Interview Chinese Arthouse Cinema Distributor Jiexiao Ying: New York is a City for Dreaming
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专访华语电影发行应婕晓 | 纽约是一个看月亮的城市
Interviewed by Sunrise 2019.6.10
Jiexiao Ying, born in Hangzhou, China, graduated from Fudan University in 2016 with a major in Chinese Language and Literature. In 2018, she graduated from Cinema Studies MA program at New York University. She is as a New York-based international sales agent and film festival publicist for Parallax Films, and she writes film reviews for DeepFocus. In 2019, she assisted Cohen Media Groups and Kino Lorber in the North American distribution of Chinese language arthouse films, “Ash is Purest White” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
Q: I have noticed in your WeChat moments that you have been promoting “Long Day’s Journey into Night” (hereinafter referred to as “Long Day”) in the North American market. Can you tell me how you got the job?
A: I have interned at independent arthouse film distribution companies when I was a graduate student at the NYU Cinema Studies program. I used to intern with Zeitgeist Films, which shares the same office space and facilities with Kino Lorber, which released “Long Day.” As a Chinese-speaking person, I was borrowed by Kino Lorber to support the film at its screening at the New York Film Festival last fall. I distributed postcards with screening info to the audience who were patiently waiting outside in the long queue. I love this film myself and told the staff and Kino Lorber that I hoped to help out when the film is theatrically released in April 2019. In February of this year, Kino Lorber’s theatrical manager Nick indeed reached out to me and hired me to work on this film as the Chinese community outreach coordinator. I designed the strategy, and Nick assisted me in accomplishing the goal while he continued to conduct regular North American audience promotions.
This job was very valuable to me. Not only was that my first freelancing job after my long history of internship in North America, but it also allowed me to discover my unique career path: I was responsible for Chinese community outreach and social media promotion at an American distribution company for Chinese arthouse films. I have always wanted to bridge the gap between the US distributors and the Chinese audience because American distributors don’t have access to WeChat and Weibo and feed the news to the Chinese audience. I also believe that the Chinese market has been long overlooked. This time, I can finally solve the problem and realize my dream to connect Chinese diasporas with Chinese movies. After accepting this job, I was recommended to the Cohen Media Group to promote another Chinese arthouse film, “Ash is Purest White”, which helped me improve my skills in this niche marketing field.
Q: What do you do in terms of Chinese community outreach?
A: Community promotion is to find a suitable audience for niche movies. The strategy for each movie will be different. This searching process is the reason why the arthouse film distribution attracts me. For “Long Day”, I aimed at Chinese filmmakers, artists, international students, etc as the targeted audience. I think this is a group of people who are interested in the innovation of the film form and willing to try different viewing experiences. So the hooks for the marketing strategy are “59-minute 3D long take,” “dreamy,” and “a flying experience”.
Usually, as a distributor, my job is to spread the screening information to the audience. However, I sincerely hope that everyone can go to the cinema to experience this film and even get to know each other during this activity. Therefore, I wrote articles on social media to promote the film, placed postcards to fancy places where cool Chinese hipsters hang out, wrote to art institutions for their information, and contacted WeChat Public Account for co-promotion. In the meantime, I organized a local screening event in New York. In the New York premiere evening, I applied for a group discount price of $3 less and invited movies lovers from my WeChat group. People came from New Jersey and Queens to watch the movie. They introduced themselves when we had a little drink before the screening. They discussed the emotional expression and the technical details of the film in the WeChat group after the event, which extended their happiness of the film.
During the film promotion, I have met more people who like Chinese arthouse movies in North America. The WeChat group of “New York Cinephile Group” is approaching 500 members. “LA Cinephile Group” and “American Cinefile Group” are small but will continue to expand. All the groups are composed of film lovers. I also have a network of young film professionals who I found when I was in charge of the film casting info collection on the platform of a cinephile outlet, DeepFocus. These online communities are a solid cinephile base to start my work.
I was very happy throughout the process because I got a lot of help from my friends. Jennifer Zhan is much experienced in organizing film events in Canada. She has shared many suggestions over the phone, including providing a few precious franchises, like vinyl records and scarves of the film theme, to engage the overseas fans. Director Bi Gan’s friend, artist Inna, has already seen Earth, but she invited more than a dozen artists to watch the movie at Metrograph, turning the viewing experience into an eventful gathering of old friends.
