Pipelines and talents are there, but not the supporting industries
Government not to blame, private sector has to take some of the flak
THE Malaysian creative content industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 15 years, but despite all the pipelines and talents that have been developed, is still missing some key elements for it to emerge as a truly global player.
These pieces include all the supporting industries necessary for the entire proper ecosystem, noted Leon Tan (pic, 2nd from left), the chief executive officer of the Tripod Entertainment Group, whose first movie War of The Worlds: Goliath (WoTW: Goliath) is currently playing in Malaysian cinemas.
For instance, insurance companies that can provide Errors & Omissions (E&O) coverage. “This does not exist in Malaysia. We had to buy our insurance in Los Angeles,” he said at the DNA-TeAM Disrupt session on Nov 20.
“We went to all the big insurance companies in Malaysia, and they scratched their heads – they didn’t know what we were talking about.”
E&O, also known as professional liability or indemnity insurance, helps protect professional advice- and service-providing individuals and companies from bearing the full cost of defending against a negligence claim.
“We also needed entertainment lawyers who knew how to protect our interests worldwide – we still had to go overseas to get this,” said Tan. “I think if we don’t address these things, we’re not going to have a holistic, highly competitive and globally able media industry.”
A viable creative content industry – whether it is games or movies – also needs companies large enough to pour funds into investing in creative ventures, he noted at the panel discussion titled “Creative Content: Does Malaysia have talent? Is that enough to create success stories?” organized by Digital News Asia (DNA) and the Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia (TeAM), the third in the monthly series.
Indeed, he and his fellow panelists - Hasnul Hadi Samsudin (pic, 2nd from right), senior manager at Rhythm & Hues Malaysia whose work can be seen at the upcoming Ang Lee movie The Life of Pi; and Leong Chun Chong (pic, far left), who has worked with Electronic Arts and Disney Interactive – felt that creative talent was not really the issue.
An American entrepreneur who has relocated his creative content outsourcing business to Malaysia “told me that Malaysians are instinctively artistic,” said DNA founder and chief executive officer Karamjit Singh (pic, far right), who moderated the panel discussion.
“Malaysia also has the desire, in three aspects: The desire of the Government to help the industry and to help the entrepreneurs move up,” he said. “There is the desire within Malaysian individuals to do better and improve what they are doing.
“And there is also the desire within industry – in terms of the academics willing to work with the industry to see what it wants and needs, so that their graduates are marketable,” Karamjit added.
Having the raw talents is only one aspect – having outlets for them is another.
“Not that we under-estimated it, but we were pleasantly surprised at our Malaysian talent when we made Goliath,” said Tan. “We’re actually ready for the global stage. We have the desire, the drive and the hunger.”
“The problem is there are not enough platforms for them … to show their prowess, whether it’s their own product or someone else’s product they can work on. We need to have slates, multiple platforms that our talents can latch on to, to expose them to the vicissitudes of international production, to understand what global competition really means.
“Having talent is not enough; you have to be honed, you have to be fine-tuned for you to be able to compete with literally hundreds of thousands of other talents available out there in the rest of the world.
“We have all these raw talents, these diamonds in the rough; but we’re not there yet,” added Tan.
Tech and art
Creative content is a marriage of artistic ability and technological capability – you can’t just focus on one aspect.
Former Electronic Arts employee Leong, who headed Disney Interactive’s studio in Shanghai, said: “In China, what I found out is that we had a lot of technicians -- and what I mean by that is people who are very good at using the tools.”
“But the one thing we didn’t have was artists. Training an artist takes four years, training a technician takes only a month,” he said, adding that he would rather train actual artists to make use of technology, than to try and teach art to an IT-savvy person.
Rhythm & Hues (R&H) Malaysia’s Hasnul approached it from the other perspective: “One thing about Malaysian companies in this space is that they don’t have a very strong technology infrastructure.”
“One thing we (R&H) do really well, and why we can open studios anywhere in the world, is that we own our software. We developed our pipelines and tools, and everything is on open source so it is easier for us to open a studio anywhere and just put PCs in there, and then attract the talent.”
