Sunday, 17 October 2010

Pushing Our Malaysian Brand: Big Hits - Made In Malaysia, for the World!

The Star Online

Sunday October 17, 2010

Pushing our Malaysian brand


Under Budget 2011, the creative industry has been allocated the same amount as last year. The way forward is a new creative industry that will be able to produce ‘BIG HITS – Made in Malaysia, for the World’.

I’M glad that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has acknowledged in his Budget speech that “the creative industry has great potential for further development to generate national income” and that “the Government will develop a creative industry policy in an integrated manner”.

This time, RM200mil has been allocated for this industry, the same amount as last year.

It’s natural that everybody wants more for his sector and I wish the creative industry had been given more too. Nevertheless, we should accept this gracefully with thanks and work on a plan on how best to use this fund and move forward.

I suggest we follow our PM’s lead. It cannot be business as usual any more for us. In his Budget speech, he said, “Success demands drastic changes, not incremental. It requires a quantum leap.”

Just as the PM introduced the NEM (New Economic Model) as a new approach to drive national transformation, I propose that the way forward for the creative industry is a New Creative Industry Model (NCIM) or, as I referred to it during a recent Budget discussion on TV3’s Soal Jawab, Model Industri Kreatif Baru (MIKB).

The NCIM must be radical and dramatic to deliver high impact results. It must look at new ways on how we can use the same amount this year more strategically, with greater focus, to take the industry to a new level.

We need BIG HITS!

In today’s competitive global scenario, the country that wins is the one that’s able to grab world recognition and world headlines.

We need to grab the attention of the world, like India did with Lagaan and Slumdog Millionaire; or China with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We need TV serials that can hit the world like the Korean wave. We need our own international superstar ambassadors like Rain, Aishwarya Rai and Jackie Chan.

All of these brands heighten consciousness and awareness of the products of those nations.

Here’s my own personal experience trying to promote the stage musical version of Puteri Gunung Ledang (PGL).

In June this year, we were invited to showcase the “international” version of our show to agents and promoters at an international arts conference called Live! Singapore. This was a wonderful opportunity to promote a Malaysian cultural product to the world.

We tried, but we could not get any support from the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry.

We were told there was no special grant or funding support scheme for promotion of Malaysian products to the world. We couldn’t get any support from the private sector either. We ended up funding this venture ourselves.

Putting together a musical production incurs hefty costs, whether it is for a 15-minute or a two-hour show.

A production company has to bear the cost of writers, directors, choreographers, musicians, actors, wardrobe staff, projection design, crew, technical costs, travel, accommodation and food.

That’s a big deal for a small company like ours, especially when there is no tangible promise of any immediate returns.

Anyway, PGL shone as the most outstanding product presented throughout the event. Many commented that the story line was fresh and unique, yet the themes easily resonate with a world audience.

But here was the cruncher: It would still be a hard sell. Why? The average American or Englishman who has a choice of what show he or she would buy a ticket for doesn’t know enough about Malaysia.

Malaysia who?

We had a similar experience when the movie version of PGL was shortlisted as Malaysia’s first Academy Award nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

We were invited to the Palm Springs film festival, and our film was also screened in Los Angeles with the hope that we would catch the attention, and subsequently the vote, of a few members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This was when PGL director Saw Teong Hin and I first realised that the world at large really knew so little about our existence, geographically, far less of our culture, to even make any sort of connection.

The Malay proverb “Tak kenal maka tak cinta (You do not know, so you do not love)” rings so true in this case.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon cost US$17mil to make and its returns in the United States alone in 2004 reached US$150mil, making it the most profitable foreign film ever in the US.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for Taiwan and three other Academy Awards. It was also nominated for six other Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The success of Crouching Tiger is the result of a carefully marketed campaign that started with a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.

It’s been said that the movie was part of a cleverly crafted tactic to sell China to an international audience – China’s answer to globalisation using mass culture as a vehicle.

And why ever not? Since then, Chinese brands like Jackie Chan, Zhang Ziyi, Ang Lee and even our own Michelle Yeoh, and even Haier, Lenovo and HuaWei are now well within the world’s consciousness, and “Made In China” no longer resonates as cheap or poor quality.

The lesson here, therefore, is to make our own big hits and get noticed by the world.

We need to focus on how a Malaysian wave can take Broadway, the West End, and Hollywood by storm. Malaysia needs to be seen, heard, smelt, felt and tasted everywhere!

