Production execs talk navigating European and Asian film markets

The panel was held at Busan International Film Festival's Asian Contents Film Market

By Gabriella Geisinger 9 Oct 2023

Production execs talk navigating European and Asian film markets
ACFM 2023; Cr: ACFM

"We definitely have acquired fewer films now than before COVID," said Felix Tsang, Sales and Acquisitions Manager, Golden Scene, Hong Kong. Tsang was speaking at the Cinematic Crossroads: Navigating European and Asian Film Markets panel at Asian Contents and Film Market at this year's Busan International Film Festival. 

Box office audience inconsistency and an oversaturation of films post-pandemic has meant distributors are struggling to acquire and place films.  

Tsang is "Looking for the next big thing to reignite the fire of the box office. Something that can speak to a social issue should be more attractive to the audience. People feel like they can watch generic films at home or on Netflix. Even production quality-wise, Disney+ and Netflix are already so high." 

June Lee, Content Business Team Lead, WATCHA in South Korea, adds that they can't spot a trend to help with their acquisition. "Previously, we targeted more films that could become blockbusters, but since the price of those kinds of films has been going up what we chose was to find a film that could fall into arthouse section but also could go wider.  

"Nowadays, it's a bit in the middle. In normal screens, we can't get them because the audience is big enough compared to Korean blockbusters or Hollywood films. But to get the art house films, the movies don't have enough of the art house elements for them."  

The panellists also include Patrick Mao Huang (CEO, Flash Forward Entertainment, Taiwan), Kini Kim (The Jokers Films, France), Valeska Neu (International Sales, Films Boutique, Germany), and was moderated by Katarzyna Siniarska (Head of Sales, New Europe Film Sales). 

Huang split Taiwanese audiences into four categories: those who want to see big action/IP, Japanese and Korean film lovers, Hong Kong and Chinese film lovers, and European arthouse cinephiles. 

"After the pandemic, the arthouse audience didn't come back [to the box office] in part because of streamers," says Huang. Like Tsang, he says he is now more selective about the films he acquires. "I need something with a strong genre angle," he adds, citing White Plastic Sky, an animation he acquired out of Berlin, that he plans to market as a Sci-Fi rather than a European art-house animation.  

He also cites Aftersun as an example of an art house film that worked worldwide, not just in Taiwan. "There is something that has to click with audiences. We have to be open-minded and also very careful," he says. 

Neu says it was harder to sell European films to Asia after the pandemic. "Either you had a film that is from a very famous filmmaker or you have a European A cast, but if your film does not have these two elements — even if the film runs in a side section of Cannes or another festival — that doesn't necessarily mean anymore that you will sell it. Ten years ago, that was different.  

"Now, we have to find things that not only speak universally but are unique. Little pearls, we're all looking for in international sales." 

She adds that thinking about marketing is key, particularly, "How can international distributors market the films in their domestic territories, can they find an angle? In the last two years have worked best in the films that have a genre element," She cites Tiger Stripes as an example of this kind of genre-playing film, but pure art house has been very difficult to sell. Things that used to work before, even for “a well-established filmmaker, after the pandemic became very difficult to sell”, she adds.  

Releasing classics as a strategy for box office boom 

Identifying your audience is key, and Tsang has begun showing restored Chinese language classics like Stanley Kwan's movies to great success. "A lot of mainland Chinese students and young people living in Hong Kong right now, who have never seen these films before, they are the most consistent box office films," he says, rather than new acquisitions.  

This helps not only with cultural education for the younger movie-going audiences but also reinvigorates the box office - it's worthwhile to spend money on tickets on these top-quality films, even coming from a different era.  

With the rerelease of The Host in France, Kim said that watching a classic restored properly in the cinema with a full house is a vivid experience, and these theatrical experiences have also proven to reinvigorate the box office.  

"Younger audiences will have that experience and they will expand their taste and then they'll go deeper into and dig into what's cool, and that way we can expand our titles. On any VOD platform, you can access great classic titles, but you never watch. Even if it's easily accessible because you think 'I know it, I know the story', so from now on for the future providing the cinematic experience is the homework for industry people and creators as well," he says. 

Huang also adds that finding new talent is key to not only festival and box office success, but a core job of distributors. 

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