From Polk to Malaysia: Wallace working with new media

Published 3:00 am Friday, January 16, 2009

I didn&squo;t know much about Megan Wallace when I met her for the first time while she was home in Polk County for the holidays. The fact that she was now producing films and preparing for a project in Kuala Lumpur was an intriguing starting point, and led to further discussion of new media, the film industry, and the value of growing up in Polk County. You&squo;re working in Kuala Lumpur? I just got back. I&squo;m doing a job out there over the next six months. It was a final &dquo;seal the deal&dquo; kind of trip. &bsp;I can&squo;t really talk about the project more except conceptually because it&squo;s in creation and we have a non-disclosure agreement. How did you get from Polk County to Malaysia? I grew up here very active in Tryon Little Theatre and all the local theatre in our community. I won the Fine Arts Center scholarship my last year in high school. I went to University, did the practical thing and got a business degree, and went to New York afterwards. Growing up here and always having a supportive artistic community, all those things never went away. I went to New York after University and tried to keep acting. One thing led to another, I eventually ended up directing theatre. I went to London for a film degree two years ago at the National Film and Television School. I did an MA in Producing there. I graduated last March and have a short film I made as a grad film that&squo;s doing really well in the festival circuit. It premiered at Edinburgh and I was actually selected as one of the Trailblazers of the Edinburgh festival. Leading off from that, I met the group of people I&squo;m working with now. I&squo;ve just joined as a partner in a new company with them. We have two strands of our company. On the one hand, we have the feature film slate which is largely what I look after as well as being the managing director of the company. Then we have another division that&squo;s moving into new media, creating content for the online space. Online drama is a burgeoning new industry, particularly in the U.K. We work with guys who have been the forefront leaders in branded content. It&squo;s more advanced product placement. There&squo;s really exciting stuff happening in the online space that comes back to film because distribution channels are changing. The model of how you finance and make a film is potentially very largely affected by online things like Netflix. People aren&squo;t going to the movie theatre as much? Well they don&squo;t have to. What I see happening is delineating different kinds of media, in the way that &dquo;a made for television movie&dquo; is very different than a film made for the theatre. They are good in different ways. Things you watch on television you wouldn&squo;t necessarily want to see in a cinema. The internet and other new media are creating new versions of what television was when it first started. It&squo;s a new way to consume content. You can&squo;t just take what&squo;s in the cinema, shrink it down, put it on the computer and have &dquo;Oh, wow amazing.&dquo; It&squo;s opening up a whole new way of thinking and a new cinematic language. What we&squo;re trying to do is bring high quality content to a new media space. The project we&squo;re doing in Malaysia is a multi-platform series. Its primary platform will be 3G networks for cell phones. It will also have an internet component and a certain level of alternate reality gaming. We&squo;re trying to phase it in, because it&squo;s a lot to wrap your head around. Young people are comfortable with the online space. Having something serialized on their telephone is going to be new. In Asian culture, particularly Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur, they&squo;re very integrated with their telephones. They use them a lot more than we do, partially because they never had a land line culture. The advent of cell phones and their introduction to the mass marketplace was the first time a lot of people even had a phone. They take photos on them and do file sharing. They&squo;re really interactive. This will be giving them something a little bit new and draw satellite communities of people who aren&squo;t heavy users or aren&squo;t a customer of the service provider that is creating this. Will the project focus mostly on the Asian market at this time? Yes, it will be very Malaysia-centric with this one. We&squo;re building it for a service provider. They have a very large percentage of the K.L. market, but also the regional market. If it&squo;s successful there I can see them trying to roll it out in other territories in Asia. The format, we believe, has a lot of potential and we&squo;d be looking to introduce that into the European market and the American market once this is successful and has statistical proof that it works. Is it more expensive to move it into the European and American markets, or is that where the funding for this project happens to be? This was an idea that we had. There&squo;s a series being created for telephones in the U.K. right now. It&squo;s hard to test a new product on a market that isn&squo;t really hungry for it. I don&squo;t think that people in Europe, the U.K., and America have yet come to view their phone as a piece of entertainment. Maybe the teenagers have, but not the majority? Not most of the people who are paying for the service. In Asia, that&squo;s very different. Testing this new platform on an audience that wants it will help us figure out how to convince an audience that doesn&squo;t know it&squo;s possible how great it is. The funding is there because it&squo;s a very open minded company that sees how advertising is changing. The way this whole thing will be marketed and advertised is where the gaming comes in to play. The marketing and the print campaign will reveal mysteries about the show throughout the real time release window. Companies and people will see this content, that before was just entertainment and paid for by people who make entertainment, as a form of advertising in the way that commercials pay for television. The Soap Opera began as a story to keep housewives