Matching the best

Let’s look at musical theatre for a moment. I have watched almost every musical in London, Australia and New York and I know in my heart that whatever they can do, we can do as well, if not better.

We have produced quality films that have been sold internationally, made on budgets of between US$2.5mil and US$5mil, which is still considered extremely modest by international standards.

KRU Berhad’s upcoming epic Merong Mahawangsa, as well as U-Wei’s period film Hanyut, certainly hold a lot of promise.

We have a wealth of stories that are fresh and unique; our culture, values, music, costumes as well as our people’s pan-Asian look are our most precious unique selling points.

Imagine all these combined with the best resources in the world in terms of writing, story editing, directing, marketing and publicity; the best experts in production, set building, technical, lighting and sound design; and the latest and best audio-visual technology and expertise – Malaysia can take on the world any time!

But to do that, we need to be bold enough to make the investment. The handful of serious content providers like KRU, Tall Order Productions, U-Wei Shaari and Enfiniti cannot do this on our own.

Even in the case of the golden boys of Malaysian films today, Ahmad Idham and Mamat Khalid, imagine how much better the quality of their unique brand of films could be with additional backing.

Speaking about his latest movie Hanyut, in an article in The Star, U-Wei said he has spent RM11mil so far but “needs RM7mil more” to finish the film. “If you want to make a film of international standards, then you need a big budget to do it.”

The creative industry needs support in the form of grants and financing in order to play on a more even field.

We will need substantial investment to tap into the latest technology, work with the best experts, create original works, hire the best marketers and publicists, and engage the best talents in the world.

To achieve this, we need a joint effort and commitment by the government, private sector and the industry. Only by doing it this way can we mobilise the substantial amount and resources required.

Every bit of support will make a difference – from government policies and government to government initiatives, to high profile international networking that can open doors and make things happen.

Corporations and individuals could be given tax incentives to help fund creative initiatives.

Of course, the other possible pay-off for these corporations would be the opportunity of international branding and positioning of their products and services.

Producers, who up till now bear the biggest risks, could be encouraged by a rebate scheme or stimulus package, something that has been successfully introduced in other countries.

Creative Industries Development Agency

If we adopt the premise of the NCIM, a Creative Industries Development Agency (CIDA) should be set up to appoint a panel of experts, local and foreign, to prepare a blueprint and strategies on how this industry can make its quantum leap within the next three to five years.

One of the most important outputs of this blueprint is also the mechanism to ensure proper management and effective use of the funds, so that funds are disbursed in the most transparent and accountable manner.

This blueprint is crucial if we are to attract the private sector conglomerates, as these commercial organisations will only lend support if they see a clear plan and strategy to succeed.

CIDA doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We should be big and open-minded enough to study other successful models such as Korea’s and Singapore’s transformation plans, and adopt what is applicable to us.

Korea, one of the world’s top 10 cultural exporters today, through the KOCCA (Korea Culture and Contents Agency), had a business plan in 2003 titled, “Remaking Korea as the Creative Star of the World Stage”.

The phenomenal Korean wave was a product of major conglomerates, venture capital and the Korean government all coming together to play an important part in how their cultural products are financed, produced, distributed, promoted and screened to local and foreign viewers.

Singapore has a 15-year Renaissance City Plan initiated in 2000 led by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

The Renaissance City Plan is being carried out in three phases:

> Phase 1 in 2000: Development of cultural software, capabilities and audiences.

> Phase 2 in 2005: Further developing new arts and culture capabilities, build more arts/culture-business partnerships, and to internationalise Singapore Arts.

> Phase 3 – by 2015: Singapore plans to be a vibrant magnet for international talent and be the best home to an all-inclusive and cohesive population that’s proud of its national identity.

Our neighbouring country down south has been transformed from a “barren wasteland” into an exciting and culturally vibrant, lively destination, and is internationally ranked as one of the most liveable cities. Singapore’s arts and culture are today a source of national pride.

Different times call for a different way of playing the game. Worldwide, the industrial economy is giving way to the creative economy, and corporations are having to re-think their attributes.

Digital media and convergence are the new catchwords; ideas and intellectual property are fast becoming the precious new commodities of our times; and even the giants of the world such as Sony are shifting gear from their traditional core business to entertainment and mobile games.

A re-energised creative industry can be a new source of high income for our country. Let’s be radical and dramatic. Let’s produce these “BIG HITS – Made in Malaysia, for the World”, and let’s start now while we still believe we can.

> Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina is an award-winning producer, actress and passionate arts activist.

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