About six months ago, it was announced that Netflix would be producing a six-part series titled The Ghost Bride based on a New York Times bestseller of the same name, by Malaysian author Yangsze Choo. Now Netflix has made it clear that this series is part of its larger plan to tap into the talent and content from South East Asia, a market that consists of approximately 650 million people. The Ghost Bride and Thai series The Stranded will be the first of Netflix’s original Southeast Asian content.
In an interview with THR, Erika North, Netflix’s director of international original programming talked about Netflix’s holistic perspective towards content creation and curation.
“There’s a huge concentration of film talent in Southeast Asia. From a Netflix perspective we really think about content in a holistic way. We’re really thinking about the way we can engage with producers and content creators across the spectrum, from licensing through to originals. For us it’s about finding the best way to access content and to procure that content for the widest possible audience.”
As a Netflix subscriber myself, it’s easy to see that North isn’t just giving a PR friendly answer. Over the past few years, Netflix has placed a lot of emphasis on Asian content. I would argue that one of the best original content on Netflix right now is an Indian crime drama titled Sacred Games. On top of that, Netflix also constantly updates its library of non-original content with plenty of Asian stuff, including Malaysian movies such as Paskal, One Two Jaga, Jagat, Interchange and Bunohan. And it looks like the library is only going to continue to expand.
The two Southeast Asian original series from Malaysia and Thailand will be joined by two other Taiwanese original series Nowhere Man and Triad Princess. What’s great is that all these projects will be available to stream on Netflix accounts all of the world — 190 markets to be specific — with subtitles and/or dubbed versions.
“Over the last year and a half, we have been identifying some of the great programmings that exists in these markets on the TV and film side, and bringing that to a greater audience. We’re really excited about where we’re going. For filmmakers, hopefully what we offer is going to be a bit of a game changer.”
This certainly puts a smile on my face for two reasons. For one, while Southeast Asia as a whole has not reached the level of Hollywood as far overall filmmaking goes, every now and then we produce films/TV series that are of global standards. It would be great if these projects manage to find an audience and generate buzz outside of the region. Erika North is just as excited.
“Our goal is to really show what kind of quality content can we deliver and how widely can it travel. It’s an exciting proposition. Great stories travel.”
On top of that, countries like Malaysia have very strict censorship laws as far as theatrical releases are concerned. However, online, these censorship laws do not apply. Netflix’s interest in producing more films in this region would allow filmmakers to spread their wings and express themselves in a fairly unrestricted manner. If a Malaysian filmmaker wishes to make a series centred around corrupt cops and the LGBT community, he/she will be able to on Netflix.
However, Zainir Aminullah and his producing partner Ideate Media stresses that for Netflix to produce these content, they need to have an international appeal.
“It comes down to finding stories that are common enough, in terms of the themes and concepts, that an international audience can also relate to. Then we go down to the basics, and I’m talking about the storytelling, the structure. That might be lacking or in need of improvement from the region. It needs to follow a certain structure that will appeal to an international audience. A lot of times it has been only been relevant to the local audience, and beyond that they struggle.”
But this isn’t an issue, at least not for The Ghost Bride which has brought on American-Taiwanese scribe Kai Yu (Hannibal, The Flash) to work together with writers from Malaysia and Taiwan.