Jonathan Ng

Animation / Art / Design

Blog · First Day at HK Filmart

Journey to the Filmart

It was a fairly brutal 15 hour flight to get to Hong Kong. I watched plenty of films: The Secret of Nimh, Argo, Fargo. Wreck it Ralph. Anti-Viral, Defendor. I was stranded in the middle seat the whole time and was so happy to be standing and walking around when the flight was over.

Anne Pag├Ęs and I grabbed some dinner with a French colleague and his Cantonese wife. Conversation was a bit of a mish-mash between French, English and Canto speak. Somewhat along those lines of mish-mash, we ate at a restaurant called Aqua on the 29th floor overlooking the Hong Kong harbor. The restaurant served both high italian cuisine and authentic Japanese sushi. I was doubtful, but it surpassed my expectations.

First day at the Filmart

We started off the day at the Filmart with an orientation put on by the people from Canadian pavilion, specifically, the BC Film Fund, introducing the economic specs of Hong Kong.

They had a guest speaker, a veteran Hong Kong film producer, who I won’t name, but who spoke at length about Chinese co-production challenges. He also fielded specific questions from Canadian delegates. I asked a couple questions. But as it wound down, I raised my hand again and asked him straight up for a one on one meeting to talk about my project. He kind of squirmed, clearly, he was trying not to refuse me publicly, in front of all those other people, because that would have been embarrassing, but at the same time he was trying to give himself a way out. After the talk wrapped up, I managed to get his card, and apparently people were giving me props after I did that. Telling me I had balls. I just figured I’d ask him since he was there, but I guess he was a bigger shot than I realized, he’s apparently very influential. Shrugs!

The rest of the day involved running around, locating booths and appointments. We had a bunch of meetings and conversations with various animation studios. One thing I learned from Cannes, is that you can’t do it alone. It was really cool to see how me, Anne and Yin approached the meetings as a team. We had a good approach, with one person taking the lead, and then another picking up the slack and backing each other up.

A Taiwanese Studio

The best meeting turned out to be with a company from Taiwan. The guy looked fairly young, but he was a serious investor. He didn’t own an animation studio, but he was committed to investing in animated film projects. He had two recent feature films to show us and he invested 1 million US dollars in each project. The other good thing was that he had already looked up my short film’s trailer and expressed some interest in the look.

He asked us our budget. We told him. He didn’t say anything, but we could tell it was higher than his usual.

He explained his reasoning for investing in animation, and animation only. He revealed himself to be both a passionate fan of animation, and also a cunning business man. One of the biggest challenges to animation in China, is the reality of the Chinese audience’s attitude towards animation. He openly admitted to us that Persepolis was in his opinion the greatest animated film ever with its black and white style.

But in China and Taiwan people rejected it for the unusual style. They weren’t used to it. They seem to insist on either only American or Japanese style animations.

With so much risk in animation, his solution is to be selective and make money through merchandising and cross-marketing. He invests in animated film projects because of their merchandising potential. For his children’s animation, he merchandised in the way of toys. For his young adult romance animation, he said toys did not make sense, so he merchandised it in the form of publishing a novel with the same story. He said he made way more money off of the toys and the novels than he ever did on the animation. His point being, that animation is incredibly hard to make money off of on its own and that he viewed his feature films as 90 minute commercials for the products.

Appreciative of his honesty, we asked him how he would foresee merchandising on our film, for example and if he would be open to investing 1 million US in a project with a larger budget.

He said that he was having a hard time seeing how our film would be merchandised, because the examples (the trailer, the posters) were so artful. He admitted sadly that the Chinese market was not really into art at all, and much more into commercialism. And that they’ve been taught to appreciate commercialism for so long, that they don’t know anything else. We found this as a recurring theme through many of the meetings, in that the producer would find our work very special, but that they didn’t necessarily have faith in their target markets as having the same interest.

But he stated that he would be open to investing in a project with a larger budget like ours, if he could identify an appropriate way to merchandise, and if he could obtain the exclusive merchandising rights to the film’s IP in the territories of Taiwan and China. We all agreed that this was totally possible.

In spite of all his hesitations and qualifying, he closed the meeting by saying that he really liked my work. So we’ll take it as an opening for a possibility in the future.

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