EXCLUSIVE: When Netflix chief Reed Hastings recorded an audio essay for the BBC last month, one comment stood out within his message of solidarity for an industry besieged by virus disruption: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen our members watching more content from other countries or cultures.”
The streamers and their global reach have evidenced over recent years that audiences will consume film and TV from outside their immediate experiences, and that the language barrier is no longer as pronounced as once thought. Hastings name-checked Spanish show Money Heist, Italian drama Summertime, and the German-American show Unorthodox as three series that have broken across national boundaries to be watched by a varied viewership.
And it’s not just series. The success of Korean arthouse drama Parasite, which racked up box offices records in markets around the world, grossing $250M+ before storming the Oscars earlier this year, reaffirmed that the bridge between diverse audiences and diverse content, even in a theatrical setting, has shrunk.
It’s a formula that Lionsgate-backed Globalgate has been banking on for years. Flying somewhat under-the-radar since it formally launched in 2016, the global venture identifies IP in local markets that could be ripe for remake in new territories, and then takes those properties to its network of established partners across the world (see below) to set up co-finance and co-production opportunities.
“We set up this company because there is a great need for intellectual property around the world,” says William Pfeiffer, Globalgate’s executive chairman and co-founder. “Local production companies and distributors know their sources of IP in their own countries very well, but don’t have the reach or the capability to go beyond their borders to find great stories. You can’t make a great movie without great stories.”
Globalgate’s concept has been proven by a litany of successful projects that, from the outside, do not necessary look like obvious formulas for remakes.
Take 2013 Mexican comedy Instructions Not Included, which was a box office smash, grossing $46M in Mexico (still the country’s highest grossing Mexican film) and a further $44M in North America. Facilitated by Globalgate, the pic is now being remade around the world, including in France where 2016’s Two Is A Family starring Omar Sy and Clemence Poesy was a local hit, taking $23M, before it also performed well in Italy ($7.8M) and Germany ($6.9M). André Moraes directed a 2018 Brazilian remake, No Returns Accepted, while shooting is tentatively slated for Q3 on a Vietnamese version produced by Korean major Lotte Entertainment (which has an office in Vietnam). Globalgate has also set up Turkish, Indian, Indonesian and Philippine versions of the property.
Examples also include 2013 German hit Fack ju Göhte, which Globalgate initially tried to option directly from producer Constantin for a Spanish-language remake, but found the German outfit unwilling to part with its IP. Instead, they returned with the proposal of co-producing the remake jointly. That became 2016 Mexican movie No Manches Frida, which was Mexico’s fourth highest grossing film ($11.8M) of all time before it was topped by its 2019 sequel ($17M). Miss Granny, a 2014 smash in Korea ($58.2M), has already been remade in the Philippines and China (via producer CJ Entertainment), and now Globalgate has overseen has a Mexican incarnation, now in post-production, and there is an English-language version being produced in the U.S. by MGM.
Key to the partnership structure is the ability to share knowledge. No Kids, a 2015 Argentinian romantic comedy, is now being remade in the disparate nations of Germany, Korea and Mexico. Globalgate is helping to tailor those individual screenplays by facilitating information sharing between its local partners during the development phase.
The company is also increasingly working in series, such as the Mexican Amazon show El Juego De Las llaves, which Globalgate is setting up for remakes around the world. Though often the barrier between short and long form isn’t important, such as on Ditte & Louise, which was originally a Danish series but was remade into a feature in its native Denmark by Globalgate partner Nordisk before the American company set up an English-language version at Lionsgate UK.
Globalgate’s far-reaching network of partners now counts 14 production and distribution companies across 20+ countries: Lionsgate (U.S./UK/Canada/India/China), which is also a non-controlling shareholder and provides back office support, Televisa (Latin America), TF1 (France), Nordisk (Scandinavia), Kadokawa (Japan), Lotte (Korea and Vietnam), Tobis (Germany), Rai (Italy), TME (Turkey), Belga Filmes (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), Paris Filmes (Brazil), CineColombia/Dynamo (Colombia), Viva Communications (the Philippines) and Falcon Pictures (Indonesia).
Through its network, Globalgate has instant access to 21,000 library titles as well as sight of its partners’ upcoming projects, and its team is continually trawling through that catalogue to find IP that meets current market trends and has the capacity to be remade in new territories. After identifying a property ripe for remake, it takes the selected project to its partner in a country where it could have potential, giving them first refusal on a co-production and co-finance agreement.
“Every couple of months we have video conferences with all of our partners, playing them trailers on local movies etc,” explains Paul Presburger, co-founder at Globalgate, who is also chief exec at partner Pantelion Films. “If they’re interested we help them negotiate the option deal and retain a right to co-produce and potentially finance. If a local partner is willing to back it, invest in it, that gives us a lot of confidence to go ahead. It’s really locally driven.”
“We know every movie opening up in every territory large and small, even the ones where we don’t have partners,” notes CEO Clifford Werber.
If the partner passes on the option, the team then goes out to other producers and packaging agencies all around the world with the idea. The company now has 50+ film and TV properties in various stages of development, pre-production, production and release.
After the remake is optioned, with the local partner usually funding development, the local outfit will employ a producer in the territory (or produce in house) and package the project, before taking it back to Globalgate which then has first dibs to co-produce and co-fi the movie on a 50/50 basis. Instead of taking commission on the initial deal, the company is banking on these films performing in their local markets (and sometimes further afield) so it makes good money on the backend.
“There are companies out there that trade in remake rights – we don’t take commission, that’s not our game,” adds Werber. “A lot of those companies want to come to us.”
