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Mulan Producer: 'One of the difficulties going forward is actually going to be how we set the metrics for success'

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The long awaited live action film 'Mulan' is now streaming exclusively on Disney+ in the U.S. Jason Reed, the film's producer, joins The Final Round to discuss the road to the film's release and what it means for the industry moving forward during COVID-19.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: The long-awaited release of "Mulan" is here, out on Disney+ now. And joining us to discuss the film's release, what it means for the studio, what it means for the industry going forward is Jason Reed. He's a producer on the film, also with Jason T. Reed Productions. Jason, so great to have you back on the show.

So last time we spoke, weren't exactly sure what the future of the film would be, how it be released, when that what happened. The day has come. And I guess I would just ask, is it satisfying and exciting to finish off a project, to get it to the finish line in this way, given everything that's happened in the last few months?

JASON REED: Yeah, absolutely. Great to see you again, Myles. Great to be back on the show. Yeah, it's been a long and crazy journey to get here. And the last time we spoke, we didn't even know when audiences were going to be able to see the movie.

But now, we're really excited that audiences are finally going to get to see it. I'm excited that families are going to have an opportunity to see what all the hard work that our crew and team put into it. And I think it's really actually exciting that we're doing this hybrid release that people haven't seen yet. It's a little unnerving to be part of the disruption, but it's also really exciting to see the way that we're able to tailor the release in each territory and get it in front of people.

MELODY HAHM: Melody Hahm here.

JASON REED: Hi, Melody.

MELODY HAHM: So number one, I am extremely excited for tonight. I'll be participating in the Twitter live Q&A. I don't know if you're familiar with Gold House, but they're the organization--

JASON REED: Yeah.

MELODY HAHM: --of course, that really was behind the massive successes of "Parasite," of "Crazy Rich Asians," "Just Mercy," and they're really trying to back their weight behind "Mulan" and this kind of innovative premiere. How do you anticipate the kind of buzz and hype around this film that only happens in the digital landscape right now to be reflected in the numbers right now? Do you think that these sorts of initiatives will ultimately help with viewership here?

JASON REED: Absolutely. We're incredibly excited about having Gold House as part of the process. We have a number of organizations that are really leaning into the movie. They've seen the movie, or the leadership has seen the movie and had a very positive response. And they want to make sure that they get it out to the communities that they tend to represent.

I think that there's a lot of core audiences for the movie, and we were very sort of sensitive and respectful about that while making the film, whether it was the Asian diaspora community, whether it was the Chinese community in specific. Obviously, women in general have a very strong reaction to the movie, as does the LGBTQ community. So I think that we've been able to put together a group of partners and promotional partners and marketing partners that speak to specific areas.

And going back to your original question-- part of the question-- about how does digital help us is I think it's only because of the technology that we're able to reach out so specifically and pinpoint people who demonstrate a desire to see the movie, who have an affinity for the various themes that the movie is dealing with, and able to really get in and work with them. Now, I grew up doing big theatrical releases.

So for me, it's a little weird. Like, we're-- the way that you weight your marketing campaign, the way that you rely on social media is very different from, say, how you would release "Armageddon" or movies like that or even movies that weren't that long ago. It's a very different approach. It's been a great education, and I think it's actually really, really exciting.

MELODY HAHM: Jason, you sort of alluded to the fact that this has a global appeal and you want to be culturally sensitive. Of course, that the star of this film, Liu Yifei, did take to social media last year saying that she does back the Hong Kong police. Of course, now, there is a resurgence on Twitter chatter that folks are going to be boycotting the film because it's not pro-democracy, and the star of the film is embroiled in this sort of controversy. What's your take here? What's your reaction to this?

JASON REED: Well, I think that first off, there's a-- it's a very complicated situation. It's a very complicated situation for performers who live in China and work in China. And obviously, the tensions between the two entities is very complicated. I'm not qualified to discuss that in depth. I'm here as a representative of the film.

But I will say, from a very personal place, no one worked harder and gave more of themselves than Liu Yifei did. She trained for six months prior to starting production-- horse riding, martial arts, practicing creating that character. She worked every single day of the schedule, even on-- whether it was first unit, where she was-- where we had the whole complement, or whether it was second unit where she was concentrating on stunts and things like that.

So I feel badly for her that the conversation is-- inevitably turns to this. And I hope that when audiences see the movie that the conversation turns back to what an amazing performance she brought and how hard-- how much she had to do in order to bring that character to life.

DAN ROBERTS: Jason, Dan Roberts here. You mentioned that you're used to theatrical releases, and you mentioned that this vehicle for "Mulan" is a form of disruption, and it certainly is. I know we're here talking about "Mulan," but I have to ask you about the route Warner Brothers has taken with "Tenet." Because this weekend, we got "Mulan" hitting Disney+ but also "Tenet" coming out in some movie theaters in parts of the country where theaters are open.

And it's just so interesting because I wrote a lot in the last few months about how these were the two big movies that kept getting pushed, and they were seen as the movies that would bring theaters back, if and when they came out. And now, in the end, diverging paths here. So to what extent do you think Disney and you guys will be watching what happens with "Tenet," and is it any disappointment at all to be hitting streaming only and not get that big, glitzy, theatrical release for "Mulan?"

