Everyone wants that elusive golden egg: the “crossover” film that works in multiple markets. But crossover is not a genre, it is a phenomenon that happens when a film is initially seated well in its original market, and has qualities of universal appeal that allow it to work well abroad. So how do you assess your current project? Or, better yet, how can you make your next film so that it will do well in multiple markets?
Have a distinct voice.
Being singular pays off. Auteurs who have a unique style can prosper in new markets. For example, 2014 saw huge international markets opening up for the uniquely voiced David Fincher and Wes Anderson. Anderson opened up new markets for his product in territories like Russia and South Korea, and Fincher doubled his global box office intake in these areas. Both are auteurs with unique, uncompromising ways of looking at the world through a camera and both have achieved the “crossover” dream.
Find the emotional core.
Simple universal emotions travel well. They touch a cord about the universal human condition. Tapping into those basic emotions while keeping your story rooted and localized creates a story that is both distinct and appealing to all. So a film that can “travel” has a unique narrative, but a universal emotional appeal that appeals cross-culturally. The human experience is by and large the same across the world.
Know the films that work in the markets that generate big revenue. Some markets want more escapist genre fare; some are keener on sensitive and nuanced character pieces. It’s safe to say France is a great market for the latter and South Korea and India favor the former. For most territories, genre and high concept films work better, especially if you don’t have the luxury of a recognizable cast. Genre films that work and travel well are horror, action, thriller, comedy, and romance. Typically, high concept films or those that have a unique way of telling their story are most successful.
Assessing your film in this way can be a humbling and enlightening process. It was for me. It’s easy to believe that your film is a work of art that will inspire people to flock in droves to see it, but everyone believes that. There is only a finite amount of time and a limited disposable income that people have to spend. So be sure that you’re ready and that passion and conviction will drive you forward. Be open to the feedback that comes your way.
Note: The question of diversity—the idea that content with a multicultural cast does not travel well or succeed in international markets— is a tricky one to address. We’re not talking about Exodus (in which a Caucasian-dominated casts infamously played Egyptians), but instead of a different kind of content competition: Releasing your film to an Egyptian audience, or any non-Caucasian one, means that your film will be competing for the attention of an audience that has plenty of their own films to see, films that have casts of people of their color and culture. However, despite this added competition, the numbers are STILL in your favor. Through mixed distributors and a sales agent, Selma released in seven international territories earning over $7 million from them to date. 12 Years a Slave earned $131 million from in foreign sales.