During the research phase before the official launch of UK-based streaming platform FilmDoo, co-founders Weerada Sucharitkul and William Page came across an interesting statistic. Just over 12% of the UK population said they would be interested in watching independent films, or films from outside their own culture, at least once a month.
But as Weerada had previously discovered when she tried to watch Korean costume drama Masquerade, it’s just not that easy to find legal, subtitled versions of foreign-language films in the UK.
FilmDoo, officially launched at the Cannes film festival in 2015, aims to fill that gap with a wide range of independent movies, clearly categorised and subtitled in English, along with recommendations and reams of background information to help viewers discover new films.
The platform started off by only acquiring UK and Ireland rights, but noticed that 90% of its traffic was not from the UK – huge numbers were also coming from the US, Canada, Turkey, Indonesia and India. The site now has international rights to 300 titles, along with UK rights to 1,000 films. At last count, the site had 200,000 unique visitors a month with traffic growing at 30%.
THE PITCH: “FilmDoo is more than a VOD platform. We are both a global film community and an alternative to IMDB for international films, redefining the way people discover and watch great films from around the world and thereby helping to democratise film distribution,” says Weerada.
THE CONTENT: The platform has movies from all over the world (categorised by country, region and genre) and recently launched focuses on South American cinema with films including Embrace Of The Serpent and The Milk Of Sorrow, and Southeast Asia, with titles such as Woo Ming Jin’s The Second Life Of Thieves, Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Boundary and Tom Waller’s The Last Executioner.
“There are certain sectors we’re stronger in, such as French, Asian and LGBT,” explains Weerada. “We don’t have much Indian content but there are already so many platforms for Indian films.”
THE REVENUE MODEL: FilmDoo is a strictly TVOD platform, charging on average £2.99 per feature, while shorts are free. The platform acquires content from distributors, sales agents and producers, usually on a non-exclusive revenue-share basis without paying MGs.
What kind of films are you looking for?
Key for us is that the films have done festivals and markets and may have sold for some key territories. You may still have some unsold territories and that’s where we come in.
Based on conversations at Cannes this year, territories like Japan and Korea are starting to warm up to this idea as they realise a lot of great films just don’t get seen outside of their domestic market. They’re open to trying a new model on a revenue-share basis. Maybe not the big studios, but definitely the small to medium players.
So you think more foreign-language films will go straight-to-VOD outside their home territories?
There’s always going to be big-budget films in the region of $15-20m plus that go for a big theatrical release, and that’s when traditional distribution works best. But it’s just going to get harder and harder for small to medium budget films to find traditional distribution and that’s where VOD comes in. We don’t think we’re competing with traditional distribution – big films will always need a big screen, but smaller-budget films don’t always need that kind of release.
One of our best performers has been an Indonesian film, [Lucky Kuswandi’s] In The Absence Of The Sun, which had a theatrical release in Indonesia but not in the UK. We now have global rights because it did so well in the UK. We met the filmmaker in Cannes and he’s very active on social media.
Do you think social media helps drive the TVOD model?
Absolutely – the films that work best for us are where the filmmaker has gone out there and used social media to spread the word. Then at our end, we have to position the films as part of a campaign. That’s what we were doing with our Southeast Asian films – releasing 15 titles together rather than individual films.
For every film released, we interview the director, put out a press release, trailer and market on social media. Of course it works best if traditional distributors are open to doing day-and-date with us. There are always some people who can’t get out to a cinema to see the film.
Was it mostly Indonesians watching In The Absence Of The Sun?
We have a lot of traffic from Indonesia so we’ve picked up quite a strong catalogue. We also had a film festival in London, South Social Film Festival, where we screened an Indonesian film, [Angga Dwimas Sasongko’s] Filosofi Kopi, and it seemed like the entire Indonesian community came to see that film. Now we’re trying to get the online rights. But we are also seeing some crossover – not all the people buying Asian content on our site are Asian.
Which nationalities are buying your films?
Mostly the US, UK and Australia – it’s influenced by currency as we can take GBP, US$, A$ and Euros. We need to look at the price point for Asia as the Asian take-up has not been that strong. They like the content on Facebook but they’re not buying.
So that’s something we need to discuss with the film owners as well, bearing in mind that we only went international three months ago.
I would say there are two types of people using us. Firstly, there are those people who are interested in seeing a film from outside of their own culture – 12.1% in the UK – who just need access and subtitles. Then there’s the diaspora audiences seeking films from their own countries – French living abroad or second-generation Greeks living in the US or Australia. You need a slightly different infrastructure for that – a deeper catalogue in each category and search functions in the local language. We’re not quite there yet but we’re working on it.
Do UK theatrical distributors pick up many Asian films?
There are a few like Terracotta, Altitude and Arrow, and Third Window handles Japanese films. But UK distribution is not the way it used to be.
What do you think the perception of Southeast Asian cinema is in the UK?
People just don’t know it exists or don’t know much about it. It was really interesting at this year’s Cannes Next digital forum to hear research suggesting that millennials love to watch indie and arthouse cinema. But they don’t seek it out because they’re not marketed to. So we’re using social media to get younger people to see these films.
In the UK, The Raid really helped open people up to the idea of watching Indonesian films and it brought Indonesian martial arts into mainstream culture. What we really need is a couple of big success stories and help people discover, besides martial arts, what else is out there.
Which genres, outside of martial arts or action, do you believe have the potential to travel?
All kinds of documentaries and Asian horror travel. In our case, LGBT films cross over because there’s not a huge amount of content in the first place and audiences are hungry for interesting, well-produced LGBT stories. We didn’t expect this and it seems this category is not so star-driven.
Check out FilmDoo’s content at: www.filmdoo.com
The site also has an excellent blog with film reviews and reports on different categories of films, mostly recently: