Al Di is one of the most mysterious men in show business. Born in China, he has spent most of his life working in the Chinese music industry, bringing over dozens of internationally acclaimed acts, from Bob Dylan to Jesus and Mary Chain to Avril Lavigne. A few years ago, he tried his hand in the film business, and the rest is history. With two successful releases in just under two years, including the much-heralded Brigsby Bear, the reign of Al Di is only just beginning. We caught up with him over email to talk about music, film, and what it takes to break into the industry.
Hello Al Di, who are you and what do you do?
I am a movie producer. I am also getting into directing, and in addition to that, I am a lover. I believe in love and peace.
You started off in the music industry, bringing over bands to China for festivals, shows and beyond. How and why did you make the switch to the film industry?
I still bring artists to Asia these days, so I didn’t fully switch to the film industry. The reason I became a movie producer is because I am a very close friend of Robert Schwartzman, who happens to be a member of the Coppola family. [I helped] him shoot his debut movie Dreamland. I started to grow love in my heart for movie making, and then one of my close friends who worked for UTA brought me over to work for them. I did Brigsby Bear, Piercing and The Unicorn, and the rest is history.
How do you define the role of a movie producer?
There are several types of movie producers. Some of them are good at finding money for the movie, some of them are good and developing the story, some of them know how to put the millions of pieces together to help the director to get the project done. Some have great connections to movie stars and sales companies. For me, I always say that to be a great movie producer, you need to understand the financing stuff. The business stuff. Have great taste in art, be a people lover (so people trust you), and know how to party!
Can you tell us a bit about Brigsby Bear? How did you get involved with the project?
Brigsby Bear was a hit at Sundance, it was also the closing film of the International Critic Week at the 70th Annual Cannes Film Festival. It is also one of the main competing films at the Shanghai International Film Festival 2017. People from North America, Europe, and Asia all love this movie. Fate brought me to this project: in the end, it’s all about the destiny.
“Fate brought me to this project: in the end, it’s all about the destiny!” – Al Di
So far you’ve produced major projects such as Dreamland (starring Jason Schwartzman and Noël Wells) Brigsy Bear (with Kyle Mooney and Mark Hamill) and upcoming industry buzz films The Unicorn and Piercing. But let’s talk about your first true experience with film: ALDTV!
ALDTV is still my passion project. It was a project I did with some of my close friends in Vancouver back in 2007. It changed my life. I am still talking about how to reboot ALDTV very soon with the producer Colin Askey. What I learned from it is, to be honest, and real, have lots of love in you, then you can conquer anything!
You’ve worked with super low budgets to full-on Hollywood budgets, what have been your biggest lessons/words of advice in getting financing for a film?
There is no right formula in how to get a movie financed, but for me, I follow a formula: movie star + well-known producer + talented director + reasonable budget + big sales agent + unique story. [Having big stars in your films] help distributors have interest in buying your movie.
What is the biggest difference between the Asian and North American movie industries?
The indie movie scene is super healthy in North America but remains tiny in Asia. For example, you might shoot a Hollywood blockbuster tentpole movie after your first indie movie becomes a hit at Sundance. In Asia, such a thing wouldn’t happen. Another example is that American indie movies have a lot of channels to sell and make profits from, but in Asia, indie movies only have a 5% chance of getting money back.
You have an advantage of seeing both Chinese and North American perspectives in the movie business. How do you see its future, particularly with regards to development in China?
I am still too young in this industry. There is too much for me to learn every day!
How do you keep yourself surrounded by grounded creative people in such a stressful, superficial industry?
I am lucky to have so many great friends who care about me in this business to work with me. I love working with people who have a good vibe. I also love working with sentimental people. Usually, sentimental people have hearts and are not too arrogant!
Thanks Al Di!
For more filmmaking inspiration, check out our article on the Five Essential Habits for Filmmakers or The 10 Best Books About Creativity.