(Artist Attendees at Metrograph Party)
Q: On New Year’s Eve, “Long Day” suffered from the backlash in film review due to its misleading campaign. Does this cause any difficulties for North American distribution?
A: The unfortunate response of “Long Day” in China was reported by US media. However, this has become an anecdote in the context of the high remarks given by the American film critic. The industry is more likely to be curious about the film: why does the arthouse box office miracle suffer from a bad review the next day? Indeed, the Chinese review may have an impact on Chinese audiences, so I tried to collect the original and honest positive reviews from the North American audience. For example, the film is indeed a bit slow and makes you sleepy, but after getting used to this rhythm, you will catch the beauty of the film in its anti-gravity experience, Tang Wei’s green dress against the damp town, the game-like labyrinth of the narrative and the excellent music composition. I post these feedbacks on WeChat public account, and I hope that Chinese speakers in North America can rediscover the film.
The promotion of North American arthouse film is less stressful than that in China, because the rules of the game are established, and the audience of arthouse films has been cultivated. They subscribe to the news of the distributors via e-mail, follow the social media accounts, and receive the physical line-up in their mailbox. The distributors feed the news to the loyal audience and promote the films in consistence with the style of the film, invite film critics who might be interested in the title, and contact newspapers and radio stations to advertise. However, the Chinese audience market has not yet been explored. American distributors often think about contacting Chinese-language newspaper and placing postcards in Chinatown. However, I think that new immigrants and international students rarely read Chinese newspapers and magazines, and they may not live in Chinatown. I believe that in addition to contacting the organizations in film schools, Chinese-specific social media tools such as WeChat and Weibo are necessary for film publicity.
Speaking of difficulties, the difficulties I encountered were the difficulties faced by Chinese audiences. The most common one is that people do not know when the film will be released and where to buy tickets. Arthouse films are not like commercial movies. The premiere date is not the same across the nation and the selected theatres are scattered. The audience of “Long Day” is expected to be enthusiastic and patient, waiting for the film to expand from one city to another. New York, as the most critical box office city of the arthouse movies, shows the film for two or three months; Los Angeles and Washington DC will play the film for more than two weeks; the other cities will only hold the film for a few days to two weeks. As a result, if you don’t pay extra attention to the film, it is easy to miss its screening in your city. What I can do was to track and update the city where “Long Day” was played each week, and broadcasted to everyone which cities opened the film on Friday, which theatres stopped showing the film on Thursdays. I spread the news via my WeChat Public Platform, “CineClub18,” and Dangmai’s WeChat Public Platform and Weibo.
Another challenge is that Chinese-speaking audiences are not used to buying the tickets on the theatre’s official websites. There are many film lovers who ask me where to buy the tickets. In China, there are online ticket platforms which cover all the films in all the cinema. In the US, however, each independent cinema has its own website and ticket-purchasing channels. You can subscribe to these cinemas via e-mail and you won’t miss any news about the upcoming film. I recently discovered a practical way of purchasing tickets: Google “film title + screening” in Chinese, and you can find the theatre information in your city. Click on the time in the showtime box (do not click on the movie title), you will enter the official website or their partner ticket purchasing channel. After buying the tickets, you can present the electronic version on your mobile phone upon entering the cinema (adjust the screen light to the brightest).
(New York cinephiles at Film at Lincoln Center)
Q: Why do you think Kino Lorber picks up the Chinese arthouse film “Long Day”? Do you think it can make money in the theatrical release?
A: This is a very bold decision for Kino Lorber, because “Long Day” is only the second feature film of Bi Gan. Although he is critically acclaimed in the film festival circle, he is still technically a new director for the audience. However, the distributor values the filmmaker’s review among the film critics. Later, many established American newspapers and magazine, such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Film Comment gave beautiful film reviews and build the reputation of “Long Day” among the film professionals. Kino Lorber’s publicist often shares the praises from media outlets every day. “Long Day” has become a recent box office champion among many films released by Kino Lorber.
