Justin Deimen is a man of many job titles including creative producer, investor, executive director of the Southeast Asia Audio Visual Association and co-producer of this year’s Screen Singapore, part of the Singapore Media Festival. He has been a journalist, a festival programmer and even a Hollywood suit and he’s still only 30 years old. I sat down with him in advance of this year’s Asia Television Forum and Screen Singapore conference and exhibition to discuss the state of film financing and distribution in Singapore and across Southeast Asia. Listen to the podcast or simply read on for everything you wanted to know from an investor but were afraid to ask.
“People don’t seem to get how much money can be made doing this,” says Justin Deimen, somewhat incredulously, when I ask him why he founded SAAVA two years ago. SAAVA, the Southeast Asia Audio Visual Association, is a producing network for media financiers and investors, IP owners, platform owners, even theatre owners – the whole media value chain in other words. Its purpose is to equip content creators with the skills to make money out of what they do. But why don’t they have those skills already? Justin continues, “in Asia people see making films or TV or content as a low-paying gig, that you have to be a starving artist and that’s just not true…people make billions from this industry across the world.”
The problem, explains Justin, is that most of the industry still regards creativity and business savvy as mutually exclusive. The solution, he believes, is for creators to make more of an an effort to understand what investors expect of them and for investors to become “institutionalised”, that is to say investment shouldn’t only be about hustling friends and family for a loan but engaging professionals with an interest in making the kind of money that can sustain an entire industry…just like they do in Hollywood! But creators have to show an interest too. Justin says the biggest mistake he sees creators make when pitching him and his colleagues at SAAVA is a complete lack of nous about how to drive a return on investment, yet when investors offer up advice many creators just switch off assuming the ‘suits’ are trying to corrupt them.
In Europe and the US content creators solve this suit issue by partnering with producers in much the same way as an artist partners with a dealer or a band with a manager. A trusted producer can take care of the money enabling the creator to do what they do best but the role of the producer is not well understood in Southeast Asia according to Justin.
So, what kinds of people are investing in Southeast Asian films anyway? Justin claims investors can come from anywhere but beyond friends and family there are three main categories of investor; the privately wealthy who do it for fun and/or personal branding, companies who do it purely to make a return and, his preferred type, films fans who simply want to be involved. Regardless of where a creator’s money comes from Justin advises them to always bear in mind that, “the time and energy spent investing in content could be spent in property or foreign exchange so you’ve got make it fun for investors, not a chore, otherwise they’ll go elsewhere.” He does warn, though, that the casting couch for creators is real and that he still comes across investors who do it to get their wife, mistress or children into show business, optimistically adding “there’s money everywhere, you don’t have to stop at the first offer…there is always another door to go to to find the perfect partner.”
Some of the money that used to be invested in content now undoubtedly goes into platforms and apps as everyone searches for the next Facebook or Uber. People believe content is a failing business, besieged by online pirates but nothing could be further from the truth. The global entertainment and media market will net US$1.93 trillion this year (that’s trillion, with a T!) and is predicted to grow by another US$430 billion over the next five years. Justin also describes the entertainment industry as a “lipstick industry” that stays fairly constant regardless of what is going on in the wider economy. In fact in 2009 immediately following the global financial meltdown the US box office had it’s best year in two decades growing 10% on 2008. But, every investor is susceptible to ‘the next big thing’ so it’s important to try and keep them engaged over multiple projects, a process Justin refers to as “grooming”. (One of the content related areas that he really believes could benefit from a surge of investment and innovation is the marketing of content, which is tragically underfunded in Southeast Asia meaning local productions more often get made than seen.)
When it comes to making investments himself Justin says it’s not as easy being the money guy as most people think. He and his colleagues spend a lot of time training creators in how to build an attractive package and even how to behave in a business context but if it becomes too hard he heeds the advice of his contemporary Gin Kai Chan, CEO of Silver Media Group who says, “relax, there are always more projects looking for money than there is money looking for projects.” Just because Justin shows an interest doesn’t mean he is going to put up with anything less than pure professionalism.
3.50 was a Singapore/Cambodia co-production co-written and produced by Justin
One of the ways Justin has tried to professionalise and optimise the process of finding great investment opportunities for SAAVA is to set up the inaugural Southeast Asian Film Financing Project Market, which received 148 submissions from 23 countries between August and September this year. Many who submitted will be invited to the physical Project Market at Screen Singapore this December to meet with financiers, investors, distributors, sales agents and festival programmers but just 10 will be selected for investment that will see their projects come to life.
For your chance to meet Justin and other influential entertainment figures including Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a.k.a. the Oscars register for Screen Singapore at http://www.screensingapore.com.sg/Register/. And to keep up with Justin or SAAVA just follow him at https://twitter.com/jdeimen or visit http://www.saava.org.
Picture Credit: Moyan Brenn https://flic.kr/p/dB7F8e