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Q&A: Well Go’s Tony Vandeveerdonk Discusses the Indie’s Genre-Focused Niche

A more-than-34-year veteran of home entertainment industry, Tony Vandeveerdonk is EVP of Well Go USA Entertainment. He joined Well Go USA in 2007 and has helped turned the company into a top independent studio. Well Go USA releases films theatrically, on all digital platforms, and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD. Vandeveerdonk manages the company’s physical business including working on new acquisitions.

Previously, Vandeveerdonk worked at Pioneer Entertainment for 15 years and managed its physical distribution to mass merchants Walmart, Target, Kmart and Best Buy. He’s credited with shaping and growing the anime business in the United States and has worked on countless anime properties. Franchises and brands he managed included “Pokémon,” the “Dragonball Z” movie, “Sailor Moon,” “Dragonball Z,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Sonic X,” “Dragonball GT” and “Degrassi.” 

Media Play News asked Vandeveerdonk about Well Go’s expanding niche in the international genre-focused content marketplace and what’s next for the company.

MPN: Tell us about the genesis of Well Go USA Entertainment and what the company has been known for over the years. 

Vandeveerdonk: We’re certainly known for releasing top genre films from around the world. In the early years we made a strategic decision to start acquiring some of the best action and martial arts action films from China, Hong Kong and Korea. Well Go made the leap to acquiring 2008’s now-legendary Donnie Yen movie Ip Man, and the rest is pretty much history. Our deep catalog contains some of the best iconic international films across several genres with several films crossing over into mainstream audience.  

MPN: What’s Well Go up to now? How does Well Go acquire product? 

Vandeveerdonk: While we are still best known for our slate of top-notch Asian action movies, as well as international action and indie gems from around the world, we continue to strategically expand into other genres. Our 2023 slate will include several more English-language, Hollywood and original film productions that align well with our action, horror and other burgeoning genres. In terms of curating our collection of titles, we acquire films through long-term industry relationships we’ve nurtured over the years as well as by attending key film markets, such as Cannes, TIFF and EFM.

MPN: How many titles do you have in your catalog and how many do you generally release each year?

Vandeveerdonk: Currently, we have more than 450 titles in our catalog, which continues to grow in both depth and breadth. We have historically released more than 20 new movies per year, though we actually released more than 30 each of the past two years, due in part to third-party distribution deals that we’ve added to our slate.

MPN: What is Well Go’s footprint in the digital marketplace on streaming services or digital purchase and rental?

Vandeveerdonk: You can find Well Go USA content everywhere, from all standard streaming services and VOD platforms to our very own streaming and FAST (free, ad-supported TV) channel Hi-Yah!, which caters specifically to fans of martial arts and Asian action films across the U.S. and Canada. A particular film may not be available on all streaming services at the same time — such as when a streamer secures exclusive rights for a set time period — but they make the rounds to most streamers eventually, and each film does land on all major digital platforms simultaneously for rent and purchase. 

MPN: What is Well Go’s strategy on physical media (DVD, Blu-ray, 4K) releases?

Vandeveerdonk: Our physical business is still an important part of our total annual sales volume, and the mass-market retailer class of trade is a key component of our annual success on physical. We strive to curate and street exactly the right genre titles for our retail partners and our fans, meaning films that will appeal to not only our core fans and die-hard audiences but also to new customers (or “fans-in-training,” shall we say). In late Q4, we streeted new 4K titles including Train to Busan and the first three “IP Man” movies. We received support and placement in various sets at mass and early the POS numbers were strong.  The Train to Busan 4K release climbed all the way to No. 1 in horror on many of the large ecommerce sites. We’re excited about the level of demonstrated demand as we plan new 4K releases for 2023, the first being The Wailing and The Man From Nowhere.

MPN: What are the plans for 2023?

Vandeveerdonk: We just launched our new website which has been in development since the pandemic. We have several strong theatricals planned for the year starting with The Wandering Earth 2, a huge sci-fi action release hitting theaters including Imax on Jan. 22. Our digital team continues uber focused on growing our Hi-Yah! streaming channel with new movies added every Friday. This year Hi-Yah! will start programming more episodic content to both its SVOD offering, as well as its FAST channel. We understand the future growth and distribution of Hi-Yah! and FAST will be positively impacted by offering more exclusive premieres including special  events. 

Well Go USA also is producing and bringing to market several original film productions in 2023, including Christmas horror-thriller A Creature Was Stirring (starring Chrissy Metz, Annalise Basso, Scout Taylor-Compton and Connor Paolo) and rodeo heist pic Ride (starring C. Thomas Howell, Annabeth Gish and Forrie J. Smith alongside writer-director and lead Jake Allyn), which is currently in production. We are excited to continue our  investment in promising original film productions like these, while simultaneously maintaining our commitment to the growth and expansion of our digital footprint across new release and catalog titles alike. The physical media business — encompassing DVD, Blu-ray and 4K product — remains an integral part of our annual release strategy, and we expect that trend to continue well past 2023. 

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