Friday, December 2 2022

Hong Kong multi-hyphen Peter Chan Ho-sun is far too intellectual to call himself an ‘arms dealer’, as Sony Pictures has done by portraying itself as an independent provider of streaming platforms .

But politeness and Bob Dylan references aside, Chan’s new company, Changin’ Pictures, aims to become a major independent provider of premium Asian TV content for streamers. The company is using this week’s Busan International Film Festival as a launch pad and will unveil the first five series in its 20-title pan-Asian slate.

Chan’s thesis is that global audiences are hungry for Asian content but have not been able to easily access it under the old film and television distribution systems. With streaming making everything accessible everywhere and audiences no longer balking at subtitles, quality Asian drama can and will travel.

Its go-to examples not only include “Squid Game,” which was made locally in South Korea and became a global phenomenon via Netflix, but also Apple TV+’s “Pachinko.” The multilingual drama set in Asia was not made specifically for Korean or Japanese viewers, but it was authentic enough to work for global audiences, including those in both countries.

Chan has a stellar track record, directing hits “The Warlords” and “American Dreams in China,” producing “Bodyguards and Assassins,” and performing production on Oscar-nominated “Better Days.” But its place in history undoubtedly comes from the launch of the pan-Asian co-production movement at the beginning of the century.

Drawing on his Thai-Chinese-Hong Kong heritage and (incomplete) upbringing in the United States, Chan and his Applause Pictures have worked with filmmakers such as Kim Jee-Woon, Park Chan-wook, Miike Takashi, Hur Jin- Ho, Nonzee Nimibutr and the Pang Brothers on a list of independently produced Asian films. These included “The Eye” and “Jan Dara”, which were innovative and fresh enough to play festivals, create mini-franchises and be remade, and yet local enough to enjoy a decent box office throughout. East Asia.

Then, with the rise and opening of a decade of the Chinese film industry from 2012, Chan spent much of his time exploring the difficult path between the industries of mainland China and Hong Kong. .

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“This new business is something I started 20 years ago,” Chan jokes. “I wanted to do it long before COVID, but the pandemic gave me time to think about it.”

A trio of well-funded producer-run companies – Golden Karavan, RSVP and Applause Entertainment – ​​are already operating in the same way in India. But Chan refutes the idea that his director Changin’ Pictures is late to the streaming party or that the “content is king” moment has passed now that streamers have their content acquisition costs under control: “The only difference between now and 20 years ago is that the costs of distribution and exposure are much lower [on streaming] and that we know audiences are crazy about Asian content.

A key part of Changin’ Pictures’ modus operandi will be to develop and, if necessary, produce its shows before engaging with platforms.

“We can’t wait for streamers to fund a show, judge it with their algorithms, and test things on screen,” says Chan, who is also keen to keep some skin in the game for his filmmakers. “The power of streamers is huge, which means if you do things their way, the producer will probably only get cost plus 10%. Or, these days, cost plus eight.

To ensure the independence of the new venture from the studio leanings of streamers and to escape the institutional censorship he faced in China, Chan invested several million dollars of his own money in Changin’ Pictures. and raised nearly nine figures in US capital. It remains tight-lipped about its backers but says most of its funding comes from Hong Kong and Singapore, or from Chinese sources that have kept some of their money outside the mainland. And he says he won’t accept dilution in a minority ownership position.

It’s a big enough arsenal to allow the Changin’ Pictures team to make the decisions and take some risks. They plan to spend up to $2.5 million per episode on production — that’s far more than the average television production budgets in Asia and more than the costs of many Asian feature films — and, strategically, to start by Korean-language series.

“We have two very good scripts. Both have been unanimously approved by our greenlight development team. And both were adapted from popular webtoons,” says Chan, explaining the math behind not using Changin’ Pictures’ Donnie Yen or Zhang Ziyi vehicles for the opening gambit.

Chan also calculates that producing premium content for streaming can be “10 times less risky” than Asian producers’ traditional reliance on theatrical box office.

Thus, the first two projects will receive the green light without the cover that accompanies a commission or a presale. “We have to show that we are not bluffing. We have to bite the bullet,” he said.

Spoken like a real gunslinger.

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