HOLLYWOOD — Sunmin Park admits that once you’ve mastered the art of financing, producing a film sure gets a lot easier and of course it helps to have your own investment consultation company to back you up. With a movie unspooling in official competition at Cannes, another picked up by Lion’s Gate, and a third in discussions with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Park has officially gone from international buyer to well-traveled producer.
“To make it in this business, you’ve got to sell before you spend,” says Park, who claims the transition from one end of the industry to the other has been smooth. “A lot of producers could really be helped if they learned the art of funding first. Even if people keep telling you ‘no,’ you can still work by going in from the back door. Of course, Maxmedia has been an incredible source of funding for me.”
Born in South Korea and raised a Californian, Park launched Maxmedia, an entertainment consulting firm specializing in strategic media investments, in 1990 while studying at Columbia. The company has since gone on to rep companies such as LG Media and Spain’s top conglom PRISA, which owns Sogetel and Canal Plus Spain.
“We were able to compile a database of new filmmakers’ projects that we think will make a difference and find resources to get them money,” she says. “Through this process I was able to meet some of the most promising international filmmakers in this business.” Park says she was offered producing credits on those films but never took one until 1996 when she was given some creative control over the $30 million “The Emperor and the Assassin,” helmed by Chen Kaige. Dubbed “the first true epic war film for Asians,” “Emperor” has been picked up by Sony Classics and will compete at Cannes in a new cut after no less than “Bob and Harvey (Weinstein) told me that I have a unique niche, because I was able to find filmmakers and present them to a world audience,” she says. Park has worked with Chen, from China, Julio Medem from Argentina Hirotaka Tashiro from Japan, helmer of “Mr. P’s Dancing Sushi Bar,” and After receiving her first taste of making instead of financing films, Park quickly followed “Emperor” up by producing the short “Mr. P’s Dancing Sushi Bar,” marking the first time an American crew was allowed to shoot in Vietnam since the war. “Our crew had to dwindle from 22 to four so there would be less of a customs hassle, it was a nightmare. I wasn’t even sure I’d make it back with all my film,” she recalls.
Park also wrote, helmed and produced “Too Pure,” starring Danny Masterson of “That 70s Show” fame and Ahmet Zappa from “Happy Hour.” The film will be distributed by Lion’s Gate worldwide.
But what could be Park’s biggest score came through Maxmedia, where Park was introduced to Amenabar, who was looking for backing for a promising film called “Open Your Eyes.” The pic took Sundance by storm in 1998 with distribution rights acquired by Artisan and remake rights owned by Paramount. Amenabar’s follow-up script, “The Others,” caught the eyes of the producing tandem of Cruise and Paula Wagner. Now, Park is in negotiations to co-produce with the duo.
With Kidman tentatively skedded to star, the suspense drama has been budgeted at $15 million, and is skedded to shoot next February.
“The whole project has kept an amazing energy,” says Park, who sees herself continuing to push upcoming international helmers into the limelight. “The entertainment business is so global now, and keeping ties overseas is a big reason why I’m here. If I can see a project being greenlit in my head, then I know it’s a story that’s going to get made.”