Asian biz seeks out new coin

Filmart panel calls for focus on quality

HONG KONG — “Commercial” was the key word during a Variety-sponsored seminar at Filmart titled “New Money in Asia: Where is it coming from? Where is it going?”

Panelist Susan Ho, who is head of creative industries at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong, said the commercial bank is very clear that money lended isn’t their money, and so projects must have commercial appeal. Ho said the bank also takes a look at who is distributing a pic and who are the partners in the project.

The idea of being commercially successful was echoed throughout the morning by all panelists.

So what does that mean for lower budget pics that might not have as big an audience?

Peter Chan, principal at Applause Pictures, said making a film between $1 million and $10 million is “dangerous ground.” You either have to go lower or much higher in order to make a blockbuster that will cross over for China and do well in the rest of the region.

If you don’t make a film that crosses to China, you die, Chan said, but China alone can’t recoup the costs of a big budget pic.

This has led to Asian pics following a formula that’s worked at the box office thus far: $10-$20 million projects are mostly period and martial arts pics.

But Chan lamented this trend. “It’s completely unhealthy for all directors to do the same thing,” Chan said.

Korea has the same problem as China in that a small number of directors get all the budgets, added Jooick Lee, chief exec of Korean production and artist-management company Boram Entertainment.

For Fortissimo, new money has meant a changing role as a sales agent.

Increasingly, Fortissimo can’t get films they want or made the way they want them “without going into a risk position,” said Michael Werner, co-chairman of the company.

To that end, the company wears different hats as a producer, co-financier or financier.

It also has been able to work on lower budget “films of passion” because financial bases have been covered by bigger budget commercial films, Werner said.

“We do lose money on quite a few films,” he said.

All panelists seemed to agree that, regardless of where the money came from, the most important thing for the future of the film industry in Asia is to make quality pics.

“We don’t want to be seduced by easy money,” Werner said.