Tokyo-based production company AOI Pro is primarily known for its work on TV commercials. So it might come as a surprise that the company bankrolled and produced the Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters.
The award is AOI Pro’s first for a feature film. Five Japanese films have won the Palme d’Or, the last being 21 years ago. AOI Pro has dabbled in feature films for 20 years, with limited success.
“More often than not, things didn’t go well and we experienced many failures,” said Yasuhito Nakae, executive officer and president. He said eight years ago, the company was on the verge of giving up with entertainment content. Now, he sees it becoming a much bigger part of the company’s business.
Nakae began developing entertainment content capabilities for AOI Pro before he became president, and said it finally became a viable business last year. He described breaking into the entertainment sector as extremely challenging, but necessary for the future of the business.
He sees the advertising business as less solid than it once was, but also believes the nature of advertising content will continue to become more like that of pure entertainment. For this reason, he believes fostering the skills needed to produce feature films will be necessary to continue to produce good commercial content.
Nakae thinks advertising film producers will need to be able to think more creatively in order to maintain good relationships with clients. But he said Japan’s standard 15-second TVC format means not many people can.
“The artisan skill to develop a scenario for a lengthy piece of entertainment and a 15-second spot may seem similar but are actually quite different,” he said, but added that he expects the borderline between advertising and entertainment to become less clear.
“I believe that for us to be a leading company in the years to come, it is imperative that we have entertainment content business skills,” he said. He sees Japanese TVC producers as highly advanced in line producing and project management, but “way behind” in being able to apply different business models and resources to their work. He said he hopes to be able to help the industry evolve by passing on the experience gained from trial and error in the entertainment content business over the years.
“Up until now, where the advertising business model was rock solid, [the traditional way of working] was just fine, but in this day and age where there is an abundance of opportunities, sadly it makes for missed opportunities,” he said. “If TVC producers, who encounter so many opportunities, had content business skills, the possibility to expand business is limitless.”
This article originally stated that AOI Pro established a standalone entertainment division last year. The division already existed, but last year AOI Pro determined it had become a viable business.