Lessons Learned From Ang Lee About Juggling Art AND Business

by Caroline on January 30, 2013

I had the amazing privilege of attending a talk with director Ang Lee, screenwriter David Magee and TV critic Mike Hale at The Times Center. Of course, there were candid insights into Life of Pi, which Lee directed and Magee scripted. But I was particularly struck by how much Lee balanced talk about creative considerations with business objectives. Encouragingly, never did Lee imply that economic considerations hampered his creative vision. Art and business can co-exist. It is not an either/ or proposition.Times Center Ang Lee event 2013 01 29

  • Art can emerge from underneath the marketing

The talk opened with a trailer from Life of Pi set to the booming sounds of Coldplay’s Paradise. Lee candidly shared that he was embarrassed by this slick, bombastic showing. Yet, he didn’t mind it because he understood that you need to sell a movie so people see it so more movies can be made. Lee noted that the economics and the art of filmmaking work in parallel and you need both. The marketing may not appeal to your creative vision but the art can still come out.

  • Even an Academy-award winning director still needs to be business-savvy.

Lee talked about needing over a year to finalize budget, so pre-production was challenging. Production itself was equally challenging because of the expensive 3-D and CGI requirements which meant there was no cushion to make mistakes, and shooting had to be very economical. Lee shot in Taiwan for location reasons but also because it was cheaper than Los Angeles. Throughout the talk, Lee toggled in-between his creative challenges and the business challenges, clearly keenly aware and respectful of both.

  • Entertainment is becoming more global

Lee echoed comments from our earlier blogs with Jeff Geoffray of Blue Rider and Tom Vitale of SyFy and Chiller about the increasing importance of international viewers. Where Lee used to see North American distribution taking 50% of total, he now sees international distribution at a majority 60% or more depending on the movie. Life of Pi made 80% of its receipts abroad.

I’m excited about the focus on business considerations even by a creative giant like Ang Lee. For the creative reading this blog: Will this change what projects you decide to pursue? Will you focus your production time differently? Will you change your balance between creative and business pursuits?

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