Q&A with Adam Ham, executive director and entertainment and media specialist for the Global Creative & Media Agency (GCMA).
Malaysia’s Adam Ham is among a new generation of global media executives who are multilingual and trans-continental in background, education and more importantly, their visions of the future. In this Q&A, Ham talks about how Malaysia and Asia are contributing to the future of a multi-ethnic and multicultural global media society.
Q. You are Malaysian but you have, in fact, travelled and lived abroad quite a bit. What’s that about?
A. I must thank my parents for giving me an interesting foundation in life. My father was a diplomat posted to Japan for almost two decades, so I was brought up in a diplomatic environment in Tokyo. By the time I went to university in the US, I already had several languages—English, Japanese, Chinese and several local dialects --under my belt.
Q. But you chose to stay in the US after university for a few years?
A. That’s right. After graduating from the University of Western Michigan, I took positions in several US firms that gave me branding and marketing skills and a good understanding of the knowledge economy. They also gave me a unique perspective on how creativity in the media world could be a force for economic growth in Malaysia and Asia as a whole.
Q. And you brought it all back to Malaysia?
A. When I returned to Malaysia, I was immediately brought on board to work with the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), a high-powered Malaysian government agency aimed at promoting creative content in the multimedia industry in Malaysia. Then a year ago, I left to found the Global Creative And Media Agency (GCMA). Our agency works closely with various departments of the Malaysian government but also with other clients in Malaysia and the Asian region.
Q. The idea was GMCA would be a liaison between public and private entities?
A. Our aim was to help accelerate the growth of the entertainment side of the media industry and to encourage and help Malaysian companies attend key international trade markets events such as MIPCOM, Marche du Film, HK Filmart and ATF, among others. The plan was to focus on producing quality local content but with stories that would be universally relevant, inside and outside of Malaysia. The key to this strategy also was an increase in international co-productions as well as investment opportunities.
Q So what’s the scorecard? How close have you come to meeting your goals over the last year?
A. We’ve done very well. In the last year Malaysian companies have signed co-production deals with Korea, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the US. Just this week Multicom Entertainment announced it would be bringing the fruits of one of those co-production deals between Malaysia’s Mirayi and Korean Studio W. Baba to MIPCOM. Most of our co-productions have been animation TV series but more recently Apparat in Malaysia and Convergence Entertainment in the US co-produced a live action film that was picked up by Universal Pictures. Malaysia’s new animation studio Third Rock Creation’s recent production Cingkus Blues has been aired on Nickelodeon's Southeast Asia channel.
Q. What about the trade missions?
A. Yes, they have proved a key stepping stone in our strategy. We’ve fulfilled a brief to create marketing campaigns and coordinate key international trade missions for the Malaysian TV and film market in partnership with the Malaysian government. In 2011, we facilitated eight trade missions and we have 14 trade missions on the calendar this year alone that we are involved in helping coordinate. So I’d say, all in all, it’s not a bad record for the first year up and running.
Q. Malaysia portrays itself as a multi-ethnic inclusive society. How do you see that as contributing to creativity in the media industry?
A. Malaysia’s rich creative talent pool comes out of a multi-ethnic community that includes Malays, Chinese, Indian and other ethnic groups as well. So apart from English and the indigenous languages spoken by most Malays, there is a growing proficiency in Japanese and Korean. All of this means that studios in Malaysia are able to create local multi-ethnic stories with universal themes that are very exportable to the world. Inspidea's Boo & Me, Animasia Studio's Fairy Tales Of The Orient, Les' Copaque's Upin & Ipin and Animonsta's BoBoiBoy are all good examples of this.
Q. If you take this to a more global point of view, what does this mean for the industry? Is the industry thinking globally enough or is it still tied to its own cultural, national and continental boxes, as it were?
A. Good question. The world is changing fast. Populations from various regions around the world are migrating for a myriad of reasons, including marriage, jobs, families, and personal preferences. Producers who understand this are increasingly creating unique stories in a cultural and often local context but with universal themes that can be adapted for worldwide release. And tastes are changing as well. Consumers are no longer satisfied with watching only Hollywood movies but, rather, have a great appetite for unique international content that can bring them different experiences.
Q. So what does it all mean?
A. The upshot is that players in the industry now must think globally in order to stay competitive. In the future, language, culture, ethnic background and religion will not be about borders. They will not disappear as important factors in the making of content but it is the content that will be the more relevant, not where it comes from.
Q. What would your Future Vision be of what women can contribute in a more inclusive media society?
A. The increase of women in various functions and capacities means stories and programs will certainly be enhanced to capture a wider audience. But that’s just the beginning. Businesses will begin to develop a different sense of feel as women bring their own unique experiences and new blood and new ideas into a company. Datuk Rohana Rozhan, CEO of ASTRO Holdings, credited with ASTRO becoming one of the leading media companies in the region, has been an inspiration to both men and women in Asia. In the future, the increased presence of women will mean that both sexes will contribute more unique stories, ideas, and programs to an inclusive society around the world.
Q. Do women in Asia have equal protection under the law?
A. Yes, since the year 2000, and the contribution of Malaysian women is becoming a major force within the creative sector. To name a few, Juhaidah Joemin is managing director of the award winning Giggle Garage, Evelyn Lee is managing director of Backbone Entertainment, Shireen Hashim is CEO International of KRU Studios, creators of the award-winning film The Malay Chronicles, and Datuk Paduka Suhaimi Baba is managing director of Pesona Pictures.
Q. Malaysia is eager to position itself as the creative hub for Asia but why? What’s it got that other media hubs in Asia don’t?
A. The Malaysian government's agencies such as FINAS, MDeC, MCMC, MATRADE and Tourism Malaysia have all been instrumental in providing financial and non-financial support. On top of that, the country’s numerous international co-productions, especially in animation, its concentration on IP and a more recent trend for work-for-hire animation projects coming to Malaysia from major studios in the United States, Europe, Japan and Korea have all proved that Malaysia is a media force to be reckoned with. New infrastructure for state-of-the-art production and post-production facilities, such as Malaysia's Iskandar Pinewood Studios have all helped build our reputation globally. In short, there is a momentum and there is growth and that continues to attract blue chip players, investors and other professionals from across the globe.
Q. Malaysian content has a wider brief than just animation or even live action. Documentary is also on the front burner as well, right?
A. That’s correct, and we expect this category to be growing exponentially in the future. FINAS has been instrumental in encouraging and commissioning Malaysian producers to produce documentaries that can be regionally appreciated. Titles such as Novista's Among The Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh, Blue In Production's Spellbound: Crime of the Mind, GS Production's Fight Master: Silat, Reel Networks' The Joss Stick Maker, and Apparat's Fish Listener Of Setiu Lagoons are among titles have been acquired by international networks such as National Geographic Channel, AETN All Asia Networks, and Discovery Networks. So we’re off to a good start on the documentary front as well.
Top of page (from left): GCMA's Adam Ham with Malaysian Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture secretary general Dato' Kamaruddin Siaraf
Middle of page (from left): GCMA's Adam Ham with ABC Television's Kim Dalton
Bottom of page (from left): GCMA's Adam Ham with Kevin Eastman, creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles