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Why performing artists should care about Malaysia’s digital media industry, special funding and IP protection

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The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) may not be the first call for an artist in search of funding. And yet, it is hard to ignore the intensifying presence of technology in theater and arts productions. 

In a highly competitive industry, top-notch producers increasingly turn to technologies that give them that storytelling edge. In Europe and Japan, technologies such as real-time motion sensors, computer graphic visuals and robotics are often incorporated into performances. On our local front, theater production companies like TerryandtheCuz and gamelan theatre ensemble Rhythm in Bronze have also seen a greater usage of technologies in their productions.

Creativity means adding new colours to your palette.

Creativity means adding new colours to your palette.

MDEC is known for its pioneering spirit in creative technologies. Its openness towards technology-based experimentation as well as access to substantial funds and support make it a valuable resource for all Malaysians working in the creative field.

Malaysia’s new income generator: The creative digital industry

Animated characters like ‘Upin & Ipin’, ‘Boiboiboi’ and ‘Didi and Friends’ have become household names in Malaysia. Merchandise and spin-offs have translated into dollars and cents. In fact, spearheaded by MDEC, the animation industry is one of the fastest growing creative-based industries in Malaysia. It contributes 16% to our gross national product, with a targeted growth of 18% by 2020. Last year’s proposed budget for 2017 showed the government’s continued focus on expanding our digital economy, especially our e-commerce sectors. With all this money being pumped into the digital industry, we are likely to witness a rise in homegrown tech-savvy creative entrepreneurs.

Artists are using technology to shine a light on our culture

Artists are using technology to shine a light on our culture

But what does this mean for you in the performing arts. MDEC encourages you to:

1. Protect your ideas

At the heart of arts and the creative digital industry is human creativity. To make the move from artist to entrepreneur, we need to capitalize our creative output. Since creativity is intangible, it is usually packaged as intellectual property or ‘IP’.

Delivering creative content comes with risks. One of the biggest is the creator’s lack of understanding about ways in which to protect their IPs, such as with trademarks, copyrights and patents. This requires a change of mindset towards IP.

Ignorance of a creator’s rights, from lack of IP awareness to blatant piracy, can be fatal to the sprouting creative industry. The temptation to ignore these rights is strong, especially for companies starting out with a small budget. Part of MDEC’s role to increase IP awareness is by providing financial assistance through its kick-starter grants. They even speak to the software companies on behalf of their start-ups and negotiate collectively.

“There were companies in the past that got trapped in the legality and licenses; resulting in a financial catastrophe.” says Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, MDEC’s Director of Creative Content.

While MDEC provides a lot of infrastructural support to assist young and emerging creative talent transit into globally competitive industries, it’s ultimately up to creative developers to protect themselves.

2. Take a holistic approach towards IP development.

Often when an idea comes to mind, we target it to one platform of medium. For example, in the early years of the animation industry, short-listed candidates would pitch animation story ideas specifically for Malaysian television. The end result would be a medium specific IP, and in this case, one that is restricted to a 13-episode (of 15 minutes each) packaged story. With numerous IP exposure platforms available nowadays such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, product endorsements and merchandising; there’s no reason to limit your idea to one specific medium. When creating a new piece of work, consider your IP from all angles in order to allow it to expand onto multiple platforms.

3. Be a good storyteller

I asked Mr. Hasnul what motivates him to take MDEC to greater heights. His unassuming reply caught me off guard, ”It’s to see Boiboiboi become my own children’s superhero”.

As in all performing arts, it still begins with a good story

As in all performing arts, it still begins with a good story

Malaysia still lacks good storytellers. Hansul emphasized on the importance of creating a meaningful story that has the ability to touch people’s heart, like the much loved ‘Upin & Ipin’ animation series. Especially stories that reflect our Malaysian culture and which may one day become global ambassadors

Get your questions answered

On 7 January, in the half-day workshop Building a Global Digital Content Company from Malaysia – Structure, Funding and Culture, Hansul will share with you the structure, funding and work culture of building an internationally competitive digital content company. His other topics will include:

  1. How to understand funding from the government’s perspective
  2. What are the steps to facilitate towards grant receiving based on actual case studies
  3. What are the opportunities for collaboration in future creative sectors where artistic exploration is needed like Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality and New Media Platforms.

Also of interest may be the other workshop held earlier on that day; From Freelance to a Company . We’re offering a discount to people who attend both sessions, but more than that, by attending both you will leave with a better understanding of Malaysia’s creative digital ecosystem and how your creations can benefit creatively and financially from this fast growing industry.

Special thanks to Mr. Vernond and Ms. Sharizan bt. Mohd. Shariff for additional information for this article.

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Suzy Sulaiman
Suzy Sulaiman

Suzy Sulaiman has two babies; one is the Digital Art + Culture Festival and the other is a human child named Teja.