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[HOLLYWOOD] Journey of Ironpond's Teddy Zee

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  • madchinaman
    Hitch Teddy Zee and the Sundance Kids http://goldsea.com/Personalities/Zeeteddy/zeeteddya.html - Teddy Zee s Ironpond partners are Peter Shiao and Yantan Shi,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24 10:50 PM
      Hitch Teddy Zee and the Sundance Kids
      http://goldsea.com/Personalities/Zeeteddy/zeeteddya.html


      -

      Teddy Zee's Ironpond partners are Peter Shiao and Yantan Shi, General
      Manager of the Shaolin Temple.

      -


      It's a big day for Teddy Zee. Four o'clock is closing time on a deal
      that will infuse Ironpond, his new entertainment company, with
      venture funding from an established Hollywood-Wall Street group. He's
      munching and sipping between takes on the phone. His voice is
      resonant, oozing relaxation and confidence, precision-paced with
      judicious pauses and pin-point emphasis.

      After 20 years in Hollywood Zee is, at age 49, his own boss. For
      some in Hollywood that's a euphemism for being out of work. Not when
      you're Teddy Zee, with producer credits on big-studio hits like
      Hitch, the experience of being studio exec on Charlie's Angels, and
      dirt still under the fingernails from babying acclaimed little films
      like Saving Face. Not when you have the Asian contacts and the creds
      to get projects like West 32nd Street funded under your own shingle.
      And certainly not when you have investors about to bankroll some
      serious new Beverly Hills offices and the credit line to greenlight
      your own movie deals.

      Still, as Zee sees it, being your own boss is like being a
      hunter. When he was heading up production for Will Smith's Overbrook
      Entertainment, he was a fisherman. "When you're working as a studio
      executive, you can just bait your pole, stick it in the water and
      wait. Now you really have to be active in going after things."

      The game he's hunting as President of Ironpond remains the same
      game that all Hollywood dealmakers pursue, hunters and fishermen —
      movies that human beings of all nationalities will pay money to see.
      The main difference is that Zee now has both the opportunity and the
      obligation to seek out projects that have a trans-Pacific angle. That
      means movies made in Hollywood for Asian audiences and Asian movies
      that may translate well for American audiences.

      A case in point is West 32nd Street. It's a Corean (Korean)
      gangster movie set in Manhattan. The director is Michael Kang whose
      The Motel was featured at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It stars
      Corean American actors John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle)
      and Corean stars Jun Sung Kim and Jeong Jun-ho. It will also feature
      Corean American eye candy Grace Park (Battlestar Gallactica) and Jane
      Kim. The dialogue is two-thirds English and one-third Corean.
      Shooting was completed over the summer and Zee is trying to get it
      ready in time for a Sundance submission. As it happens, he had met
      director Kang at The Motel party at the 2005 Sundance when Zee's
      Saving Face was also being screened there.

      Zee is particularly enthusiastic about 32nd Street co-star Jun
      Sung Kim. "Jun Kim has world star potential," says Zee. "He's about
      30, a guy's guy. Women love him. [He has a] powerful presence, wants
      to be an actor, doesn't care about being a star." Having grown up in
      Hong Kong, Kim happens to speak fluent English as well as Corean,
      Mandarin and Cantonese — the perfect kind of actor to embody the
      trans-Pacific spirit on which Ironpond is staking its future.

      As he looks to that future Teddy Zee relies heavily on his past.
      Hollywood careers, at least the great ones, go through at least a few
      incarnations - gopher-agent-producer-studio head, say, or actor-
      director-producer, or writer-actor-director-producer. The true
      survivors know when to make the switch before everyone else does. Zee
      is now in what may be his sixth or maybe seventh incarnation.

      His last extended incarnation was heading up the film production
      arm of Will Smith's multi-faceted entertainment enterprise. Several
      things told him the time was right to undergo one final
      metamorphosis. For one Zee was approaching 50 and yearned for the
      freedom to flex the dealmaking and project-creating muscles he'd
      built up under the auspices of employers. For another, he could see
      that Hollywood had stopped growing and was, as a matter of fact,
      making fewer and fewer movies with each passing year.

      "Hollywood made fewer movies last year than the year before,"
      Zee says. "China is the final frontier." That's why he decided to
      partner up with Peter Shiao, the son of a famous Chinese writer who
      built extensive contacts while working as a D.C. lobbyst practicing
      the delicate art of negotiating Chinese bureaucracy. "Everyone has
      made a lot of mistakes in China," says Zee. "We can leverage Peter's
      experience in China and my experience in Hollywood to smooth out the
      process and make good things happen."

