After ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘Parasite’ Korea’s CJ Entertainment Hatches Plans to Become a Global Studio

Patrick Frater

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Making English-language content for global consumption is the next target for CJ Entertainment, the studio behind Bong Joon Ho’s Palme d’Or-winning Korean-language hit “Parasite.”

Having already produced Bong’s “Snowpiercer” back in 2013, the company is no newcomer to English-lingo pics. But now it is stepping up, and working from a base in Hollywood, to build a slate of global titles.

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“We’ve successfully launched our local production business in various countries [including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Turkey]. Now we are moving forward to produce films that can be widely released in the global market. The U.S. is our next anticipated market as we continue to build our company into a global studio,” says Jerry Ko, CJ’s head of international.

“We began our U.S. business in 2006, starting by selling remake rights of our films to studios. We also dabbled a bit by financing and co-producing small indie pictures, but the big breakthrough came with ‘Snowpiercer.’ Of all the remakes that we’ve sold over the years, not a single film has yet to be released or even produced. In 2016, we revamped our U.S. business and began aggressively focusing on financing, development and production ourselves.”

The new approach became tangible in 2018 when CJ put two English-language pictures into production — “Endings, Beginnings” by Drake Doremus and “Hide & Seek” by Joel David Moore. This year it backed “Press Play” by Greg Bjorkman. The company says it aims to finance and produce two to three pictures a year, with budgets that range from $5 million to $50 million, depending on genres or target audience. It has the capacity to self-finance the slate, but may choose to partner with U.S. entities for strategic reasons. And, while it will continue to sell remake rights to studios, it intends to remain attached as lead producer.

Ko says that the structure of the company will evolve and soon be scaled up.

“Currently, we have a U.S development and production team that is split between Korea and the U.S., with Korea acting as the ultimate decision-maker, as well as being the provider of Asian IP and talent,” said Ko. “However, as the business grows and becomes more stable, we’ll ultimately have the U.S. office act on its own. We have concrete plans to strengthen the U.S. operation in the near future.”

Routes to market will vary. But, clearly as a company with financial resources and its own IP portfolio, CJ is well-positioned to take advantage of the current golden era for content creators.

“In some cases, we’ll go ahead and make the film, fully financing it ourselves with the aim to sell to a studio. We typically [hold on to some territory rights, and] have our internal sales team handle Asia, and [may] partner up with a strong sales company to handle all territories outside of Asia,” said Ko. “We are also very open to working with streamers. For some kinds of films that usually need wider or longer exposures to audiences, streamers appear more efficient and effective to reach more targeted audiences.”

The company says it has learned plenty in its 15-year build-up to today’s position. “We realized that we need to differentiate ourselves in a competitive market where even big studios often struggle. One of those [differences] is being able to leverage the platforms and businesses that we are already good at, such as distributing and producing in Asia,” said Ko. CJ Entertainment’s sister company CJ-CGV is one of the world’s top-five cinema-owners, with market-leading theater operations in South Korea, Vietnam and Turkey, and significant circuits in Indonesia and China.

“With that infrastructure in place, we are able to focus on English-language films that have potential in Asian markets as well. In other words, our biggest asset in comparison to other Hollywood companies is our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in Asia along with our relationship with Asian talent,” said Ko.

“In the past, we went to Hollywood asking for scripts for us to shoot in Korea, or to attach Korean talent to. We did not find a single one that was meaningful. They were usually scripts passed by other companies. Now, we focus on those English-language films that have potential also in Asia. Music, romance, romantic comedy and horror are the strongest English-language genres in our territories,” Kodd added.

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