainment, hoping to encourage investment in technology instead.
Mr. Luo is not really concerned about this. “It’s impossible for two countries to always see eye to eye,” he said. “Maybe film can serve as a bridge between the US and China and the two countries can better understand each other. Is there a better medium than the film?”