Animation Producer. Lack-hyun SONG has been steadily working in the field of content creation and active as a critic of the cultural andindustrial development of Korean animation. His publications include Ani School by Song, Lack Hyun, 50 years of Japanese Theater Anime, and Animation Secret Files. The theatrical animated film Speckles: The Tarbosaurus, which he produced in 2012, reached number two on the Korean animation box o ce rankings. He is currently planning a new project, ‘Figure Museum W’, which has emerged as the new mecca of Korea’s otaku culture.
Korean animation’s advance into the world, crisis or opportunity?!
While currently Korea’s pop music and dramas are making their mark as a Korean Wave in the global market, in the animation field, despite having a favorable position to enter the global market without any economic restrictions thanks to policies encouraging cultural exports, in reality the achievements so far have been insu cient and disappointing.
In the past, it was di cult since there was a huge difference in production capability between domestic animation productions and world-class animation studios, but looking from the current point where domestic production capacity has greatly increased, it is necessary to consider whether there is some other reason for the di culty in advancing into the overseas market other than due to technical disadvantages.
This is important because it presupposes the need to export since it is di cult in reality to break even from only domestic release revenue for theatrical animation films, which require a high production cost.
However, when a film is excessively planned for the overseas market, there are cases of unintended side effects. So is it possible for Korean animation to advance into the world, making the second leap by marking a new era? Or would other negative consequences be brought about by reckless investment?
The History of Taking On Incredibly Di cult Global Challenges
Just like with live-action films, the prerequisite for entering the overseas market is to make a deal with a major film distributor. However, landing a major international distribution deal is very di cult, because the international status of Korean animation is still not very high. Therefore, an alternative
that emerged as an initial stage for entering the overseas market was to co-produce a film with a studio in the relevant country and then to find a distribution partner.
A perfect example of this is Shark Bait (a.k.a. The Reef), released in 2006. This film was co-produced by Ash R. Shar, a producer of films targeting only the Class B market in Hollywood, and DigiArt of Korea.
Although it is referred to as a “Class B” market by North American standards, it is still several times bigger than the entire Korean market. Therefore, in a way, it is a market where you can make a real profit using a relatively small production budget and avoid confrontation with major titles from studios such as Disney or Dreamworks.
Identifying the characteristics of these markets, Shark Bait was planned and produced as the first Korea-U.S. co-produced theatrical animated film, and the sequel The Reef 2: High Tide (2013) followed, leaving a methodology of its own for the overseas advancement of Korean animation.
Unfortunately these films, despite the strategic attempt of co-production, were not able to succeed in their target market of North American theaters, and getting a film to reach the box o ce charts remained a symbolic challenge for Korean animation to overcome.
Eventually, in order to enter major overseas markets, it was concluded that it is di cult for low-budget films and that a larger capital investment (minimum of $10 million) surpassing the market size of Korean animation was needed. Dino Time was the first film produced in an attempt to clear this di cult hurdle.
This film is a global-oriented animated film with a production cost of 16.3 billion won, which was the highest ever in Korean animation history. It was produced by TOIION, the animation studio famous for having made Cubix. To help this film succeed, government support agencies, fund managers, and related companies gathered all of their capabilities and as a result Dino Time successfully reached a distribution agreement in 2011 with Clarius Entertainment of over $30 million for the North American market.
If you count live action films, there was a film that obtained major distribution in North America before Dino TIme. D-War (2007), which was produced by Hyung-rae Shim, was successful at achieving a wide release of 2,275 theaters in North America, reaching 5th on the box o ce charts its opening week. It went on to gross $10.98 million, but was a significant loss since the committed local marketing budget was over $15 million.
Moreover, although it is known that a company called Freestyle Releasing was in charge of the local distributor, actually it was just conducting the distribution in North America on behalf of the domestic distributor (no marketing investment was made), so it was di cult to give a certain significant meaning. This is because the box o ce figure represents a combination factors including the quality of the film itself, the audience reaction, timing, etc. but a significant factor is which company conducts the marketing and P.R. and how much of its own capital it invests.
The first Korea-U.S. theatrical animated film co-production, Shark Bait.
It was planned to capture a niche market rather than the mainstream market.
This was exactly the difference between D-War and Dino Time. Since Dino Time had a contract where the local major distributor was actively investing its own money into marketing, many of the people involved expected that it would produce more than the basic outcome distribution-wise without any particular external variable.
However an unlucky “external factor” occurred, which no one expected. The unfortunate news that Geoffrey Ammer, CEO of Clarius Entertainment, died suddenly nullified the North American distribution deal. Due to this, Dino Time, which represented an ambitious effort that collected all the forces of Korean Animation, became adrift and lost its way.
c Redrover / ToonBox
The Nut Job achieved advancement into the global market by taking a lesson from the case of Dino Time
As the foregoing examples show, the overseas theatrical animation market is di cult to enter, but it is even more di cult to meet a capable partner who has the ability to distribute a film, taking responsibility in the local entry itself and without an external variable.
However, most of the domestic producers, not having enough opportunities in this business field, made the best of it by finding a distributor by submitting their films to the Cannes Film Market or American Film Market (AFM) and simply selling off at a specific price rather than getting the protection of a running guarantee due to the nature of the free sale market.
Redrover, which was going to produce The Nut Job (2014), also tried to search for global entrance in the early stages since they could not find an overseas network. However, it was judged that just participating in the overseas sample market could not be the methodology to penetrate the global market when Bolts & Blip (2010), which was produced with a
15 billion won investment, could not make a noticeable achievement. Therefore they were convinced that the strategy for achieving the highest probability for success was to join with a capable distributor with marketing power in the region, much like Dino Time pursued, although it had not been successful.