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LOCAL CINEPHILES have Vincent Quek to thank for their fix of American indie films and European arthouse flicks.
As the founder and CEO of homegrown independent movie distribution company Anticipate Pictures, the 29-year-old has been acquiring and screening gems like German comedy Toni Erdmann and Syrian documentary City of Ghosts - highly-acclaimed but niche titles that otherwise would not have made it to the big screens in Singapore - over the past year.
He got his foot in the business working as The Substation's Moving Images' programme director straight after graduation, but the gig lasted only 15 months before the segment was canned by the venue's new artistic director in 2016. Mr Quek had the choice of staying in the same role for a different art field but found it hard to let go of his love for cinema. Coupled with his frustration with the lack of options at the local multiplexes, he took a leap of faith and launched Anticipate Pictures on his own.
The company has used festivals as launch pads for its titles and most recently sold out satirical drama The Square and psychological horror The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the 28th Singapore International Film Festival. Both are getting theatrical releases at The Arts House's Screening Room, which is Anticipate Pictures' venue of choice.
Like all of the company's releases, the titles will be made available to rent or purchase via Video-On-Demand platforms such as iTunes and Google Play after their big screen runs are over.
You wanted to be a filmmaker when you were studying in California - what happened?
I realised that what I really wanted was to be on the business side of things - it just fascinated me more. The machinations of the movie industry, what gets a project made, the agencies where talent agents put together projects with their stars, the way a film makes its way from a festival to the movie screens.
What is the job of a film distributor like?
We can break it down into three parts: the first is my favourite, travelling to film festivals around the world to meet with sales agents and watching movies. I think my record is 46 films at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.
I've gotten to the point where my bulls*** tolerance for bad or even mediocre films is razor-thin and I easily whittle out which titles I feel we can stand behind. The second part is the hardest: it is where we market the films to both exhibitors, festivals and of course, Singapore audiences. The last part is also something I take a lot of pleasure in: personally introducing the films we represent to audiences here.
I make it a point to welcome our audiences, and if not me, then my marketing manager would, because it truly is a wonderful experience, being able to deliver the filmmaker's vision to the audiences' eyes for the first time. I also like to sit in for the first few screenings, just to take the "temperature of the house", how they react to the film, and which scenes are working for them or not.
What have you learnt about local movie-goers' taste from your job?
You can't polish a turd. Maybe if I had the marketing budget for big Hollywood productions, I could convince enough people that they absolutely need to see it. We don't. So we start with the films - they have to be phenomenal.
We do have a voracious movie-going audience in Singapore, which is the highest rate of 3.9 films annually per capita in our region. But we are also realistic that our films aren't going to appeal to most mainstream audiences either. And even the people that are open to watching non-mainstream fare have specific tastes. We stick to marketing the film truthfully, so we don't deceive our potential audiences into thinking it is something it's not, pick out a few elements about the film that we feel would appeal best to audiences, and then go to town on marketing those.
You are up against bigger and more established distributors - some who are even exhibitors themselves. What are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is that our films don't get picked up by any of the exhibitors. In the first year, we beat ourselves up against the wall trying to knock on the doors of their distribution execs, only to face unanswered emails, flat-out rejection or worse, saying yes but then giving terms that were just punitive.
We decided that we weren't going to play their game. We would build a community around a new space, and for now our home is the Screening Room at The Arts House... (They) see the merits of having a vendor like us in their space and are willing to work within our limitations.
Is piracy still a problem for the movie industry?
Absolutely - piracy is always a problem in the movie industry. We lose as much as 25 per cent of total box office revenue to piracy. We lose even more if we don't open our films early enough before the master blu-rays are stolen from the pressing plant and fed to pirates to rip and put on torrent sites.
And the salespeople at the IT Fairs here hawk their black boxes that facilitate streaming of illegally obtained copies of the film on Chinese and Russian websites. We lose it all. I lose a lot, the filmmakers lose a lot, and everyone just points to how much the celebrities make or how much revenue Star Wars or Transformers has already raked in to justify why they should continue to pirate. Stars constitute one per cent of the entire production team, but take as much as 80 per cent of the entire production budget.
When you pirate, the cuts occur elsewhere. The classmates I went to film school with in LA don't get production jobs because the budget gets shaved on their end. Independent distributors like myself aren't willing to take a chance on more films, because I can't guarantee you won't pirate it before I get the chance to show it on the big screen here.
At Anticipate Pictures, we try as much as possible to release it as close to the US or UK theatrical dates as possible, and that is our temporary solution to piracy. But the real solution is education, when our consumers understand the true cost of piracy - to jobs, to our creative industry, to the creatives and people like me who try to inspire the world through cinema.
Push comes to shove, what's your favourite movie of all time?
Brazil by Terry Gilliam. I consider that such a fully realized vision from an artist, with all the technical wizardry melding together to service such a fantastical piece of work. It remains an all-time favourite of mine.