Q&A: with Sara Kyungwon Han-Williams, executive vice president, Neon Pumpkin, Neon Creation and president, Pixtrend
Content creators need to embrace new and sophisticated technology at lightning speeds. That’s the word from top Korean media veteran Sara Han-Williams. She tells Future Vision the industry still focuses far too much on traditional TV when it comes to content creation and delivery.
Q. Digital has caused a seismic change in the media world. How has it affected your business?
A. All of my companies, Neon Pumpkin, Neon Creation and Pixtrend, have jumped on the digital train and it has, indeed, given our business new life. Our original content is all developed as 3D CGI series. But we also still do a considerable amount of service work for 2D digital, and conversion from 2D to 3D. This steady flow of revenues from our service work provides us with the means to develop and produce our original creations.
Q. You’ve just clinched several important deals, one to co-produce the stereoscopic 3D live action film Razor for Neon Pumpkin and the other, Zelza Zero & Friends, a 3D CGI co-production deal for a TV series for Neon Creation with US company Zelza Zero. What other projects are you busy with?
A. Among others, Neon Pumpkin is working with Millimages and Backbone on the 3D CGI co-production series Call For ChiChi and we’re also busy with the documentary Tea Road To The Skies. The latter is a stereo 3D co-production with Korea’s EMIG and France’s ICTV-Solferino.
Q. Given the speed of industry transformation, there is more than a little reluctance to make forecasts about the future. What’s your take on how much change we can expect to see five years down the road because of digital?
A. The change is cataclysmic and wonderful at the same time. Who could have predicted the kind of success Psy would have around the globe with Gangnam Style, all made possible because of the existence of YouTube and viral as a digital phenomenon. Three years ago we didn’t even have iPads; now we’re talking about a world where tablets are ubiquitous and fourth generation iPads are ready to launch.
Q. So what can we be sure of?
A. What we do know, what we can be sure of, is that technology will continue to push the edges in ways we can only dream of, that multimedia platforms will continue to expand exponentially and that our primary business is and should be to change with the times, to create and distribute content to suit these new dynamics.
Q. Psy is Korean but Gangnam has leapfrogged borders and continents with amazing speed. What’s the impact of this success on Korea?
A. I have to say that because Psy is Korean, we are indeed riding the wave, and at AFM, I had three different offers that directly related to the Psy and Gangnam phenomenon that I’m working on right now. Nothing that can be unveiled as yet but without a doubt, it’s definitely interesting times for us.
Q. It’s not so surprising, is it, this interest in Korea, even without Psy?
A. Not really. We are a country of early adaptors. On subways and trains in Korea, most middle school kids and young adults use smartphones and Tablet PCs like Galaxy and iPad to text one another, play games, watch TV shows and surf online. I’d say it is pretty much the norm for every kid in Korea to have their own computer.
Q. The multi-platform world has given birth to an even greater awareness of the need for variety. To some degree it also encourages audiences to produce their own content. What does this mean for creators?
A. It means we are now working in a world where creativity is unlimited but in order to work in sync with and still surprise audiences, producers need to embrace new and sophisticated technology at lightning speeds.
Q. The interesting thing about digital is that it has a domino effect that is creating many opportunities, at least where the internet is freely accessible.
A. Yes, that’s right. Media analysts now know that many Africans and Indians are likely to have their inaugural internet experience on a smart phone, in fact, many are already doing so. And the media world began a few years ago and is getting more sophisticated by the day in creating certain types of content that fit into this new handheld lifestyle.
Q. How so? What other changes are you looking at as a result of this new handheld world?
A. Well, we know that bus or train commuters are less likely to engage in movies or long form films but short films, shorter TV episodes, games and variety shows created specifically with shortened time slots are being seriously looked at. The moods of commuters are also being taken into account. What will they likely want to watch in a 20-minute commute, as an example, as opposed to at home where they might have more time? Also, advertising will change enormously and will, where possible, be directly targeting to young people aged 12-18 rather than to their parents, as it is now.
Q. Is that a good thing?
A. It expands the market so it is a good thing for advertisers and for media business. Whether it is good for young people is another question. Certainly in this day and age, kids especially that age are used to advertising and as with most things in life, how it affects them depends on how responsibly it is approached.
Q. Neon Pumpkin develops and produces its own originals and co-produces internationally. Which companies do you work with on a regular basis?
A. We have worked with Moonscoop, Cartoon Network Int’l, Nickelodeon and Xilam in France and many more. At present, we are doing service work for Moonscoop in the US, for Lalaloopy flash series and Xilam in France and for the traditional 2D series Dalton 2.
Q. And what about Neon Creation? What’s that about?
A. Neon Creation is a subsidiary of Neon Pumpkin located at the Gwangju City CGI Center. Some of our projects are produced there; others at the parent company Neon Pumpkin.
Q. Pixtrend is a brokerage and distribution company. What is the latest project it is involved in and what stage is that in?
A. Pixtrend helps broker deals, acts as executive producer or associate producer and then distributor. Currently it is involved as a co-producer on Call For ChiChi and as one of the executive producers on Cosi Mosi with Korea’s Toz and France’s Redfrog. It is also an associate producer for the Rolling Rolling Counting series in co-production with Korea’s Flying Pig and China's Crimson Forest.
Q. You work closely with your sister as well. She heads up Neon Pumpkin, but you are the EVP of Neon Pumpkin, and the president of Pixtrend. How does that work?
A. My sister Megan Ok-rye Han runs Neon Pumpkin as president and senior director and has since she began in the industry more than 20 years ago. She concentrates on artistic direction, hiring and communicating with crew, and overall quality control while I focus on the business side and marketing at Neon Pumpkin and Neon Creation.
Q. Co-production has helped you move onto the international stage. What co-productions are you working on now?
A. Well, aside from the Call For ChiChi project we mentioned earlier, we’ve also been in co-production talks on 2 Eyes Monster with French and Australian partners but nothing has been sealed as yet.
Q. What is the biggest problem in the global media industry today and how can it be fixed, in your opinion?
A. We still think too much about traditional TV as the main means of delivery. Of course it is still very important but we need to develop other content that will eventually translate to shorter episode formats for bus and train commuters with smart gadgets.
Q. But there are also problems closer to home, for you?
A. Yes, the elephant in the room, as it were, is finding a way to level the cost playing field with India and China. Even though we can produce excellent quality 3D CGI, their ultra-low prices are tough to match and impede our efforts to attract more overseas productions.
Captions: top left, Linking up with Team Zelza. (from left) Zelza Zero's Koko Offiong, Neon's Sara Han-Williams, Dello & Associates Windel Osime, Zelza Zero's Aline Osime and Marty Halfon.
Captions: Middle right: Call For ChiChil branded toys
Captions: Talking up 3D live action with POW: POW Entertainment's Gill Champion, Neon's Sara Han-Williams, Spiderman, Matty Rich Entertainment's Matty Rich, Pow's Bick Le and Neonworks Film US's Tal Vigderson.
Captions; Bottom: In talks with Austalia and the French for Neon Pumpkin's 2 Eyes Monster