JASON REED: Well, I'll break that into two parts. I'll answer the sort of emotional version of it, the letdown version first. From the beginning of the process on "Mulan," we saw it as a great opportunity to do an epic Disney-branded movie. And we love all of the-- you know, the remakes that they've been doing, and we love the original movie. But this was our opportunity to really do that big-scope spectacle.

We-- you know, our inspirations were David Lean and Zhang Yimou and Akira Kurosawa. And we went out and in Niki Caro, our director, and Mandy Walker, our cinematographer, really concentrated on building a big scope and scale movie that you don't see very often anymore. Now, when you see that on a 40-foot screen, it is a big, emotional, impactful experience. When you see it in a room full of people, which I've had the pleasure of doing many times, you feel the energy, and it enhances the experience of seeing the movie.

That said, the core of our movie is her emotional relationship really with her father and also her internal struggle. So unlike a lot of these big event movies that rely on spectacle in order to make them an entertaining proposition, our greatest asset is actually the emotional, character-driven part of the story. And that works on any size screen. You can watch it on your Apple Watch, and it's still a satisfying experience. So in that way, we're somewhat protected against that downside of moving into streaming only.

I think it'll be interesting to see. You know, I'm looking at the "Tenet" numbers coming in, and it's going to-- and the way it's recorded is sort of as an aggregate overseas theatrical number right now. And we will be going out theatrical in a large number of territories as part of this sort of hybrid approach that Disney is taking. So it's going to be really difficult to compare apples to apples because you're not just looking at screen counts. You're looking at which territory, the amount of rental revenue out of that ticket sales gross, things like that. So that'll make it difficult.

I think one of the trends-- I think one of the difficulties going forward is actually going to be how we set the metrics for success. So I'm used to Monday morning, you open the trades. $100 million opening and everybody knows you won. And you've got another $150 million overseas, and you have a good sense of what you're talking about.

Because of various regulatory issues and corporate, you know, trade practice secrets things like that, we're not going to have that. We're not going to know how many new subscribers there were. We're not going to know how many views there were. And there's a lot of differing metrics inside the streaming universe, so full views, partial views, multiple views, all of those kinds of things, which we haven't standardized as an industry yet. So that has to be figured out.

And then we have to figure out on top of the actual data and how we look at it in terms of success for these companies, then we have to look at how do we message that appropriately to the markets and to audiences. So there's a lot of things that have to get figured out to get us to the same place we were in the sort of simpler model of days gone by-- and by that, I mean March-- to figure out how we're actually going to function going forward.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, Jason, following up on that, one of your earlier comments you made was that it's unnerving to be part of this disruption. When you talk about how when you measure success now, there's so many different metrics, I'm curious how that plays in to some of the future projects, if you think your decision-making is going to change at all, just in terms of what could be a success, given how the consumer is adjusting and consuming media at this point and how the coronavirus has kind of accelerated that and then what ultimate impact that will have I'm big studios like Disney?

JASON REED: Well, that's a big question because I think there's a lot of really interesting threads to pull through all of that. I think there's big opportunities and big challenges for big media companies. So as they get more flexibility with the windowing, as they get more of a direct relationship with the consumer, I think that they can customize their approach to selling and distributing, based on each piece of content.

So before talking about "Tenet" versus "Mulan," because of the nature of those two projects and the people involved, which audiences they address, each company can make a different bet. And I think as we go forward and people get a better sense of how these models work, this sort of dynamic distribution model will allow for a kind of efficiency that will create a lot of value for media companies going forward. So I think that you're going to see increased efficiency and value because of the ability to be flexible with these windows and to learn more about how audiences are reacting.

From a purely creative side, I think that's the big challenge for the big media companies, is the kinds of big, game-changing, creative properties that we've seen over time don't always come from a place that's obvious, right? You wouldn't necessarily-- everybody thinks "Harry Potter" was an obvious thing now. I remember when that book sold and we started moving it into production, it was a hard sell.

And people would say a young boy lead and with magic and wizards and all that? Nobody got it. Like, a lot of people were scratching their heads. There were a few people that really had a vision for what that could and should be. And as the book blew up around the world, Warner Brothers had that property, had a core group of executives and creatives who really believed in it, and were in a position to take advantage of it.

I think that that is one of the things that these big media companies are going to need to keep in mind. And they're going to have to really interrogate their organizational structure to make sure that there is room for creative risk-taking, that there is room for a diversity of products to address all these different audiences, and to make sure that they are not allowing the sort of homogeneity that can come out of groupthink or green-lighting projects by committee could seep in.

And so I think that's a challenge. We've already seen a couple of companies dealing with that challenge-- some successfully, some not so. But I think it becomes the sort of defining characteristic for the future. From a filmmaker standpoint, I think it's all really exciting because there's a lot of formats and a lot of storytelling approaches and a lot of stories that you can make now that you wouldn't have been able to get greenlit even three years ago. So I think it's good for the consumer. I think it's great for audiences, and I think it's great for business.

MYLES UDLAND: All right, Jason Reed, producer on the movie "Mulan," out right now on streaming here in the US. Jason, thank you so much for joining the show today. Hopefully we will be in touch in the future. Thanks.

JASON REED: Great to see you guys. Thanks for the great questions, real pleasure.