Wattpad Webtoon Studios ‘very eager’ to grow Australian footprint

Wattpad Webtoon head of global film Lindsey Ramey.

Integrated entertainment platform Wattpad Webtoon Studios is seeking to grow its Australian presence, with global head of film Lindsey Ramey highlighting the importance of the country’s storytellers when attending last week’s inaugural Futures Conference in Sydney.

Wattpad, a Canadian social storytelling platform that connects readers and writers, and uses audience data to determine which projects to develop, announced a partnership with Screen Queensland in 2020 to launch a new development initiative based on its DNA Machine Learning Technology.

Since then the company has merged its creative division with that of digital comics platform Webtoon, creating a multi-format studio with a focus on global fan and data-driven TV shows, films, and books, for which South Korean parent company Naver committed $US100 million.

The combined venture, which has worked with the likes of Netflix, Sony Pictures Television, The Jim Henson Company, Vertigo Entertainment and Penguin Random House, announced an expansion of its operations last year, establishing a new animation division led by Taylor Grant, while appointing Sera Tabb as head of global television and promoting Ramey to head of global film.

Among the projects it is developing are a feature film version of Elizabeth A. Seibert’s The Bro Code  from writer Dominic Morris and producer Nadine Bates, which was selected alongside a series adaptation of Kate J. Squires’ How To Lose Weight and Survive The Apocalypse from writer Siobhan Domingo and producer Elizabeth Simard as part of the Screen Queensland initiative.

Ramey said the studio was in the process of packaging the feature with a director and lead cast, adding she was “very eager” to build more relationships with production companies and distributors across the various states.

“[Australia] is a really important market because it’s one that does expand on a global scale,” she said.

“We see Australian content, like UK content, as being able to translate to a global audience and there’s always been a great pool of talent that comes out of here.

“I think it’s always good to make sure we have a strong foothold specifically in the English-speaking markets, because we are such a global company.”

Ramey joined composer Charlie Chan, Paramount Global futurist Ted Schilowitz, Rising Sun Pictures co-founder and managing director Tony Clark, New Canvas CEO Nathan Anderson and Screen Producers Australia president Tracey Vieira in the speaker lineup for last week’s event, which took place across Monday and Tuesday at the ICC.

The former Lionsgate production and development director, who has also served as vice president of production and development at LA-based companies Heyday Films and Hypnotic, appeared on stage with Vieira as part of a session entitled The Power of Story: Creators, Audiences and Screen.

It’s a subject she is well-versed to speak on in her position, which includes overseeing as many as 150 domestic and international projects at various stages of progress while engaging with audience data from a user base made up of more than 166 million people worldwide.

In taking IP forward, Ramey said the company always strove to hit the “sweet spot” between audience-driven information and market-driven entertainment but noted long and short-term trends across the Wattpad and Webtoon platforms.

“Romance is always this evergreen space; people love relationships and love stories,” she said.

“What’s interesting is seeing that as the core beating heart of most of the stories across Wattpad and Webtoon.

“During COVID, we saw an uptick in post-apocalyptic stories and then a shift once people got out of that fear space and wanted to go more towards escapism.

“On Webtoon, we also see a lot of stories that circle around bullying and a protagonist being bullied, but then finding power within themselves or obtaining a tool that helps them find internal empowerment.”

Ramey said having “an enormous pool” of IP to draw from would allow the studio to continue to conversations with producers and build partnerships amid the actor and writer strikes in the US, also citing a burgeoning Spanish-language footprint in Spain and Mexico as an area of focus moving forward.

“We’ve balanced putting to finding partners in the US and then continuing to push our international development forward in markets where people are still available to write

“We really support the writer strike and what the WGA is doing, so we are being really mindful about that as we do our work.”