Globalgate also looks at book IP and unproduced screenplays, including from the American market, where sometimes scripts can sit on studio shelves gathering dust for years.
“I found a script called My Boyfriend’s Meds [from an American writer],” recalls Presburger. “We made a Mexican version and released that in March, and we’ve also optioned it at Pantelion to make local versions all around the world. It’s now set up at Gaumont in France, so they’re developing a French version of this Hollywood screenplay that has still never been made in English.”
It’s a reversal of the more routine method of identifying successful foreign properties for American remakes [see The Upside, The Departed etc]. “The holy grail tends to be ‘Hollywood is going to remake my movie’ but it doesn’t always work. Isn’t it better for something like Instructions Not Included to make 7-8 versions around the world, and then the Hollywood version can come downstream? Producers get to see their IP utilized a lot faster,” adds Presburger.
“Hollywood usually captures the whole world on IP to prevent people from making local-language versions, because the Hollywood film travels so well,” notes Pfeiffer. “But you can make a movie in Korea that has no impact on the Indian, Mexican or Italian market.”
So, what’s the formula? Why did Parasite gross $250M while Bong Joon-ho’s previous films have never come close to that total? Why does Perfect Strangers, originally a 2016 Italian pic, seem to work in so many markets (the film holds a Guinness World Record as the most remade movie ever on 18 versions and counting).
For Meg Thomson, Globalgate’s SVP Worldwide Content, it’s about distinctive authorship and cultural specificity, rather than appealing to a mass audience by homogenizing subject matter (a criticism regularly thrown at the Netflix algorithm).
“Everywhere around the world people are looking for authentic voices,” she says. “Sometimes the more specific the filmmaker is, the better their voice resonates, that’s what a movie like Parasite brings to the fore.”
Thomson also believes that people are interested in stories that reflect their own experiences, but those don’t necessarily need to come from their home countries. “A Mexican story about a family may be more familiar to a family in India than in the U.S., even though they’re on the opposite sides of the world,” adds Pfeiffer. “There can often be similarities in cultures.”
The truth is, however, there is no blueprint for success, “When I was at Sony Pictures we did Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [the Mandarin-language movie grossed $213M globally] and thought we’d cracked the code, but that wasn’t necessarily the case,” says Presburger. “A lot of people have been trying to emulate that.”
The ever fluid nature of audience appetites also need to be taken into account. Commissioning and developing a project from scratch is a process that takes multiple years, and knowing what viewers will be watching once you’ve completed production is a guessing game. That process moves a lot quicker when the IP already exists.
“We do projects to order,” explains Thomson. “If someone wants a wedding movie set on an island [a recent request Globalgate had from Germany], we can set that up.” Thomson notes that projects which can be shot in a contained fashion are the current zeitgeist, because of the pandemic, and Korean movies are also in vogue because of Parasite.
“Koreans are also very keen on remakes,” she adds. “We’re setting up a lot of IP in Korea. Their local box office is thriving, you can make a lot from there as a single territory.”
Globalgate’s focus to date has been on theatrical titles, with several of its partners established cinema releasers in their territories. Hollywood content may still be a dominant force in theatrical markets all around the world, but many countries are actually seeing market share for local titles rise. At the last count, countries with the highest consumption of locally-produced titles include India (90%), Japan (60%), China, Turkey and Korea (55%), France (40%), Denmark (30%) and Germany, Italy and Poland (25%).
Like most of the industry, however, the pandemic has seen the team do more business with streaming services. And let’s not forget, this boom in local-language content has been at least in part facilitated by the likes of Netflix and Amazon.
“People around the world are surfing streaming services and they’re able to find foreign content, subtitled or dubbed, that they may not have found in their local cinemas,” says Pfeiffer. “That’s opening eyes to the quality of international projects and had something to do with the success of Parasite.”
“Our business is still focused on theatrical, but we’ve been in conversations with streamers for the last year and that has accelerated. A film we made with one of our partners was just finishing production when the pandemic started. We were able to get it done but with the uncertainty of releasing in theaters we decided to sell it to a streamer,” he continues. “There’s not going to be the big potential upside that there is from theatrical, but we did get a guaranteed profit for everyone involved.”
For years, a regular differentiator between Hollywood product and local fare, at least speaking of commercial titles, has been production value. That’s changing, with international co-pro structures, growing local markets, and investment in international content meaning higher budgets for foreign-language projects. The cost of production in many of these territories is also a lot lower, a fact not lost on the big studios.
“A dollar can go a lot further in foreign countries than in Hollywood. You can make a $20M film that looks like a $100M movie coming out of the U.S.,” says Pfeiffer. “With those higher production values, those projects can travel.”
The execs say that Globalgate is constantly interested in expanding its network. Growth right now is focused on Asia and Latin America, and Argentina is likely to be one of the next hubs where the company will lock a partner.
As evidenced by Hastings’ quotes, Globalgate’s work is aligned with where the wider business is headed. The streamers in particular are targeting growth in international markets as they reach subscriber plateaus in their English language territories, and the pandemic has accelerated this process.
While the U.S. grapples with virus spikes, international markets have already returned to production in a meaningful way and some have even seen cinemas get back up and running successfully. Korea, for example, has already had two pandemic era releases attract more than 1M admissions (Peninsula and #Alive). “The international marketplace is the bellwether for the recovery from the disruption of COVID,” says Werber.
For Globalgate, the industry’s increasing confidence in, and appetite for, international product can only be a good thing for business. “The international market is a much faster growing market than Hollywood,” asserts Pfeiffer.
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