Building Your Own Army

Tuesday, April 27 2010
Building Your Own Army

Joey Leung had experience in the Asian film market, so, almost on a whim, he decided to set up his own label. Here he recounts Terracotta’s first year as a distributor…

“Let’s start a film distribution company,” I said to my wife.

“OK” she replied.

And the within a week we registered at Companies House and, two weeks after that, we acquired our first film, South Korean psychological horror Hansel & Gretel.

That was back in October 2008 which now seems like an age away… The acronym EUK was just about fading from the lexicon of distributors’ every day parlance, Zavvi was a wavering giant and sub-prime mortgages were on everyone’s lips…

So what has happened in between then and now?

We launched Hansel & Gretel – a title that I passed on and my wife insisted we pick up – theatrically in January 2009 and it was a surprise success for us (the lesson here: always listen to your wife). The Associates, specialist DVD and theatrical PR firm, managed to secure some very complimentary press quotes for our first title, including the words “even outdoes Pan’s Labyrinth” (that’s huge chat, I remember thinking).

Prior to the launch, we made sure we had a solid supply chain in place – I guess if you are to work in a distribution field, then supply chain is a key thing to get right before you do anything else.

And I’m glad we met the right people – Fusion Media Sales to handle our DVD sales (formed by ex-World Cinema sales veterans), The Associates (who handle the best of the non-majors for specialist films) for PR, and Control Entertainment for digital sales (led by Michael Lee who not only did time at Momentum, he was also in the trade back in the Eastern Heroes label days – the mid-1990s and brought Jet Li over to the UK, so definitely a man who knows his product).

Our ethos of “match Far East film to UK audience efficiently” (unofficially, I say “Far East Film, UK audience, everything in between is just a pain” – expletive omitted) led to us creating also our own Terracotta Far East Film festival – why limit people to where they can watch things? The market we serve has a certain community feel to it, and the niche-ness of it (read: minority audience, often marginalised, sometimes ridiculed by audiences of non-subtitled cinema) certainly needed a central event to congregate, like Trekkers need a convention (though our event is infinitely smaller and less grand than this analogy).

We have since released two more titles Fox Family (a colourful musical horror cabaret) and God Man Dog (a Berlinale award winner) and have just put out Breathless (a Korean domestic violence/gangster film in the vein of Ken Loach or Nil By Mouth) on DVD in March, after a great theatrical release for it at the start of this year. We will also run the second edition of the Terracotta Festival in May.

Though I believe we have achieved good product and consumer focus by doing away with the “theatrical” and “DVD” and “digital” and “ancillary” silos, in a way far better than any major studio can with Far East film product, this still remains a hobby for us; given that we paid out for Hansel & Gretel in October 2008 and only saw decent cash back in in June or July 2009, then I am glad I listened to another word of advice from my wife: “Don’t give up the day job.”

• The Terracotta Far East Film Festival takes place between May 6 and May 9 at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End. For more details click here

Tags: ,