      In refocusing his career on an Asian-centric future, Zee isn't
      some carpetbagger. He established his Asian American bona fides for
      most of the two decades he was deeply immersed in the Hollywood
      establishment.

      A case in point is the romantic comedy called Saving Face. While
      heading up Overbrook's film production arm, Zee took a fancy to the
      script by first-time screenwriter Alice Wu. He even gave Wu the
      opportunity to make her directorial debut when the project began
      shooting in New York. He cast veteran star Joan Chen to play the
      pregnant mother of a lesbian surgeon. He chose as co-stars the then
      relatively unknown Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen. It was shot half
      in Mandarin for Chinese distribution. It was a small movie, and hit
      just the right note to be one of about a hundred picked for the 2005
      Sundance Film Festival. It also ended up winning the 2005 Golden
      Horse Audience Award for best movie.

      Another of Zee's trend-setting Asian projects was The
      Replacement Killers (1998) starring Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino.
      That was while he was heading up production at Davis Entertainment.
      He worked with Hong Kong producer Terrence Chang to bring about
      Chow's move to Hollywood. Zee has also been credited with producing
      the critically acclaimed Life or Something Like It (2002) before
      moving to Overbrook.

      Most of Zee's remarkable 20-year career in Hollywood was built
      on his proven talent for keeping a low profile while nailing down the
      details that translate ultimately into greenlighted productions. But
      there's a wildly fortuitous side to Zee's career as well.

      When we initially sought out Teddy Zee for an earlier interview in
      2004, we had him confused with the main character in a 1989-90 TV
      sitcom about a Hollywood agent called The Famous Teddy Z. One of the
      things we had really wanted to ask was how he had become such a
      famous agent and how he had made the transition to being a studio
      executive, then to heading up two production companies. We were also
      curious how a Cornell grad with a Harvard MBA ended up in Hollywood
      in the first place, particularly in the mailroom of a talent agency.

      Turns out Teddy Zee had never worked his way up from the
      mailroom of a famous Hollywood talent agency. He had never been an
      agent at all. In fact, he had never really been famous, much less a
      legend. We had been a victim of mass-media hypnosis. The stuff that
      flickers on the tube while you're thinking about other things has a
      way of bypassing your critical faculties and seeping into your brain
      unchallenged to take its place alongside your stores of more factual
      information.

      Fortunately, the real Teddy Zee's story turned out to be as
      interesting as the fictional Teddy Z's. More amazingly, it turned out
      that Zee was the inspiration for the Teddy Z character on TV!

      Teddy Zee, the real one, was born May 15, 1957 in upstate New
      York to impoverished Chinese immigrants. He was the youngest of four
      children. A scholarship from his father's labor union gave the young
      man with the fast last name a full ride through Cornell. Upon
      graduating in 1979 with a degree in the unglamorous field of labor
      relations, Zee got hired by the personnel department of NBC. He soon
      found himself eyeing the more exciting entertainment side. Three
      years later he returned to school and earned a Harvard MBA in hopes
      of being hired back as an NBC entertainment exec. He was rejected. In
      1985 he landed a dream job as a development executive at Paramount,
      and made the most of the opportunity. Since then he has been an
      executive vice-president of production at Columbia, then president of
      production at Davis Entertainment. In 2001 Zee became president of
      production at Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment.

      Zee married a woman he met at Harvard Business School. They married
      in 1986 and lived for some time in Hancock Park with their two teen-
      age daughters. Those were details gleaned from our earlier interview.
      Being unusually tight-lipped about his personal life for a Hollywood
      type, Zee refuses to provide updates.

      But during a transitional period of about a year after leaving
      Overbrook and starting up Ironpond, Teddy Zee did shed his zealously
      guarded mantle of anonymity to become a talk show host for AZN TV.
      During that brief incarnation, he served as co-chair of the 2006
      Asian Excellence Awards, televised on AZN-TV. When that show prompted
      radio host Adam Carolla to spew a bizarre anti-Asian on-air tirade,
      Zee joined with MAANA's Guy Aoki to pressure Carolla's employers to
      force Carolla to invite them onto his program. Zee and Aoki spent an
      amusing half-hour verbally cornering Carolla into an apology and a
      promise of better behavior in the future. That brief interlude
      showed, in a nutshell, that Teddy Zee is a guy who knows what he
      wants and figures out how to make it happen.
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