In just two years, FineCut has established itself as a leading sales agent for hot South Korean and international titles. Jean Noh talks to company CEO Youngjoo Suh
FineCut is the go-to sales agent for some of the hottest Korean projects on the international market, including Kim Jee-woon's I Saw The Devil, Hong Sang-soo's Hahaha and Lee Chang-dong's Poetry.
"I want to do films that make me feel good because they're well-made,"says FineCut's CEO Youngjoo Suh. "That's why we did Daytime Drinking and Bedevilled, by young, interesting independent directors [Noh Young-seok and Jang Cheol-soo respectively]. I like films that aren't so highbrow auteur that audiences can't understand them.?
For Suh, it is important to nurture new talent. "We motivate the film-makers and help them with the industry side-funding and getting distribution,she explains. "When investors look at a project, they'll ask us about the overseas potential, which can help get a film made. This can be especially important for low-budget arthouse films like A Brand New Life, which had little potential locally but overseas it had a lot.?
Suh began her film career at Ilshin Investment in the late 1990s. “I started going to film festivals and watching sales agents at Golden Network and Fortissimo dealing with contracts,?says Suh. She branched out in 2000 to establish Cineclick Asia, the forerunner of FineCut. The company started with six films including Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy, which screened in Directors?Fortnight at Cannes.
"We were lucky to have good connections. Ilshin Investment and Tcha Seung-jae [a powerful producer in Korea at the time] gave us their films."
Peppermint Candy sealed Cineclick's reputation as a sales agent with quality films, and KT Kwak's gangster film Friend proved those films could make money for Suh’s partners. "Then My Wife Is A Gangster became one of the first Korean films to do a remake deal and after that [Hollywood] studios started checking in with us,"Suh says.
Cineclick moved into production with a partial investment in Bong Joon-ho's monster thriller The Host in 2006 and co-produced Siddiq Barmak’s Afghanistan-set Opium War in 2007. Around the same time it picked up its first non-Korean language film, Wang Quanan's Tuya's Marriage from China. That film won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2007 and sold widely around the world
A month later, in step with a wave of film companies teaming up with stock market-listed companies, Cineclick merged with KOSDAQ-listed Fantom Entertainment Group. However, it quickly divorced itself to emerge as FineCut in 2008. "We merged with Fantom because we needed funds for big overseas projects," Suh explains. "But like the bursting of the IT bubble, we were hit with the backwash [of the stock-market downturn].
"I tried to bring as many licensors with me as possible. We were able to re-sign most of them and came out of it with even more partners such as Vantage Holdings, Lotte Entertainment and N.E.W. [New Entertainment World]," Suh continues. "It was a crisis but all my staff came with me, and Tuya's Marriage and Pablo Trapero's Lion's Den, which we signed in 2007, did sales to a tremendous number of territories. I realised this really is a business of people, where if you have trust, even nationalities don't matter."
FineCut launched with Na Hong-jin's serial killer film The Chaser, which did a raft of deals including for an English-language remake with Warner Bros. "Investment companies keep asking me for counsel on overseas projects, and we're looking to create a fund of our own,"says Suh.
With films selling more slowly and Japanese distributors becoming more risk-averse, Suh finds smaller or no minimum guarantees a way to make things work. "You want to continue partnerships so that when the economy gets better, you can do a proper deal,"Suh says. "At the very least, you want to make sure a buyer won't make a loss on a film. If films do well, the prices will go up naturally."
Though FineCut is increasingly taking films to Japan to screen directly to those buyers who cannot make it to markets, Suh is sanguine about the future of the global industry.
"You can look at it as a self-purification process. We won't see as many big hits as before but there are moderate hits,"she suggests. "The US market is the toughest, with demand down and fewer buyers now. But they won't all drop out and we still get decent deals."