Singapore and neighboring Malaysia are up-and-comers in the Asian film industry. Capitalizing on their markets might seem like a no-brainer these days, but it wasn’t such a guaranteed investment seven years ago, when mm2 Entertainment started up.
The company was founded in 2008 in Malaysia, and within a year, it had produced back-to-back movies and co-distributed three others. More important, it set up a Singapore division after recognizing the great potential of film in the country, a move that proved key to its success.
Singapore’s box office took off during the beginning of the decade, through a combination of fresh filmmaking talent and increased interest in local movies, and mm2 was a pioneer with the hit franchise “Ah Boys to Men.”
“Singapore has made its mark through offering quality or unique content that stands out from the crowd. The ‘Ah Boys to Men’ series is an example of content unique to Singapore with impressive box office sales,” says mm2 CEO Melvin Ang.
The first “Ah Boys to Men” became Singapore’s highest-grossing local production for 2012, while its sequel took that title in 2013. A third film was released this year, breaking weekend box office records in the process. The series served as a blueprint for their subsequent local-centric films, but it also gave mm2 the financial clout to aggressively expand across Asia.
Taiwan and mainland China followed in 2013, and the company set up a Hong Kong division in 2014. They also started dipping into numerous related pies, acquiring a majority stake in Singapore-based animation company VividThree earlier this year and buying out two major Malaysian multiplex cinemas in late April.
“Our goal has always been investing in the future of Asia’s movies,” says Ang. “This goal has not changed — we are now in a stronger position to achieve this goal on a grander scale in the region.”
Of course, there’s a fear of getting too big too fast — and mm2 has a strong business model behind it, one built on hedging bets through three revenue sources during a film’s long process. First, from production, including financing, consultancy and producer fees, as well as government grants; then distribution, both inhouse and third-party productions, through cinema, TV, online, physical formats and others; and finally, sponsorship, with mm2 offering advertising both in and out of its movies.
Financial stability has allowed it to test the waters of North Asia through numerous co-prods. Some work, some don’t: for example, 2014’s Malaysian film “The Journey” became the country’s highest-grossing movie of all time, while February’s Hong Kong co-production “ATM” wasn’t exactly well-received. Still it allowed the filmmakers try out a Singapore-style crime-comedy in the country’s market.
“The film market in Asia is huge and still growing, especially the Chinese-speaking market and we would like to strengthen our brand as a regional movie producer,” says Ang. “Eventually, we hope to emerge as a strong made-in-Singapore movie brand and push the boundaries of our growing local film industry.”