What you need to know
Taiwan must improve its data curation and transparency if the Ministry of Culture is to succeed in its ambition to emulate the success of the Korean Wave.
Whatever happened to the good old days?
It’s a question Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) likely asked her underlings at the Ministry of Culture (MoC) shortly after coming to power.
Back then, in January 2016, Tsai gave an interview to Yonhap News in which she praised the “South Korean government’s cultural policy and insight” in propelling the Korean Wave global.
The comments tacitly acknowledged that the so-called Hallyu (Korean Wave) had eclipsed its Taiwanese counterpart while indicating that the new administration was poised to take a leaf out of Seoul’s book in its attempts to push Taiwan's creative content producers to renewed success on the global stage.
A recent flurry of news related to what Taiwan calls the “cultural and creative industries” (CCI) — TV, movies, computer games, books and related content like animation and comics – suggest the plan is coming together.
In early March, the MoC outlined a multiyear program to spend NT$10 billion (US$341.6 million), split between its own budget and an allocation from the National Development Fund, to issue grants and subsidies aimed at boosting private investment in cultural content production. Digitization is a major focus of the thrust, which also comprises plans to encourage more e-commerce platforms to partner with the MoC.
Taiwan has enjoyed considerable success in reaching audiences in Asia and Latin America, the latter following government-backed efforts to translate Taiwanese TV dramas into Spanish that began in 2013, but has struggled to make an impression on a wider audience.
The government’s global agenda is to be furthered by the creation of a Cultural Content Institute that is currently just ink on a draft bill proposed by the MoC, but will eventually coordinate efforts across the Taiwan Film Institute, Taiwan Design Center and other bodies to attract top talent and investment to Taiwan’s audiovisual industry and promote Taiwanese productions overseas.
Wheels are clearly in motion, but before the accelerator is pressed, the MoC and its affiliates would do well to consult those already at the coalface on how best to direct their efforts.
Introducing Mr. Lin
Jay Lin is the CEO of Portico Media, the founder of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF), now heading into its fifth year, and the inspiration behind Gagaoolala, Asia’s first LGBT movies online platform. Over the course of the last year or so, he has also achieved many of the goals Taiwan’s government wants to see repeated.
Leveraging contacts acquired through TIQFF, the California native launched Gagaoolala in January 2017, providing an on-demand platform for viewers to access movies screened at the festival, but which might never find an avenue for release in some of Asia’s more conservative countries.
“Through the film festival we have licensed hundreds of movies so there is a level of comfort in working with us,” Lin says. “We haven’t had anyone complain about infringing on copyrights and we always pay people so that reputation is snowballing in a good way.”
The subscription service, which counts 40,000 registered users, is available in Taiwan and 10 countries in Southeast Asia, and is set to expand to Hong Kong next month. So far, Gagaoolala remains uncensored across the geographies in which it operates, a result of tactful marketing that avoids billboard and newspaper splashing in favor of targeted engagement with LGBT communities on social media and messaging platforms like Line and Telegram.
Moreover, Lin’s team is also fresh from completing their original production, “Queer Taiwan”, a self-funded series that addresses topics including homosexuality and religion, handicap and desire, surrogacy, and drag – issues that Lin describes as “relevant to both the straight and LGBT community.”
Writing the book
So when the MoC talks about plans to “encourage more e-commerce platforms, distributors … and startups” while promoting Taiwan-made content on the international stage, Lin is basically writing the book.
Yet despite working on projects that are clearly progressive and for the social good, the 44-year-old has never tapped government money because the cost of the bureaucracy outweighs the benefits.
“It seems more cumbersome to fill out the paperwork and wait for the response and make sure all the invoices conform with expectations, so for a project that is not so costly we would spend more time than just doing it ourselves,” he says.
Lin is in the midst of working on a followup to “Queer Taiwan” that will expand the format to Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines. Taking the series international is a considerably more complicated and costly undertaking, but rather than approach the government for funding Lin is crowdfunding the project on Taiwan’s flyingV. But even here, red tape has obstructed progress.
“We decided to launch on a local platform rather than something like Indiegogo or Kickstarter but we realized after we launched that the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC, 金管會) had banned foreign credit cards from supporting crowdfunding websites and live broadcast websites.”
The block has since been lifted and the project is well on the way to meeting its US$600,000 funding target.
In the meantime, Lin has been getting down to work. “I visited the four countries and found consultants and advisers who can make the connections and offer support in terms of finding crew, hosts or interviewees,” he says. “We do a lot of research on issues impacting the country or to find the right event to participate in, and we picked four countries dealing with different issues and which are at various stages of gay rights progress.”
