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Doc Edge 2011: Bang for her buck

Bang Productions is not a term to google with safe search off, but its founder Keiko Bang has a long and distinguished history in documentary film production and a much more salubrious track record than some of the other suggestions Google will offer. With a long and deep knowledge of producing in Asia, she was also the international guest most delegates and other guests spent most time queuing to get face time with.

Keiko Bang’s Bang Productions is headquartered in Singapore with offices elsewhere in Asia. Her company is not solely focused on documentary work, but was one of the first Asian companies working in the field to gain international exposure and contracts.

Sixteen years ago when Keiko created Bang Productions there was, she admits, a perception that the quality of Asian documentaries was very low. After what she describes as “years of banging on doors”, she began to see returns on her efforts to interest international networks in working with an Asian production company. She was the first independent producer in Asia ever to co-produce with Discovery Channel and one of the first to produce with NHK (Japan), PBS (US), Arte, France 5, ZDF (Germany) and Alliance Atlantis (Canada).

Bridging national and cultural boundaries was pretty much bred into Keiko. She was born in the US to a Japanese father and American mother, grew up in Tokyo and the US, then studied in the US, Taiwan and South Korea. She spent the early part of her career as a journalist on The Asian Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Institutional Investor, International Economy and other print publications before moving into TV as a reporter/producer, working for CNN (Korea), ABC News (US) and NHK (Japan), and in Hong Kong for what is now CNBC.

Since starting Bang Productions in Hong Kong in 1996, the theme of working across countries and cultures has remained strong. As well as working hard to build relationships beyond Asia, Keiko has worked to build them within the region.

Last year, Bang Productions and Yves Juneau (founder of France’s Sunnyside of the Doc) jointly organised Asian Side of the Doc (ASD), which held its inaugural gathering in Hong Kong. The event, held alongside Hong Kong’s Filmart and the HK Asia Finanacing Forum (HAF), drew a large mix of documentary filmmakers and commissioners from Asia and Europe.

In keeping with Bang’s pan-Asian focus, the event has moved on to Seoul this year, moving dates to avoid a clash with Filmart and ducking and weaving to find a slot not already occupied in a rapidly-expanding Asian event calendar.

Singapore, where Bang now has its head office, is one of the places in Asia where the government takes investment in the media industries seriously, pumping in large amounts of money to a variety of funds to promote the local creative industries internationally.

Bang has recently had a hand in setting up one of these funds. In November last year Bang Productions announced a US$50 million fund to develop new international films “with a substantive Asian focus.” The fund’s other partners are Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA), Korea’s CJ Entertainment and Asia Media and Technology Capital (AMTC).

Bang’s participation is part of a wider strategic move which will see the company expand into executive production for projects of all genres in Asia.

As well as winning a rash of awards and garnering an even bigger rash of nominations at various Asian award events over the last 15 years, Bang was the only Asian production to make Realscreen’s list of the world’s 100 most influential documentary production companies in 2006.

Not surprisingly, Keiko is multi-lingual. While not speaking a language is not always a barrier to doing business in some countries, being able to speak it certainly helps. She is a regular speaker and mentor on the international documentary conference circuit.

Bang Productions works not only in content creation, but also in consultancy, through which it has built strong relationships at both corporate and government levels across the region. Put bluntly, she knows where the money is hidden, and possibly the bodies too.

Ms Bang is currently working with 200 Japanese companies on a government-sponsored initiative to help producers understand “fundamentals of co-production and Western style documentary filmmaking and to distribute their products to channels in Asia and around the world.”

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