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Screen Singapore: Producers Should Focus on Local Detail in a Globalized Industry

Leading producers in Asia put the spotlight on local roots, and cultural authenticity, while working in an industry that is increasingly globalized.

Stressing the need for authenticity, they were speaking at a keynote panel of Screen Singapore, part of the Singapore Media Festival. The topic was described as “Bringing a local IP global.”

“If you Anglify an Asian manga, there will be pushback from Asians and manga fans,” said Kurt Rieder, executive VP, Asia Pacific, at 20th Century Fox. “You’re walking a tightrope. The danger with pan-Asian English-language movies with some Asian stars and a Hollywood star is that it doesn’t have a home and it doesn’t work. Keep it tight and keep it focused on the home country.”

Rieder provided the example of Fox’s upcoming $200 million manga “Alita: Battle Angel,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, from a screenplay by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. The film is based on a manga by Yukito Kishiro, comparatively less known than Masamune Shirow’s “Ghost in the Shell,” adapted as an animated feature in 1995 and as a live action one by Paramount in 2017.

“’Ghost in the Shell’ was unfortunate, taking a Japanese character and making her Caucasian,” said Rieder. “With no disrespect to Paramount, the original manga was better.”

Fox International Productions is co-producing “212 Warrior” with Indonesia’s LifeLike Pictures, based on Bastian Tito’s popular novels featuring on martial arts warrior Wiro Sableng. “The idea is to try and break even in the home country,” said Rieder. “Local ancillary is gravy, and the rest of the world is gravy too.”

“It is important to be authentic,” said Zainir Aminullah, chief executive of Malaysia’s Ideate Media. The company is one of the producers of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” and produced “Tombiruo,” the second highest grossing film of the year in Malaysia, based on a 1998 novel by Ramlee Awang Murshid about a deformed young man with uncontrollable powers. “It is also important to spend time on the writing,” said Aminullah. “It needs a gestation period which is not common in this region.”

The writing was the challenge for Rajiv Chilaka, founder and chief executive of Green Gold Animation, creator of India’s most popular animated character Chhota Bheem. The character is soon to feature in Netflix original animated series “Mighty Little Bheem.”

“Our challenge was, how do we take this character global?” said Chilaka. The neat solution was to reduce the age of Bheem from nine to a baby, thus obviating the need for dialogue. Chilaka found that the western writers were missing some typical Indian cultural nuances, but they worked out the ultimate solution of making the Indian IP global. The western writers send synopses, which are expanded into scripts by the Green Gold team, that in turn go through a script editing process.

“Eventually these parts (Asia) will be much bigger than North America,” said Rieder. He envisages a future in which western writers will move to Asia, and impart their writing vigor to local writers, while getting their own writing translated. “It is better than being in a shrinking market that is mature,” he says.

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