BY LIISA VÄHÄKYLÄ, FINNANIMATION, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The author has been the executive director for Finnanimation, the Finnish animation producers’ network since 2009. She has travelled to China many times since 2004; in 2015 she spent 4 weeks in Xian studying the language and 6 weeks in Beijing and Chengdu negotiating with potential partners and collaborators.
Five years ago when Finnanimation, the animation producers’ network in Finland, started working on its Asia Strategy, not as many Europeans were interested in Asian film and media market, as they are now. Game companies put all their efforts towards the west, and live-action producers at least in Finland, after the Jade Warrior movie was released in 2006, showed no interest in the hiding entertainment giant.
The film, Niko – The Way to the Stars, got the first presale agreement with China in 2006, and Dibidogs also started production in Southern China in 2008. This only happened after the Asia TV Forum in 2010 where Finnish animation producers had a booth for the first time and decided to investigate the dynamics of the Asian animation industry more thoroughly. The Finnish booth was organised as a joint event with Audiovisual Finland, but only animation companies came along.
Things in Asia were happening fast and big. In 2007 the Asian animation business grew over Europe, but it was considered a low-priced import.
It is well known that the more experience you gain, the more your talent grows. This has happened with the quality of Asian animation as well. South Korea is possibly the best example of that, but China and India will follow.
My Asian studio tour with Finnanimation got started in Singapore, where we have been introduced to the co-production possibilities and financing through MDA, Media Development Authority that both invests and supports co-productions. Some French studios had found that opportunity too, but not much was yet done. The Singaporean visit was followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Mainland China and Malaysia. Malaysia has developed their financing model equivalent to the one in Singapore. It is governed by the MDec, Multimedia Development Corporation.
The Korean financing model, on the contrary, did not have much relief in co-producing our TV-series in development, as Korean companies were fully aware of the 30% they would have to put up against our 70% as stated in the EU regulations. In India very few still consider a co-production as their choice, whereas in China and Japan the awareness of co-production possibilities has been rising.
A strategy for Asia has from us required a long-term commitment with a few immediate results. One example is the Tokyo Anime Fair,
where we got invited one year after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Due to the radiation, the event got cancelled in 2011, and the following year the Japanese wanted to open to the world. Thanks to the Moomin, still hugely popular among the Japanese, we gained lots of attention for a small country, next to bigger countries like Canada and France. However, the results only came to fruition last year when an agreement between a Finnish company and a Japanese agent was signed. The very same guy came to our booth in 2012 and was already then interested in making business with the Finns.
Why is Finnanimation so interested in the Asian animation industry?
The main focus of the Asian strategy for us has been China from the very beginning. Its huge potential rivals any other market. There are 9 to 10 new film screens opened in China every day according to the statistics from 2013. The official number of TV stations in the country states 2000, but no one seems to know the exact number. At the box offices they make new records quarter after a quarter, but still very little foreign content is seen either on a big screen or the smaller screens. The mobile industry and ecommerce are growing fast, so that the main players in China, Tencent and Alibaba, now acquire film studios from Hollywood along with huge investments in their blockbusters.
We believe that there is a Nordic animation boom, as Variety magazine defined it in 2014, and it definitely has export value in Asia. To make our content more visible, we should co-operate in order to make the Chinese and other Asians interested in us.
On my latest trip to Beijing I had talks at the Danish Culture Institute on the co-production treaty they have been working on for a while. Their treaty could be the working model for other Nordic countries as well, while UK, France, Italy and The Netherlands already have their treaties with China. When co-produced under the treaty, a foreign movie would not need the standard quota needed for the cinema screening in China, which is otherwise required. It would be considered like a Chinese film in China. As all the quotas tend to go to the Hollywood blockbusters, it leaves alternative films and smaller producers very little options to either to show the film online or at a specific film festival or other cultural screening. In project development you have to be aware of and include the Chinese element. You might need to make your hero a bit Asian looking or include an old legend from there, but if we look at all the legends as coming from a same base, there is not much difference in them. Universal themes matter everywhere.
Liisa Vähäkylä speaks about strategies for approaching Asia on Tuesday March 15th