mm2 Asia is the first local movie producer to seek a listing on the Singapore Exchange

Singapore-headquartered film producer and distributor mm2 Entertainment wants to play ball in a larger arena and sought a listing on the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday under the name mm2 Asia Ltd. Its founder Melvin Ang tells The Straits Times in
Singapore-headquartered film producer and distributor mm2 Entertainment wants to play ball in a larger arena and sought a listing on the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday under the name mm2 Asia Ltd. Its founder Melvin Ang tells The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: "Singapore is a very small market. We have always aspired to be a media content company targeting the regional market." -- PHOTO: MM2 ASIA

The aviation industry has Singapore Airlines, the food industry has BreadTalk and the finance industry has DBS Bank. But when it comes to the film industry, where are the homegrown regional players?

Inspired by these local successes, Singapore-headquartered film producer and distributor mm2 Entertainment wants to play ball in a larger arena and sought a listing on the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday under the name mm2 Asia Ltd. It also launched its Initial Public Offering with a placement of 37.4 million shares at $0.25 each.

If all goes well, it will be the first local film producer to be listed and it will be on Catalist, the Exchange's secondary board. It hopes to raise $5.7 million in net proceeds and is expected to commence trading on Dec 9.

Its founder Melvin Ang tells The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: "Singapore is a very small market. We have always aspired to be a media content company targeting the regional market."

Another Singapore company, Scorpio East Holdings, was renamed KOP Limited on May 6 and started trading on Catalist on May 14. While it has co-produced local films such as Taxi! Taxi! (2013) and Everybody's Business (2013), its core business is in the distribution of movies and videos as well as the organisation of concerts, shows and events.

The listing for mm2 is a big step forward for the movie company and Mr Ang, mm2 Asia's chief executive officer, says that there is no time like the present.

Financially, the company, which has a total staff strength of 34, is in a healthy position. Bolstered by notable hit productions such as Jack Neo's military-themed Ah Boys To Men (2012) and Ah Boys To Men II (2013), the company's revenue has grown from $6.6 million in 2012 to $16.1 million in 2014 (as at end of financial year on March 31). Among its misses are bak kwa comedy Perfect Rivals (2011) and comedy Phua Chu Kang: The Movie (2010). Profits have grown from $93,000 in its financial year 2012 to $2.7 million this year.

In the pipeline for 2015 and beyond are Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen; 3688, acclaimed director Royston Tan's new movie about a parking warden who dreams of becoming a singer; 1965, a political thriller centred on pre-independence racial riots in Singapore; and a yet to be titled movie to mark Singapore's 50th anniversary.

Even just five years ago, there was less buzz and interest in the regional film industry. And one major reason for the turnaround has been the box office muscle of China in the last two to three years.

In 2012, China was the world's second-largest theatrical market with revenue of US$2.7 billion (S$3.5 billion) - surpassing Japan for the first time and behind only the United States' US$10.8 billion. Last year (2013), revenues grew by one-third in China to reach US$3.6 billion.

A mere sliver of that rapidly expanding pie would be a substantial slice for a Singaporean player.

And in order for mm2 to take a stab at some of the opportunities, Mr Ang says: "Fund-raising is one way to go and the most transparent way, and which puts us in a better position to work with regional big houses, is being a listed company, which also gives us credibility."

Mm2 has been building up its regional experience from day one as it was set up in Kuala Lumpur in 2008 to produce and distribute Chinese-language content for Malaysian consumption. It is now headquartered in Singapore and also has a presence in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, making up what Mr Ang calls the five Chinese markets.

It has played a role as a "credible and professional producer tying up regional deals" with both regional and local players, including Clover Films and film-maker Jack Neo's J Team Productions.

Mr Ang says the funds raised will go into three areas: producing more movies with a higher budget in order to earn higher production fees; entering into strategic alliances with, or even acquiring, companies; and expanding mm2's headcount, for example, increasing its Hong Kong team from two to around five for a start.

Glamorous offices, though, are not part of the big picture. Pointing to their bare-bones concrete-floored Jalan Bukit Merah flatted factory space, he says: "When you look at this office, you know how prudent we are."

He is looking to crack the Chinese market, which has become the world's second-largest theatrical market after the United States with revenue of US$3.6 billion last year. But he admits: "Making a mass market movie is more difficult than scoring straight As."He notes that films do not tend to travel outside of their domestic market. Few China movies do well outside of China and for Taiwan, hit youth flick You Are The Apple Of My Eye (2011) is the exception that proves the case.

What it comes down to are big movie stars such as Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow and Donnie Yen powering the blockbuster hits, he says.

Given budgetary constraints, Mr Ang is realistic that he cannot rely on stars such as Chan and Andy Lau. One solution is to build up a talent pool here and deploy actors for regional projects. He is also taking a leaf from the music industry in which homegrown stars such as Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin made it big by venturing outside of Singapore.

So the upcoming comedy ATM, a co-production with Hong Kong, features Malaysian actress Joanne Yew, the female lead from the road-trip movie The Journey. It is the highest-grossing local film in Malaysia with takings of RM17 million (S$6.5 million) and it was distributed by mm2.

In five years' time, Mr Ang wants mm2 to be "a stronger presence" in the key regional markets.

Even as mm2 grows bigger, some things will remain the same.

Mr Ang says: "Continued focus and hard work is the culture we want to build. We want to be humble and low-profile. The focus is not on what we achieve as individuals but it's really about teamwork."