Christian Lee (extreme left) and Jason Chan (extreme right) at the partnership signing of Jimami Tofu at Asia TV Forum & Market 2016
Big plans are in place on the distribution front for Jimami Tofu – BananaMana Films’ first full-length feature, with the film most recently garnering pre-sales agreements with international distributor including Korean media giant iHQ, global TV platform VIKI and Encore Inflight. We speak with the founders of the company Christian Lee and Jason Chan, who also wrote, direct and produced Jimami Tofu – talk about multi-talented!
Tell us, how is BananaMana unique in the media industry?
Jason: BananaMana sets out with a mission to make Asian dramas in English, which was quite unique four years ago. In fact, it was so unique that a lot of people laughed at us and said, “It’s not going to sell, it’s not worth it, you won’t make it…” We believed in it because we believed there’s a huge market for English content, but we also believe there’s a huge market for Asian content in English. And I think when Perfect Girl got picked up by Netflix and also by Korea this year, it was a great example that we were onto something that can really travel beyond our shores.
Christian: For us, being the directors, writers and sometimes the actors, producers as well as the editors; learning end to end the business model – especially when it comes to going out to markets – and learning the distribution model is very important in this day and age. So what we have managed to do in our short period of three years is sort of scratch the surface. We want to inspire future media and filmmakers, and hopefully teach them all that we have learnt and keep going down this path.
Perfect Girl was a great success for BananaMana. Were you expecting this level of interest from the industry? Any specific marketing strategy behind it?
Jason: We weren’t expecting it at all. What was even more surprising was that Korea [iHQ], whom we hold in the highest regard in terms of the quality of the content they make, got it straight away when we met to speak. Within two minutes, the business development in-charge told us they understand what we were trying to do and that they want to get this product and distribute it. We were blown away because we were the first non-domestic film on mega TV house. It has taken us by surprise. We like it and we think other people will like it. Let’s get it out there and let’s keep knocking on doors until we get to the hands of people who distribute.
Christian: It takes perseverance, it takes coming out to market it and truly believing in your product and your stories. You have to constantly hustle, so we love to say we were so shocked that all this happened. It takes a lot of hard work, but you just have to believe in what you are selling and make the contacts.
What kind of opportunities do you see for storytellers in Asia?
Jason: That we can make content right here in our own backyard and sell it overseas, and not only have other people like it but also want for it, buy it, and put it on their channels. We hope that this is opening the doors and giving hope to everyone else that we can do this and we can do this regionally. This is a really amazing region – you travel across the borders and you got so much to shoot, with so much talent. Even in Southeast Asia alone, the population is huge. We should be tapping into that potential in terms of talent, as well as who would watch our content.
Christian: The playing field is even. So for other filmmakers – aspiring or not – it is truly about telling your stories. It is about telling stories to their truest nature, what you want to say. Don’t try to convolute it with a bunch of ‘what’s the market gonna want’, ‘it should be hyperlocal because that is what will sell’. You just got to get in touch with your heart and say you like this story, you want to tell the story and you can do so.
Image courtesy of BananaMana Films
What was the inspiration for your new film, Jimami Tofu?
Jason: The food in Okinawa is amazing and what we fell in love with was the fact that it is actually a perfect blend of Southeast Asian spices and cooking techniques, and also Japanese presentation. And that apparently happened over thousands of years because Okinawa had its own dynasty and its own race of people. And so when we tasted the food, it was the perfect blend. This is how we will put together the Southeast Asian, Japanese connection and make it a love story.
Christian: I will give it in a one liner: We love food and we love romance, and therefore we were inspired.
What do you look forward to next year?
Jason: I think in 2017, we are looking forward to marketing this film and hopefully getting some big sales. But I think we are also really looking forward to get pre-finance for the next feature which we already have plans for, with other prefectures in Japan, who are very interested in what we did with Jimami Tofu. We are really looking forward to next year, where we can celebrate what we’ve done and also get the next project started.
Christian: 2017 for BananaMana Films is all about cracking the sustainable business model in the digital space with Jimami Tofu, and then doing it again with another feature, and another, and another...