Another challenge is that the film has a 59-minute 3D long take, and the usual arthouse cinema does not necessarily support 3D screenings. Kino needs to reach out to new cinemas and even screen the film in commercial AMC cinemas, to ensure that each area has 3D screenings. We were worried that AMC viewers might not like this challenging narrative and the slow pace of the film. However, “Long Day” performed well in both arthouse cinemas and commercial theaters. By the beginning of June, its box office record has exceeded 400,000 US dollars. The film is still running in various cities.
Theatrical screening is only one part of the revenue. For distributors, the significance of a theatrical screening is to promote the film regionally and gain exposure from the local media. “Long Day” will come out in DVD, Blu-ray, streaming media and other formats later. Viewers who like the movie, or people who have not caught the chance to watch it, can collect the physical copy or watch online.
Q: According to your observation, what is the audience demography of Long Day in the cinema?
A: At the premiere in the Lincoln Center, I took a closer look at the audience. They are from all races and ages and very diversified. Kino Lorber’s partners said that the general audience of arthouse films is often elder white people, who are well-educated, patient to watch movies with subtitles, and fascinated by Tarkovsky. However, “Long Day” has a larger number of young people of different races. Perhaps it is a 3D movie, with A-list Chinese actors, or perhaps young people still read the film reviews? I am also very curious about the phenomenon myself and need to interview the audience again.
Q: Cinephile group is also very popular in China. Do you know anything about that? Are you inspired when you initiate the cinephile groups overseas?
A: I have done theatre-on-demand in China, similar to the nature of a cinephile group. In summer 2017, I hosted two screenings in China. One time, with the help of the “Elemeet” platform, I showed Fan Jian’s documentary “Still Tomorrow” in Longyan, Fujian. Another time, I cooperated with the director and a new friend Xing Chao to show the documentary about startups, “Go with Your Gut” at Chaoyang Theater in Beijing. I received much support from the “Elemeet”, who helped me to contact the theater, sent me a large box of giveaways, including the documentary protagonist Yu Xiuhua’s poems, exquisite postcards, and bracelets. A WeChat group of “movie captains” also offers advice for a successful screening.
The screening of “Still Life” was very vigorous: my cousin baked beautiful cookies and gave them to viewers for free; my uncle took many photos of the event; my mother’s high school classmate forwarded the event information, turning the screening activity into a class reunion in the cinema; people came with their parents, making the theatre full of love and warmth. After the screening, I held a discussion with a microphone, talking about the choice of characters, the image of the fish, the sentimental moments of the protagonist. That experience made me realize that movie theatre can be a reason for people to connect, and the space of the cinema can be a forum for discussion across ages and backgrounds. Since then, I have wanted to bring these connections and sparks everywhere, including Chinese in New York.
I met a mother in Florida a few days ago. She hopes that her children will have more access to Chinese films and cartoons. I realize that mothers and second-generation immigrants are very important audiences for Chinese movies, and they are also huge in amount. However, Chinese film festivals and screening opportunities are rare in some cities. I think if I have time to find the right film in the future, I can remotely assist people in launching a theatre-on-demand in a city where people need.
Q: We see disrupting behaviors in Chinese cinemas, such as screenshots and talking over the film. Why do you think those happen? Is this the case in North America too?
A: I personally think that the impulse of taking screenshots comes from a lifestyle, a “sharing mode” of lifestyle. If an experience is not shared, it will be considered faded into oblivion over time, non-existent, so we cannot help keeping traces of life through photos. Or some people are passionate about encouraging other people to watch the film they like by posting images on social media. I also have this kind of impulse, but I don’t need to achieve the goal by taking screenshots. I can use the official high-resolution stills for voluntary promotion, or show the ticket stub as evidence of my viewing experience. After all, the screenshots not only infringe the copyright but also disrupt the audience and ourselves with the dim light, the action to capture the film. Predicting and finding the perfect time for shooting a still will divert our attention and disrupt the immersive experience the cinema offers.
