Striking Animation Deals in Asia
Glasses raised. Toasts made. Handshakes. Smiles. Photo Ops. It’s the culmination of yet another animation deal being signed in Asia. Without being hampered by lengthy email exchanges, numerous conference calls, convoluted legal wrangling and unnecessary posturing, agreements struck in Singapore, Korea, China and Thailand reflect a (not so) new way of doing business – one that is swiftly culminated, yet built on foundations of trust and respect.
In the world of deal-making, participants from the US would be well advised to remember and implement forgotten old-time values of striking a deal – a skill set that includes traits such as “friendly” and “courteous.”
While I will be the first to admit that, on many occasions, the photo ops are merely reflective of a publicity campaign organized by the government or the event organizer to boost publicity about this-or-that animation event, at the heart of signing a deal in Asia is a fundamental guideline that we should all respect and observe: the opportunity to know your partner - outside of strictly business confines - before entering into a contractual relationship.
Spend time with the person or the persons comprising the organization. Get to know her / him / them. Coffee or drinks provide a relaxed atmosphere for discussing business as well as obtaining a sense of compatibility (or not!).
As a quick background, I completed film and economics undergraduate studies in the Midwest. After a few years in LA, however, and having neither family members in film / television nor the formidable hands-on training of kids that went to USC and UCLA, I did what I thought best to get into the entertainment industry – I went to law school to study about the legal and business side of film.
Now, after 16 years as a practicing attorney, I’m finally spending a great deal of time on my own passion projects – as a producer. I started exploring film and television opportunities in Asia as I began to transition from the legal side to the producing side of entertainment. My rapid introduction to Asia started 3 years ago, when I started looking for new avenues for animation production in Asia due to the downturn of the US economy and the downsizing of small and mid-sized animation production facilities in the US.
The journey has included the formation of the International Animation Consulting Group (“IACG”) with my partners William “Bill” Dennis and Max Howard. IACG devotes much of its time helping to bridge animation production and distribution between West and East. While representing IACG at various conferences and events in Asia, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world involved in animation.
As a recovering attorney, I’ve had the chance to review many entertainment agreements. Most were between various US entities – producers, studios, networks, artists, etc. As I focus more on transactions as a producer representing a project as opposed to an attorney representing a client, I tend to appreciate what I call the Asian Way of conducting business.
For example, it is refreshing to review a contract that isn’t so tied in knots by self-righteous US attorneys. Not that these same types of pompous lawyers don’t exist all over the world – they do. However, the sheer volume of specific legal terms that US attorneys like to include in their documents – especially when it comes to representations, warranties, indemnifications and the like, definitions which become more complex and convoluted by the page – are limited in many Asian transactions and the documents usually read like bullet-point descriptions of what the obligations and responsibilities are for each party. Easy to read. Easy to understand.
It’s also incredibly liberating to do deals the old-fashioned way – meetings with drinking, toasts and handshakes to go around. Sure, there are some deals that are closed but never realized, but there are also a growing number of deals consummated between West and East. It’s been my experience that both Australia and Western Europe are bigger players than their US cousins in cultivating business relationships with Asia, but I believe that US companies will continue to grow their business in Asia so long as the price to produce remains competitive and the workforce grows in skill to keep up with the production need.
In closing, never underestimate the importance of smiling – it certainly helps in establishing trust, generating respect and in closing a business deal.
Until next time...
Be well. Travel safely.
Frank M. Lunn