KWON Ji-won, CEO of Little Big Pictures
Feb 06, 2018
- Writerby JEONG Kyu-hwan
Powerhouse Newcomers Backbone of the Box Office in 2017
Little Big Pictures is a film distribution company founded in 2013 by eleven Korean film production companies, to protect the rights of the people who create cinema. With last year's I Can Speak (2017), and films like Office (2015) and Cart (2014), Little Big Pictures has distributed over 40 films since its establishment. From medium and small-sized commercial films to documentaries, animations, and independent films, Little Big Pictures has provided Korean audiences with a wide range of movies and has served as a backbone of the domestic film industry.
You've been a CEO for about four years. Do you have any method to run Little Big Pictures?
Little Big Pictures always strives to achieve the goal we set when we first started. To establish fair trade between filmmakers and distribution companies. It’s difficult for newcomers, be they film studios, directors or actors, to raise investment. Diversity films sometimes can’t even be released because they don’t have a distributor. We want to become an essential distribution company in the film industry and continue to discover quality films, invest in them and distribute them. I think we act as a balance weight between the major distributors like CJ, Lotte, or Showbox and independent films. Everything needs a middle actor to have a good balance.
How has the small and medium-sized film market changed over the years? Are there any memorable movies in the field?
Production budgets have grown recently. We’ve always distributed a number of movies with budgets ranging from KRW 2-3 billion (USD 1.9-2.8 million), and a few years ago that seemed like a large amount. Now it feels like it’s rather small. The reason is that the overall production budgets, including labor costs, have increased and films with larger budgets started to enter the market. The first film we distributed, Mourning Grave (2014), passed the break-even point and Cart, a movie based on real-life events about a strike by female workers, brought in 800,000 viewers, which was a meaningful accomplishment. Personally, Office, which was invited for a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival was a memorable movie. Upon its release, critics called it a horror movie built on a fresh idea.
When was the most difficult time for the company?
2016 was our most difficult year. We weren’t making enough profit, which led to theaters and investors losing their faith in us. It was an unstable time and we didn't even get funding from the ‘Fund of Funds’. The vertical integration system of large corporations also became stronger. Starting in 2015, financing from China began entering the Korean market and we even invested in the Korea-China film My New Sassy Girl (2016) with high hopes for the Chinese movie market. We considered the Chinese investments and market as our last resort, but it all collapsed because of the THAAD situation. Also, none of our movies in 2016 reached their break-even point.
However last year, I Can Speak became a hit.
Yes, attracting three million audiences in a short period of time was an impressive accomplishment. I feel like I Can Speak made up for all the hardships we’ve experienced. We have no multiplex cinema chain or large budget to work with, but we still managed to make it a successful release. When I received the screenplay, I didn’t even look at it for a month. I was unsure if we could handle the project. The film deals with Japan’s enforced sex slavery of Korean women during its colonial rule. It’s a sensitive and important topic, so securing investment is a difficult task. However, the screenplay was beautifully written and it gave me confidence. Before the movie’s release, Lotte Entertainment joined into co-distribute the movie. I Can Speak was released during the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day) season, so a lot of families could go and see the movie, but the problem was if we could secure enough timeslots in cinemas. With Lotte’s involvement, we didn’t have to worry that much. Even from an investor’s standpoint, it was safer. I think it was a good idea to accept Lotte’s co-distribution deal.
What are small to medium-sized movies needed in cinemas?
Little Big Pictures never based the decision to distribute a film on its commercial prospects, but we choose movies that have a story to tell. When we read the screenplays, we focus on how clear the story is. Movies with a large budget are mostly historical films, action blockbusters or have a cast of expensive actors. Therefore in order to compete, small to medium-sized films should focus on a grounded and well-written story, or create a strong genre film. Like in sports, to have a strong major league team, you need a stable minor league team. The movie market should build an environment where small to medium-sized films with commercial potential can flourish. I hope that with all the earnings major film distribution companies make, part of the sum goes into investing in films with great hidden potential.
In today's film industry, what are your hopes for Little Big Pictures?
The increase in audiences has come to a halt, with the age of the population rising and films becoming more diverse. I think communication with the audience is going to become more important. I think the structure of distribution companies should also change with the times. It’s only at the early stages of planning, but through crowdfunding, audiences can become shareholders of our company and create the movies they want. We want to create a channel through which audiences can participate from as early on as the screenplay development stage of filmmaking, and make our company a co-operative, with the audience being the owners.
Tell us your plans for 2018.
It's season two for Little Big Pictures starting in 2018. We will never lose our identity as a group. We intend on raising our voice on matters regarding unfair deals between theaters and distribution companies. The
most dire issue with the vertical integration of large corporations is that it led to the division of profit to be 50:50 between the theater and the movie distribution company, which is a number that completely ignores the filmmaking process and environment in Korea. Theaters and major film distributors are only seeking to make more profit and are making unreasonable investments and provisions to do so. We plan on voicing our opinions on establishing a more reasonable system regarding the division of profit within the film industry.