Juck Somsaman: Why the Asian Pacific

One of the key narratives at the Annecy festival’s International Animation Film Market (MIFA) is the burgeoning attendance of participants from Asia. Variety spoke to Juck Somsaman from Thailand’s The Monk Studios, whose “Duck Fight: Fist of the Feather” was one of six titles selected for MIFA’s feature film pitches.

Movie animation production is growing in Thailand. Why?
The Thai film market itself is very small, but the whole Asian Pacific region, including China, is huge and demand is picking up. Resource-wise, we see a lot of growth in the skilled local artists and talents, which is the key to achieving high-quality at low cost. The number of graduates in this field has been steadily increasing year by year. The lower cost of production also lures outsourcing jobs to the region, while the regional demand for IP is increasing. Our films are created to fill the need of this niche market with international potential and global appeal.

Why did you want to start your own production company in Thailand after working in the U.S.?
Toward the end of my time at Rhythm and Hues, I was supervising its Mumbai, India office in 2005-2006. We were really the first team in India working on Hollywood movies from animation to finish (“Garfield 2,” “Night at the Museum”). I realized then if we can make this setup work in India, it could work in my hometown, Bangkok, as well. So instead of returning to L.A., I told John Hughes, the president of Rhythm and Hues, that I would like to try it out on my own in Thailand for a couple of years. It has now been seven years, and I’ve never looked back.

How did you come up with the idea for this film?
The original idea came from a local live-action film producer friend, who passed it to The Monk Studios, and we developed a concept that would work as an animated feature. With examples of popular regional action movies like “Ong-Bak,” and comedy films like “Lost in Thailand,” we were inspired to believe that we can make profitable animated films that work for the region, and also have appeal for the international market.

How was the CGI process for “Duck Fight: Fist of the Feather”?
I used my 16 and a half years of experience at Rhythm and Hues to build the Monk pipeline with a lot of help from friends and colleagues in the U.S. Also, as an outsourcing vendor for top U.S. studios, we learn to keep up with the latest technology in animation. And last, since we have also been producing script-to-finish service works, we have built strong creative foundations, pipeline, network of creatives, designers, story-team, voice talents, and post production to keep the cost under control. Bangkok city itself lends a hand as the city is well-known for live action/commercial productions to get their post-production done at a good cost.

How do you like creating your own films?
Over the past seven years, we’ve worked mostly as a services studio, but this has helped build effective teams with highly experienced artists. Our goal has always been to develop our own content, and we have been working on a number of in-house projects, starting with shorts. Our two shorts “Escape of the Gingerbread Man” and recently “Nine” have won lots of awards from all over the world. I remember the day we finished our first short, I was happier and prouder than all the times I worked on big studio movies in the U.S. However, creating independent films is very challenging as we have to carefully manage resources, snatching time between services contracts to keep our projects moving along. It’s a balancing act.

What do you think audiences will like about this film?
It’s an action comedy film with lots of humor, strong, appealing characters, design and a fun story that will appeal to children of all ages around the world. The story is international but it has our own Asian flavor giving us the best of East meets West in the film.

Were there any challenges when it came to creating this film?
We know we have the skills and resources to produce good animated films. But the hardest part has always been developing the story. We spent nearly two years just on the story so far, and every time we think we’ve got it, some idea comes along and takes the project a different way. It’s also difficult to spare resources and to fund the development for the slate of films we have. This is one of the main reasons why we attend events like MIFA at Annecy, to find investment and distribution deals that can help us keep moving our projects forward.

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