Making creative arts a main contributing sector

The talent in the creative industry is growing and if left untapped, it risks being lured away by neighbouring countries 


CONTRIBUTING approximately 2% of the country’s GDP, the creative industry has been a disappointment over the last five years. 

Given that demand for creative multimedia talent is predicted to increase at a 7.59% annual pace over the next three years, it is apparent that the local industry is still growing, with many untapped opportunities. 

National Film Development Corp Malaysia (Finas) chairman Datuk Kamil Othman said in addition to development and production, marketing and branding should be prioritised to further promote Malaysia’s creative arts industry. 

He noted that Malaysia can grasp the idea and adapt it in a similar fashion with the local culture, similar to what South Korea did in branding their culture in their films, drama, music and others. 

“The demand for Korean food surged in Malaysia, leading even our local brands to produce South Korean sauces for the market. This proves the link between the arts, marketing and the economy, which can contribute to economic growth. 

Kamil says schools should not limit students’ imaginations through audio-visual, film and music clubs (Pics courtesy of Claz’room)

“By showcasing our attractive tourist destinations and mouth-watering cuisines, we too can entice more people to our country, improving our tourism industry and increasing revenue generation,” he said to The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

He added that the sector should work on branding and positioning to determine which media should be targeted as well as how to publicise local creative outputs at appropriate events and marketplaces. 

Furthermore, he noted that funding may be used to deliberately involve more creative art entrepreneurs, to also develop entrepreneurial skills. 

Kamil also emphasised the need to teach Malaysian viewers how to differentiate fact and fiction in creative works, which he said could begin in primary schools. 

“Most works of fiction are inspired by reality. 

“With knowledge and awareness, we will be able to make films on sensitive topics but without causing undue controversies as long as the audience understands that they are being presented with creative interpretations,” he elaborated. 

He also noted that schools should not limit students’ imaginations through audio-visual, film and music clubs. 

Similarly, Kamil suggested that primary school students be encouraged to journal daily, allowing teachers to identify authors, journalists, illustrators and storytellers. 

“To foster diversity, teaching jobs should be opened up to art specialists and creative writers, even if they lack traditional teaching credentials. 

“It is crucial to prioritise these investments because we must nurture creativity in young people. We may never find another P Ramlee if we continue to only force children into professions like medicine, engineering and law,” he added. 

Additional Allocations Needed for Continuous Developmentof the Industry

On the other hand, Claz’room College MD Tung Yan-Ning said it would be a tremendous benefit if the industry has government support as additional allocations are needed to encourage continued development of the industry. 

“Since talent development begins with education, the government’s budgetary support for new technologies or software, campus facilities, additional soft skill classes and student fee subsidies will undoubtedly play an important role in raising the standards of our local talents. 

It is crucial to embrace new technologies as a key initial step to truly unleash the industry’s full potential, Tung says

“It is also imperative that we allocate a budget to support the professional development of our academic staff. Unfortunately, there is a lack of high-quality training programmes available to lecturers in the arts industry,” she said to TMR. 

She also said proper infrastructure and facilities are required to deliver quality education to art students, which Malaysia lacks. 

Hence, she believed that fundraising would be extremely beneficial in constructing and maintaining facilities such as green screen spaces, anatomy rooms, multimedia theatres and other educational facilities that are safe and conducive to learning. 

“Above all, it is our mission to provide quality education to all students, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. To achieve this goal, financial assistance, scholarships and other forms of support for disadvantaged students would really help them pursue their desired career paths and achieve their dreams. 

“With the government’s support, we will eventually be able to tap into the next level of the local industry’s potential growth and raise the standards of our content creation in Malaysia. Ultimately, education is the primary driver in the ecosystem,” she further explained. 

Meanwhile, Polygon Pictures Malaysia CEO Yoichi Ataka said by receiving early exposure to the global market, local talents can speed their learning. 

He noted that Singapore and Taiwan, for instance, offer national scholarships that allow selected high-achieving students to enjoy a completely supported internship at big overseas studios for up to two years, as well as providing a forum for students to identify studios for internships. 

“To replicate such programmes in Malaysia, students’ ability levels in Malaysian schools must improve. One of the issues that I believe the industry is facing is a lack of competent instructors with professional experience in big studios. 

“I believe that a government subsidy to employ qualified instructors from abroad will significantly help to accelerate Malaysian artists’ competitiveness in the global creative business,” he said to TMR. 

Malaysian animated series Upin & Ipin’s amazing accomplishments have paved the way for local talents to thrive
(pic source:

Investment for the Industry 

Instead of relying on government money to keep the industry afloat, Kamil opined that the government should offer tax breaks to the private sector instead of funding film productions, which he believed would create more business prospects in the industry. 

He stated that by providing tax breaks to firms, the industry can encourage more private sector investment in artistic projects while also focusing on co-productions, which will provide a larger market beyond Malaysia and prevent projects from being limited to distribution only for local channels and screens. 

He also said that reframing the creative industry as an economic sector can attract business involvement and generate economic progress, albeit stressing the importance of developing a solid finance model that respects creative freedom while minimising interference from financiers. 

“Nepotism and story meddling can impede the authenticity of creative expression. Therefore, a business partnership that supports creative independence can propel Malaysia’s digital creative industry forward,” he said. 

Aside from that, Kamil emphasised the significance of recognising culture and heritage as components for the local art form, for example, by cooperating with forward-thinking businessmen in the arts industry to foster the country’s cultural heritage. 

Tung, on the other hand, said educational institutions and industry players must build a strong connection to provide graduates with the required abilities to flourish in the workplace, as a means of bridging the large gap between education and the rapidly growing industries. 

Proper infrastructure and facilities are required to deliver quality education to art students, which Malaysia lacks (pic: Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)

“As the digital creative industry in Malaysia grows, seeking international investments from venture capitalists or corporate entities can help our local industries to scale their operations and establish networks with investors for further growth. 

“However, as we establish a strong industry in Malaysia, it is important to carefully consider the potential risks and benefits of international investments. While it can be beneficial for local industries to grow, it is also essential to balance such investments, as they may lead to a loss of talent to international stakeholders and vulnerability to changes in the global economy or foreign investor priorities. 

“Therefore, we must proceed with caution and keep our long-term interests in mind when pursuing international investment opportunities,” she explained. 

Highlighting a different view, Ataka believed that by attracting international investment, Malaysia risks losing local talent to global competitors who have greater pockets to entice talent. 

“Up till 2010, it was important to entice and encourage foreign studios to create a branch in Malaysia (with government incentives) to support the local sector because there were only a few successful local studios. 

“Many foreign players have opened studios in Malaysia as a result of MDEC’s past efforts. Nonetheless, there is still a scarcity of artists in the local market. 

“In addition to providing incentives for overseas studios to enter Malaysia, I think the government and MDEC can invest the same funds in stationing qualified lecturers and supervisors in higher education institutions or exclusive workshops or programmes to train and mentor younger artists for the next stage of the industry,” he further explained. 

Industry’s Future, the Creative Workforce

On the industry’s future, Kamil said while Malaysia has Finas which focuses on the film industry, there seems to be a gap in the support provided (and to strengthen the connection) to other forms of art. 

“We need a unified and comprehensive organisation to oversee and guide the growth of the arts in our country. An Arts Council had been proposed before, intended to bring together representatives from all forms of arts, including Finas, to promote collaboration and coordination. 

“With the Arts Council in place, we would have had a centralised authority to handle issues relating to art and present a united front to the world. 

“By bringing together experts from various fields and working hand-in-hand with Finas, we can create a more comprehensive and cohesive approach to supporting the industry,” he said. 

Kamil added that quite a while ago, Malaysia missed a golden opportunity to showcase the country during Malaysia Week in Spain due to copyright and tight deadline issues. 

The Arts Council’s main role will be to provide a platform for the integration of all art forms, fostering synergy and collective growth. It would serve as a central authority to which the government can reach out for guidance on matters relating to the arts.

Tung, on the other hand, believed that while Malaysia has a strategic location and adaptable culture that make it an ideal destination for start-ups and businesses to thrive, the industry’s lack of recognition as an economic sector has resulted in weak intellectual property (IP) protection, which is 

Despite the existence of rules and statutory laws, their application is dependent on one’s attitude towards property. 

“Education is crucial, not just for students but for parents as well, to instil an understanding of the value of IP from the early stages of the creative process. 

