TCL Chinese Theatre owners look to pandas, Imax to draw visitors

A giant panda from "China: The Panda Adventure," a 2001 IMAX Corporation production movie.
(Deana Newcomb / IMAX Corporation)

SHANGHAI, China -- A new Imax short documentary on pandas, a 3-D Imax history of Hollywood, and live music or dance shows aimed at tourists are among the projects the owners of the TCL Chinese Theatre are pursuing to draw more visitors -- both American and Chinese -- to the iconic movie palace.

Chinese TV maker TCL paid more than $5 million this year for the naming rights to the venerable Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened in 1927 by showman Sid Grauman. The theater is now being converted to an Imax screen and is expected to reopen by September with stadium seating, as well as a new Imax sound system and digital projector.


Theater owners Donald Kushner and Elie Samaha joined TCL representatives Monday for a splashy event at the Shanghai International Film Festival, touting the property at a catered lunch that featured a slide show of historic photos, handprint ceremonies and recent red-carpet snapshots of celebrities including Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr. and Helen Mirren.

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Kushner, executive producer of films including “Tron: Legacy” and producer of the Charlize Theron starrer “Monster,” said he is actively looking for Chinese co-production opportunities and has been working for more than a year on an Imax panda project.

“We’ve been at Chengdu, the panda center, twice in the last 15 months, working out all the governmental approvals,” Kushner said, adding that he hopes to film the movie this year with Drew Fellman, producer of the 2011 Imax short “Born to Be Wild,” directing.


“On Saturdays and Sundays we plan to show [short-subject] Imax films in the mornings and early afternoons, and in the evenings, we’d like to be showing Superman,” Kushner said.

Q.C. Liang, TCL’s general manager for branding, said Kushner and Samaha are also looking to connect with Chinese producers and directors and encourage them to hold their U.S. premieres at the Hollywood Boulevard theater.


“They want to meet with producers and directors to see if we can do premiere parties for the Chinese movies at the Chinese theaters,” Liang said. “Now Chinese moviemakers are ready to do global launches of the films, and we want to be part of that process.”



Liang said the naming deal was a way for TCL to raise its profile with studio executives; the company is eager not only for more product-placement deals but to see its products -- from TVs to cellphones -- used in the making of movies.

“They come to events almost every week at the theater and by sponsoring events, it gives us a central location in Hollywood for the brand promotion,” he said. “We thought that would be a good choice for us.”


At the same time, the company is using its branding of the theater to connect with Chinese consumers, including affluent ones who may travel to California and visit the cinema. The company is planning a new promotion aimed at U.S.-bound Chinese tourists that centers on the theater.

“Recently we had Jackie Chan doing the hand-printing at the theater, and there was lots of coverage about that in China,” he said. “In the future, we want to have more Chinese directors, actors and actresses doing that kind of thing.”



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