LEE Jung-se, Director of Film Business Division of Megabox Plus M
Feb 06, 2018
- Writerby LEE Ju-hyun
Powerhouse Newcomers Backbone of the Box Office in 2017
Megabox Plus M released six domestic films in 2017 including Daddy You, Daughter Me, Roman Holiday, THE OUTLAWS, Anarchist from Colony, The Bros and Forgotten. The company served as the distributor for all six of these films and additionally served as the investor on the latter three titles. All three of the films for which Megabox Plus M served as both investor and distributor on broke even, with Don LEE vehicle THE OUTLAWS storming local theaters on its way to attracting 6.88 million admissions and a third-place ranking on the ‘Highest Grossing Korean Films of 2017’ list. In 2013, Megabox Plus M began an endeavor for genre diversity and expanding the scope of subject matter in Korean films. They started by investing in and distributing middle to small-scale budgeted films within the KRW 5 billion (approx. USD 4.7 million) range such as HONG Ji-young’s Marriage Blue (2013), and then expanded their lineup with Dad for Rent and The Whistleblower in 2014, Casa Amor; Exclusive for Ladies and Wonderful Nightmare in 2015, and DONGJU; The Portrait of A Poet, RUN OFF, Kai and MISSING in 2016. We met with LEE Jung-se, Director of Film Business Division of Megabox Plus M, which with its impressive accomplishments in 2017, has stepped up to become the fifth largest distributor in Korea after CJ Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment, Showbox Corp and Next Entertainment World (NEW).
Box office-wise, Anarchist from Colony sold 2.36 million tickets and THE OUTLAWS 6.88 million, the latter jumping to third in the 2017 ranking of the highest grossing Korean films at the domestic box office. How do you think were you able to achieve such great results?
Foremost, I really owe it to the production team. Our company’s job is just to come through with the investment, while it’s the production team, including the director and producer, who make the film. These films were successful at the box office because the production team’s execution of the original plans produced great results. Next, the Megabox Film Business Division’s contribution was considerable. There are less than 15 members that cover investment, distribution, and marketing in our division. It’s a small group of people, but I believe they made it a reality because they were all motivated by the thought of making films as a group effort. Furthermore, the company head never interferes in the process. Even with the final validation of a poster, our Marketing Team General Manager has the final word. Often, the minority persuades the majority during the decision-making process. MISSING was a case of the 20% ‘yay group’ swaying the 80% ‘nay group’. A female character-driven film is a tough call when it comes to green-lighting an investment, but those who related to the screenplay’s great energy and theme were able to persuade the others with passion.
Come to think if it, Door Lock (working title), which will star KONG Hyo-jin and started filming this year, is another female character-driven film. In comparison, we have worked with a number of female filmmakers and on many female character-driven films, but there aren’t any special reasons for this. It just happened that these screenplays were good and the main characters were women and not men. If we went by conventional data, it could seem quite risky to invest in a female character-driven project. We wanted to relieve such concerns and challenge these preconceptions based on data. The existing figures are not always correct.
Your company has been investing in and distributing middle to small-scaled budgeted films under KRW 5 billion. In the case of these types of films, planning and development is crucial. So what are the criteria and principles for investment/distribution at Megabox Plus M?
To be honest, we have mainly focused on middle to small-scale films because large-scale films never really came our way. It’s true we never had the chance. Moreover, our company criteria stress the quality of production and the efficiency of the story rather than planning and development. We prefer screenplays that convey their themes well. If we have a good story, the next step is to focus on finding a quality that sets it apart from other films. As films have been around for more than 100 years, there’s no such thing as a totally original story, just a certain aspect during that year, that season or that month that differentiates it from the others. If comedies are scarce among new releases during a certain year, then a comedy film can stand out. Likewise, we tend to work on projects based on considerations of genre differentiation and original messages or subject matter.
How do you plan to position Megabox Plus M in the market?
I’m not that keen on summing up the total ticket sales of a year and defining us as the fourth or fifth highest-selling distribution company. I never hoped for our company to become a top-five distributor. I just want this streak of success to continue like last year. That does not just mean seeing big results in the local box office, but wishing to continue breaking stereotypes with films such as THE OUTLAWS and Anarchist from Colony. Both films did not cast top stars but were embraced by the public despite their atypical casting and packaging. I believe these types of films are contributing to the gradual change in local film trends. Instead of defining a Megabox style, I hope we can exist as a company that refrains from relying on statistics from yesterday.
Do you have any plans in the future to invest in big-budget and large-scale films?
There are no specific plans for making a film that could cost KRW 20 billion (USD 18.6 million) just because we’ve made the cut as a major film distributor. However, if there’s a good story we believe in and all agree upon, we’re planning to work on fundraising for a big-budget project. Story matters more than size. So far among our scheduled releases for this year, costume drama Feng Shui (working title), directed by PARK Hee-gon and starring CHO Seung-woo and JI Sung, is costing more than KRW 10 billion (USD 9.3 million). Other films in our 2018 lineup include YIM Soon-rye’s Little Forest and LEE Joon-ik’s Sunset in My Hometown.