interested so they can be advertised to. Okay. Essentially, that&squo;s where I think the future of online entertainment is going. It is branded content paid for by a corporation or company with a very subliminal strand going through it. What we&squo;re doing in Malaysia, the only thing that links it back to their brand is that we&squo;re pushing it out over their network. You&squo;re thinking all the time they&squo;re the ones to do business with because they do entertainment on your phone. Like if you grew up watching FOX network on television and like their shows, then if FOX is on your phone… It&squo;s on your radar. You remember those television shows they produced that you like and think‐ They should be my provider. That makes sense. They can monitor it as well because they are used to paying for downloaded content. In the U.S. or Europe we&squo;re not that interested yet in content in that form where you pay for it. We&squo;d rather have it on our T.V. at least. It&squo;s hard to imagine really wanting to watch a show on that small of a screen. I&squo;ve watched kids with iPhones though. Still from the short film Outcasts written by Ian Clark &Megan Stuart Wallace (photo submitted) Exactly. Not knowing any different, they&squo;re just happy to have something to watch while mom and dad are visiting with their friends. There&squo;s no delineation. We grew up with the internet as something that happened during our lifetime and we still see it as a resource largely for work I think. Younger generations, even my boyfriend is only five years younger than me, but he reads four newspapers a day all online. He frequently comes home, and where I would naturally sit down for an hour to chill out in front of the television, he&squo;ll go to
the computer because it&squo;s what he grew up with. The younger kids now have laptops and it&squo;s just normal for them to interact in that way. What is exciting from a creative aspect is taking what we do as film makers and bringing that to this space. We feel that we&squo;re trying to push real innovation and creativity, not just the lowest common denominator. It has to be quality content. It has to engage you. It has to have a good story and create a real cinematic language. When it&squo;s that small what makes it interesting and beautiful? It&squo;s not the same thing that makes an image amazing on a 20 foot screen. Ben-Hur on a cell phone won&squo;t look good. We&squo;re doing a lot of testing with new technology and what you can do with digital cameras and ways of shooting to make a really beautiful, dynamic image three by three. It is just new way of seeing what we do in our art form. There has been a lot of resistance, from myself even. My film school experience was pretty traditional. When you graduated from film school did you think you would be making something for a cell phone? Never in a million years. It&squo;s interesting how my thinking has changed just by engaging with it. It&squo;s how you perceive it. Inevitably our industry is changing, there&squo;s no way we can deny that. As a young professional in this stage I can choose to change and grow and find something really great about it or I can say, &dquo;Eww, new media.&dquo; More and more people are opening their minds to how much fun there is to be had in this space. The content can be better. I think a lot of it up until now has been really cheesy. When I&squo;ve tried to do video over 3G on my phone, but the picture comes through munched. The networks in Malaysia are so much better. You can take something download over 3G and it is crystal clear. That&squo;s why it wouldn&squo;t work in the U.K. or Europe right now, because the network isn&squo;t there to technologically facilitate it. Ten years ago, you got into filmmaking through music videos and promos. The online space is a new form of that sitting parallel with film. Because this is still so new, we&squo;re right in the middle of change. When you&squo;re in the middle of that pocket you can&squo;t really see where you&squo;ve been or where you&squo;re going because every day it&squo;s moving, forming, and shaping. All of us who are pushing boundaries in this space right now, we may fall flat on our face, but this feels right. We&squo;re going for it and writing the rules as we go. It&squo;s a very exciting place to be as a young person. All this stuff in the online space is feeding back. How can we take those principals and make them part of how we&squo;re marketing our feature film? Building an audience in the online community early on guarantees you&squo;ll get those people into the cinema to see it because you&squo;ve built the buzz. Marketing to them online because that&squo;s where they are. What was it like going to Kuala Lumpur? It&squo;s the farthest East I&squo;ve ever been, and much different than I expected. It&squo;s very Westernized in a lot of ways, but still more conservative in their politics and regulations. It&squo;s a very multi-ethnic, multi-cultural environment. You&squo;ve got traditional Malay culture with strong Chinese and Indian culture, a fascinating place. It will be a nice place to spend some time. What were some of your first impressions? I was only there for a week and it was very work/business related and I was jet lagged. It&squo;s not like I spent loads of time hanging out. They&squo;ve got a really cool underground art and music scene which seems ready for something to pop. Still from the short film Outcasts written by Ian Clark &Megan Stuart Wallace (photo submitted) Kuala Lumpur is a very modern city with skyscrapers and beautiful parks in this valley and all around you is mountains of rain forest. We were also there during monsoon season so there wasn&squo;t much sun. It was heavily raining all week I was there so I haven&squo;t seen anything outside of Kuala Lumpur. I have no idea what to expect. We&squo;ll have to touch base with you again once you get back. Please look for the continuation of this interview in an upcoming issue of the Tryon Daily Bulletin where Megan discusses her film school experience and the feature film projects she is also working on this year.

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