However, Hasnul said that he is having trouble finding technology people related to creative content; that is, computer science people who are interested in the creative arts.
"So we have to get them from Indonesia and New Zealand, though at the same time we are trying to train Malaysians in this,” he added.
Missing last mile
The DNA-TeAM Disrupt#3 also had distinguished members of the industry, many who stepped up to give their take as well. One of them noted the other critical piece missing in the Malaysian ecosystem.
“I am here because I see Malaysia has a lot of talent,” said Sridhar Sreekakula, President of Barking Cow Distribution Inc out of Los Angeles, a distributor who brings Bollywood films to North American audiences.
“But I also see what you have here is pretty much a service community – you’re doing work for other people. You don’t own your content or IP (intellectual property), unless it’s local IP,” he added. “You have all the skills and mechanisms necessary to take it to the next level, and what you’re missing is the last mile: The distribution.”
Sridheer, who comes from the distribution, monetizing and marketing standpoint, also said that unless something is done, in the next five or 10 years, Malaysia’s creative content industry will pay the price for not having this ‘last mile’ in place.
“All the beautiful content and wonderful studios, and for that last mile, you will have to go to an agent. Then what? You’re not controlling your own destiny anymore,” he said. “Someone else is going to be between you and the end-consumer.”
“So now, you have to create that last-mile infra,” he added. “You’ve spent decades getting this in place, don’t lose it; keep it for yourself.”
Tripod’s Tan concurred on the need for a commercialization platform and for the ‘last mile’ to be in place, likening it to running a 25km marathon race.
“You’ve run the first 24km, and you have to hand it over to someone else for the last kilometer, and you have no idea if he’s going to run, sprint, walk or don’t move at all,” he said. “It’s very frustrating – I wish that when we had started four years ago, I had the hindsight to understand this.”
“We knew we were going to have to do this, and -- it was kind of a mix of naiveté and arrogance – we thought we would figure this all out, but the reality was that we had to deal with so many challenges that we kept pushing it to the side.”
He added that distribution is a business, and should run concurrently with the development of the artistic portion of one’s venture, even if it’s handled by a different team of people.
Don’t blame govt, just do it
Fostering a creative content industry was the plan from Day One of Malaysia’s ambitious Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project which rolled out in the late 1990s. Why didn’t the Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC), the custodian of MSC Malaysia, look into all this at the start?
“It would be too easy to blame the Government – I would like to, but industry has to take some of the blame,” said Nicholas Shariff, business development manager at Codemasters Malaysia and former MDeC employee, another audience member who stepped up.
“There was a plan for companies to step forward to put these other pieces in place,” he said. “They didn’t.”
Hasnul, who was with MDeC for 14 years and was also head of MSC Malaysia Animation and Creative Content Center (MAC3), said that MDeC at the time knew that Malaysia had the talent and capability in place.
“We engaged with industry and academia through our industry-academia panels which had brainstorming sessions,” he said.
“What we found between those two verticals was not that academia was not interested, but that the industry was not willing to engage academia to help talents get up to speed. You can’t just blame academia for creating right kind of talent," he added.
Codemasters’ Shariff also said it would have been helpful if there was one centralized agency to look into all of this. “It’s not just MDeC’s fault, all the other government agencies should have come forward to work together, but they didn’t.”
“I am from the private sector now, and all I can say is that we can’t wait for the Government to help us, we just go ahead and do it,” he added.
Low Hui Seong, CEO of Vision New Media, was another member of the audience who concurred with Shariff.
“As someone who has worked closely with MDeC, and I am not rising to their defense, but a lot of this has to do with the environment we found ourselves 10 to 15yrs ago,” he said, noting that MDeC, for instance, was not in charge of infrastructure, which was handled by a ministry.
“In my business, I found myself having to work with seven or eight government agencies just to get things done, and these agencies do not necessarily work well with each other,” he said.
“To take up what Nick (Shariff) said, as entrepreneurs, we can’t expect government to do our business for us, we just have to get out there and do it ourselves the best we can,” he added. “Government can support and facilitate, they can’t create the industry for us.”
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