Ed Frumkes can foresee a time when Warner Bros.’ B.O. revenues from Asia/Pacific will match those from Europe.
The WB Intl. exec VP can’t say when that will be, but he’s convinced such a result is the inevitable payoff from the quickening pace of theater-building and refurbishment throughout the region, combined with rising affluence.
Frumkes, 35, has played a pivotal role for WB in developing the Asian market. He shuttled back and forth to China to clinch a revenue-sharing distrib pact with China Film Import and Export, a breakthrough after years of selling films to China for a low, flat fee.
“The Fugitive,” the first release under the new profit-sharing arrangement, was greeted enthusiastically by audiences and exhibs everywhere but in Beijing, where a dispute between two arms of the Chinese bureaucracy resulted in the pic being yanked after its first week.
Frumkes is circumspect about the Chinese venture, noting only, “It will be a very long road” before China is established as a significant, soundly structured market for the West.
The studio has foreshadowed producing Chinese films, tapping the potential for such product not only in China, but also in markets like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia. Last year, it created an offshoot, Warner Asia, headquartered in Hong Kong, to distribute Chinese pictures.
It’s also likely that Warner Theaters will break ground in China once distribution is properly organized and exhibs can be assured of a steady flow of Western and Chinese product.
Frumkes, who joined WB as director of the intl. division in 1988, is being honored as distributor of the year at CineAsia.
In the pecking order at WB Intl., he’s No. 2 to division president Wayne Duband, but both speak of their relationship as more of a partnership. Duband likens their sharing of responsibility to that of studio co-toppers Terry Semel and Bob Daly, and describes Frumkes as “the brightest person in the distribution business today.”
Frumkes had strong training prior to WB as international ad/pub director for Columbia Pictures in London, and as its N.Y.-based international analyst and director of special projects. He learned his trade from distrib mavens Patrick Williamson and David Matalon.
Frumkes notes a sea change in foreign distribution from the early days, when the focus was on booking the “right” theaters. In the multiplex era, location matters less than release date and marketing, he says.
The Warner marketing department plots releases on a global basis, while other studios divide foreign and domestic.
In the space of a few years, some Asian territories have progressed from being nickel-and-dime operations to major revenue sources for Hollywood. Take South Korea, where WB releases grossed $32 million in 1993, the last year for which figures are available. Contrast that with the previous strategy of outright sales, which generated $300,000 to $400,000.
Or Indonesia, which delivered $11 million B.O. to the distrib in 1993. Before WB pioneered direct distribution there, it customarily sold four titles a year for $750,000 in that country, according to Frumkes.
In ’93, Warner product grossed a total of $230 million in Asia Pacific, as opposed to $720 million in Europe. But when China starts contributing, with Indian auds embracing ever-wider releases of U.S. films and markets like Vietnam soon to open up, Frumkes sees that gap narrowing.
UIP paved the way in India, releasing dubbed versions of “Jurassic Park” across the country for a rich $5.8 million dividend. Frumkes says WB will dub some titles, but believes the key to success in that market is wide distribution.
Frumkes values the CineAsia market as a valuable opportunity for exhibs and suppliers of films and equipment to get together. “What’s important is ensuring the longevity of 35mm and 70mm facilities with the best sound and screens, that benefits all the ancillary markets,” he says.