Each of the four segments will be hosted in a native language by a local opinion leader, ensuring that “Queer Asia” builds bridges with the community it is serving even while in production.
“In Japan we are going to follow Lesley Kee, a famous fashion photographer who has a project called "Out in Japan." He’s going to do a photo shoot in May in Tokyo and it will be fun to follow him and interview people right after they have been photographed,” Lin tells The News Lens. In Hong Kong, the project has engaged influencers, politicians and the wider community and will shoot on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT).
Lin’s approach in considering the sensitivity of the project’s target market and entrusting those communities with a sense of ownership is instructive for those the MoC hopes might follow him. “We are getting a lot of people involved who can help launch Gagaoolala into that territory as they are going to be the most ardent supporters of the service,” he adds.
Lin is highly persuasive in suggesting Taiwan must do more to seek top directors who might have a script suitable for Taiwan and incentivize them to come here. According to a BCG report, Malaysia is forging a path the follow in offering foreign TV and film production companies a 30 percent cash rebate in return for a minimum local expenditure. The country also formed a “strategic alliance” with the UK’s Pinewood Studios, backed by the Malaysian government’s investment holding arm Khazanah Nasional Berhad, to invest in creating a Malaysian arm of the hallowed movie studio.
Lin is also impressed by the work being done by Germany’s Goethe Institute and France’s Institut Français in providing bases to promote the work of homegrown talent overseas, noting the role of the latter in the February launch of a Canal+ paid TV service in Myanmar. Lin says the Taiwan Academy, which since 2011 has been promoting Mandarin learning and Taiwanese culture overseas, should be cribbing from these examples and providing the groundwork for Taiwan’s talent to get a foot in the door, especially in the South Asian and Southeast Asian countries targeted by the Tsai administration’s New Southbound Policy.
“Taiwan does not have many diplomatic relationships so we need another avenue for groundwork so that content from Taiwan can travel at some point,” he says. “Those centers can be used as a venue to create goodwill and awareness of made in Taiwan content.
"We should also encourage Taiwanese to go out, give them a push to go to Cambodia and shoot something there by making introductions. The benefits could be huge from a cultural, creative, and branding Taiwan point of view."
When asked about the challenges faced by audiovisual content producers in Taiwan, Lin picks out a lack of transparency and weak data curation as key issues.
“Every year I notice the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) getting bigger and bigger and more and more transparent,” he says, explaining that the KOFIC data encompasses near 100 percent reporting from cinemas and includes sufficient information for potential investors to decide if they should back a particular actor, director or production company. Unlike Taiwan, information is also dual language.
Taiwan needs a centralized platform where accredited buyers can go in and view content so they don’t need to travel all the way to Hong Kong Filmart or come and view TV in Taiwan. — Jay Lin
“For people to have a reliable understanding of what’s happening, Taiwan needs to do that. Even China has an app called Maoyan which has hourly updates on how movies perform. Maybe we have what’s happening in Taipei and you just multiply it by two to get the Taiwan box office. In this era of big data and analytics that should not be happening.”
Another issue is access for programmers or buyers to watch the content: “Taiwan needs a centralized platform where accredited buyers can go in and view content so they don’t need to travel all the way to Hong Kong Filmart or come and view TV in Taiwan,” Lin adds.
In Singapore, a company called Vuulr is working on launching just such a service, placing productions’ metadata on the blockchain to create a marketplace for content creators, sponsors and buyers to interact. “I worked in Singapore in 2004 when they were just getting stated on becoming a digital media hub, and now it’s a reality, at least in terms of TV,” Lin says, noting that international studios including HBO, Fox and Netflix are all based in Taiwan’s southern rival.
“They are getting a lot of support from the Singapore government, from tax rebates to production subsidies. A lot of the production subsidies are also going to productions directed by a non-Singaporean – we need to obfuscate the difference between foreigner and Taiwanese.”
The current structure of Taiwan’s grants and subsidies is too restrictive, Lin argues, citing the unavailability of subsidies for the production of “Tale of the Lost Boys” because its director was Filipino.
“It is probably the Taiwanese film that has performed the best in the Philippines. It was aired 60 times at all the major malls in Manila; 95 percent of the film was shot in Taiwan; the lead is Taiwanese; it introduces aboriginal people and has beautiful shots of Yilan; it has opened doors for bicultural exchanges with the Philippines – it shouldn’t matter what the constitution of the crew is.
“It’s time to reevaluate the grants and subsidies and what a Taiwanese film is.”
Editor: Morley J Weston