Working the Asian Market: 1
The nectar of that blossom covers some sharp thorns.
In the past, the low costs of production in South America made importing product from there an almost sure moneymaker. In many ways, producing and importing product from Asia is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
While a number of companies have jumped into the Asian niche, producing movies in such exotic places as Thailand and the Philippines, they're finding that cultural conditions in those lands are jacking up their production budgets. And nowhere in Asia is this more prevalent than in Japan. Frank Goldfisher, general manager of Third World Media, tells XBIZ: "It's absolutely insane because the girls in Japan get a heck of a lot more money. They get 750,000 yen, which comes out to $7,000-$8,000 per day, American. We've had to come up with some pretty creative accounting and some pretty creative use of the footage to make a profit off it."
The impetus behind these costly performer fees lies in the Japanese system of "modeling agencies," which have a stranglehold on that part of the business.
"In Japan, there are no contract-free models," Jonathan Chang, sales manager for Amorz Entertainment, said. "Every model is under contract to a model agency, so there is another fee we have to pay. It's very similar to a Mafia-type thing. These agencies own the girls, and if you try to go around them, they'll tell all the agencies not to do business with you."
Chang, whose company produces Asian product exclusively in Japan (Amorz Entertainment's most popular series is "Kokeshi"), adds that the high performer fees are just the tip of the iceberg.
"The culture in Japan is very different," Chang tells XBIZ, "and in order to work there, we had to understand their culture. A lot of the ideas they came up with sounded kind of crazy to us, so it definitely was difficult for us. Like the money system they set up for us. We would make a very high down payment just to be allowed to start the movie shoot. There were also royalties we had to pay. That doesn't exist here."
What also doesn't exist here are the stringent Japanese censorship laws. The authorities there use a "mosaic" system — a video pixilation which obliterates on-screen images that are deemed hardcore or objectionable — on all domestically released adult material. This has caused a lot of headaches for outfits shooting in Japan, like Amorz Entertainment.
"When we first started producing there," Chang says, "we made one version for the Japanese market — with the mosaic — and another version for the American market, un-mosaic. That didn't work out well because we wanted extreme close-ups for the uncensored version, which we couldn't use for the mosaic version. So when we released the two versions, the mosaic version for Japan was unpopular because the close-ups were censored. But since the ones we sold in America were uncensored, sometimes people would send them back to Japan because there's a giant underground market there for the uncensored material. But when the government finds out that uncensored movies are going around, they start looking for our director. So sometimes, our director has legal problems there. They're very tough. If you ship uncensored material to Japan, customs just throws it away."
Although companies like Third World Media have gone to great pains to toe the line in Japan and in other Asian nations, the cultural peculiarities of each land have led to some serious trouble.
In part two, we'll look at legal problems over shooting in Asia as well as the issue of age verification.