The reason why people talking over the film might be that the movie is boring, but I feel it is best to respect the person who chooses to continue watching the movie anyway. At this time, I hope that Chinese cinemas can adopt very strict rules over theatre behavior. For instance, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in the US has a strong culture for the cinephile. People who take pictures and speak during the film are warned, and if they don’t listen, they must leave the movie immediately! Disruptive behaviors are rare in the United States. Upon entering the cinema, everyone is ready to be immersed in this black space for about two hours and embrace the experience. Watching a movie is not about chasing the trend, but trying a new experience. People have a different mentality here, and they are not anxious to share on social media to confirm their happiness.
Q: Do you want to stay in New York for your career path?
A: If circumstances permit, I hope to continue playing a unique role here: connecting overseas audiences by high-quality Chinese movies and creating public space for discussion. New York is a paradise for arthouse cinemas. Recently, I have collected reviews from my friends about more than a dozen cinemas, and we made a map of arthouse cinema in New York, which are full of our fond memories.
People may think New York is a fast-moving financial city or a dazzling fashion capital, but in my eyes, New York is a city where many individuals are looking up to the moon and dreaming wildly. If you insist on doing something you like, you can win encouragement and respect from others. Strangers are easily moved. Especially for artists, they can always find like-minded partners, whether they do arthouse films, impromptu comedy, or pioneering drama.
New York is like a spaceship, full of ambitious people from all over the world. I really want to continue working hard in this city of dreams.
专访华语电影发行应婕晓 | 纽约是一个看月亮的城市
应婕晓，生于杭州，2016年毕业于复旦大学汉语言文学专业，2018年毕业于纽约大学Tisch电影研究硕士项目。作为纽约的联络人，在视幻文化做国际销售和海外电影节公关工作，同时在深焦撰稿。2019年在纽约协助Cohen Media Groups和Kino Lorber做《江湖儿女》和《地球最后的夜晚》的北美发行和华语媒体推广。
A:我在NYU读电影研究硕士项目期间，一直在独立电影或者艺术电影发行公司做实习。我所在的Zeitgeist Films和发行《地球最后的夜晚（下文简称地球）》的Kino Lorber共用同一个办公场地，我作为一个说中文的人，就被借去支持《地球》去年秋天在纽约电影节的放映活动，给排长龙的观众发放影片明信片等等。我自己很喜欢这部影片，和Kino Lorber的工作人员说，我希望在4月院线正式放映的时候做自来水推广。然而今年2月的时候，Kino Lorber的剧场发行Nick果然找到我，正式雇佣我负责《地球》这个项目的华语社群推广，由我自己制定策略。Nick一边进行常规的北美观众宣传，一面辅助我完成目标。
这次机会对我来说非常宝贵，不仅是我在北美长期实习后的第一份自由职业工作，也让我发现了自己的独特功能：在美国艺术电影发行公司负责华语社交媒体的宣传。我一直烦恼英语的发行商不会用微信、微博把放映消息投喂到华语观众面前，也深深觉着华语观众市场被发行低估，这次终于可以直面问题，实现通过华语电影联系异乡人的愿望了！在接受了这份工作之后，我被推荐到Cohen Media Group做《江湖儿女》的华语宣发，提升了华语社群推广的技能点。
A:这对于Kino Lorber来说是一个非常大胆的决定，因为《地球最后的夜晚》是毕赣导演的第二部作品，尽管电影节的声誉很高，但在院线还是一位新导演。不过艺术电影的发行商非常看重这部影片在电影圈子和影评人中的口碑，后来大量美国主流报刊如《纽约时报》、《洛杉矶时报》以及杂志《Film Comment》的长篇影评证明，这部影片在北美有极高的专业口碑，负责公关的同事每天都喜气洋洋地发来各大报纸的好评，《地球》成为了近期院线发行影片中的爆款。
“讲话”可能是因为电影无聊，但是我觉得无论如何还是要尊重选择继续看电影的人，如果能安静离开是最好。这个时候，希望国内的影院能采取非常严格的管理办法，就像美国迷影氛围浓厚的Alamo Drafthouse Cinema一样，屏摄、讲话的人，警告一次不听，必须离开电影！屏摄和讲话的行为在美国很少见。进入电影院之后，大家都准备好在这两个小时左右，沉入这个黑色空间，沉入一种体验。看电影不是追热点，而是获得一种体验，同时不着急用分享来确认这种快乐，所以可能在心态上有很大的差异。