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Survival Strategy for Low Budget Films?

Posted June. 09, 2005 06:37,   


“Super Family” – 330, “Purpose of Dating” – 260, “Tale of Cinema” – 29, “Great Chair” – 8, “The Bow” –3.

These seemingly cholesterol values in blood are actually the number of theaters where each film is showing. As the first two films above, “wide release,” which means showing the film in as many as 250 to 300 theaters in pursuit of large scale audiences in a short time, is the trend in the Korean film industry. However, an opposite way of releasing films has emerged quietly, which is to play the film in one or less than 10 theaters of each city and aim to attract as many as possible by showing it for a longer period. While the new trend is welcomed by those who view this as an alternative marketing strategy appropriate to low budget films in the Korean film industry today, it also faces criticism that its ground is not strong enough yet.

Low Marketing Expenses-

Director Kim Ki-duk’s “The Bow,” which was invited to be the opening film of the Uncertain Regard section of the Cannes film festival this year, was released in only three theaters in Seoul, Busan, and Daejeon. Thanks to this, the film’s marketing expenses were only 17 million won while the total production cost is one billion won. The marketing cost for “The Tale of Cinema” and “Green Chair” were 300 million won and 200 million won, respectively.

Kim Ki-duk said when he made his 11th film, he had spent millions of won to promote the film and released it in 70 theaters, but he only had a big loss.

“Since the budget was limited, we concluded that the most effective way of distribution was to release the film in a small number of theaters for a longer period of time,” according to Miro Vision’s Kim Lae-young, the manger who was in charge of the distribution of “Green Chair.”

Even imported films are seeking a way to survive by being released in a small number of theaters. Iwai Shunji’s “Swallow Butterfly” and his other three films are scheduled to show in only one theater in Seoul, which can be translated as a strategy to first use the theater as a station, and then to attract local fans continually.

Advance Into the Foreign Film Market-

The common denominator of films showing in small number of theaters is that they are recognized overseas first, which makes it possible to depend on foreign investment or distribution to some extent. “The Tale of Cinema” is a film that MK2, a French film company, had invested 200 million won (of 860 million won of the total production cost) in, The company also handled the film’s distribution to Europe and North America. Happynet, a Japanese investment company, paid 50 percent of the total production cost of “The Bow.” The film already secured 700,000 US dollars (roughly 700 million won) in foreign market sales. If potential profits from video and DVD copyrights are considered, the film will perhaps make a good profit.

“Green Chair” is another similar case. The film was first shown at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals and received great favor. Its domestic release was made after that.

The Future of Releasing Movies in a Small Number of Theaters-

“The Bow” attracted only 1,643 viewers a week since its first release on May 12. The critical factor of the poor result is due to the failure to maintain a long showing time for the film. The film industry shares the same opinion that a successful film-release in a small number of theaters requires two elements: a theater that will run the showing at least more than three weeks regardless of the number of viewers, and enough viewers who know the value of low budget films and steadily come to the theater to see them.

A good example is Kim Ki-duk’s “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring” that attracted 320,000 viewers throughout its six-month showing in a few theaters in major cities of the U.S.

However, the reality makes it extremely difficult for low budget films to obtain a contract for a three-week showing. Even in the case of multiplexes, after they allocate two to four screens for blockbuster films, such as Star Wars Episode III, and the remaining screens for other foreign and local films, there is no room for low budget films.

A marketing and public relations agency firm for movies Chae Yoon-hee said “Like the U.S. low budget film, “Saw,” that started its showing in small number of theaters and later topped the U.S. nationwide box office, now is the time for the Korean film industry to make a balance between good low budget films and theaters that show such films continually,

Dong-YongMin mindy@donga.com