“By nurturing talent, Malaysia can produce high-quality content, creating more export opportunities and boosting the country’s GDP. This will help address the issue of foreign applicants surpassing local applicants for patent registration in Malaysia,” she said. 

Tung added that Malaysia’s emphasis on promoting creativity and innovation can lead to showcasing its original IP in the global market. 

“The country deserves recognition for its talents on the international stage, and by providing the necessary support, Malaysia can establish its reputation as a global leader in innovation and create a strong economy,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Ataka said in the future, local artists will have more options to work with global firms, while artists from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand will seek opportunities to work for Malaysian studios, either remotely or by relocating.

The govt is urged to consider opening Aswara to the commercial sector and enabling shared use of the university’s facilities to maximise the industry’s potential

Boosting Industry to Reach Full Potential

To further boost and reach the industry’s full potential, Kamil said Finas will suggest that the government consider opening a National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage of Malaysia (Aswara) to the commercial sector and enabling shared use of the university’s facilities to maximise the industry’s potential. 

“By doing this, we are providing access to centralised infrastructure, such as green screen technology and virtual production. This would be a significant support by the government to the private sector without incurring additional costs. 

“Additionally, incentives should be given to encourage collaborations with overseas-based institutions to address the severe lack of film courses and infrastructure in local branches,” he said. 

He added that Malaysia should look at and apply the “master and apprentice” formula in all the upskilling programmes. 

“By doing so, we can cultivate our talents and prepare them for the industry. It is worth noting that even Hollywood’s biggest projects credit numerous interns in their end credits, highlighting the importance of mentorship and cultivating talent,” he further explained. 

Focusing more on the digital transformation of the industry, Tung said it is crucial to embrace new technologies as a key initial step to truly unleash the industry’s full potential. 

“By keeping up-to-date on emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality and machine learning, we can leverage their capabilities to enhance our creative output and gain a competitive edge in the industry,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Ataka highlighted that the Malaysian talent pool today has a very skewed pyramid. 

While there are enough students graduating each year to enter the market, Malaysia is suffering from a severe shortage of lead or supervising-level artists to manage, advise and nurture new artists. 

“Many studios that I know are relying on expats, especially from India. This is partially due to the increasing number of new studios entering Malaysia through MDEC’s invitation. 

“I believe Malaysia is ready to shift its focus to reallocate the budget to invite higher skilled lecturers and supervisor-level artists to train and manage the younger artists, as Malaysia is now suffering from lack of proper guidance needed to succeed in the global market. 

“There are young talents who abandon this industry because they feel the pay scale compared to the hard effort they put in is out of balance. This is due, partially, to the fact they are not properly guided by the right people,” he explained. 

Ataka highlighted that IT infrastructure to support the production is becoming more complex and sophisticated as the creative industry grows. 

“The additional shortage the industry is facing are in programmers and system engineers. Programmers play a crucial role in improving the competitiveness of each studio by automating various tasks. Meanwhile, IT engineers would have the knowledge requirement for this industry which is quite unique,” he added. 

Retaining Talent to Further Develop Industry

Based on his observations and experiences, Kamil noted a positive shift in the mindset of Malaysian parents towards animation, thanks to Malaysian animated series Upin & Ipin’s amazing accomplishment, which paved the way for local talents to thrive. 

Nonetheless, he said the development of Malaysia’s own IP is critical, as is the production of animation content. 

“Malaysia has a wealth of creative talent that, if left untapped, risks being lured away by our neighbouring countries,” he said. 

Agreeing with Kamil, Tung also noted that the challenge faced by Malaysia is the loss of skilled talents to foreign companies that provide more appealing and profitable job opportunities. 

“Collaborative effort is necessary to retain local creative talents in Malaysia. The government, education sector and the creative arts industry need to work together to create job opportunities, increase funding, foster a creative culture, collaborate with the industry and create a supportive environment. 

“This will not only retain local talents but also promote Malaysia’s arts and culture on a global level,” she added. 

To conclude, Kamil highlighted that Malaysia should strive to attract more private entrepreneurs to participate in the industry, beyond merely serving as sponsors. 

“By bringing in more businessmen, the industry could become a self-sustaining economic sector, with the potential for startups to also participate through shares,” he said.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition