Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lord of Destruction

A week or two ago, a friend approached me with news of an investor who wants to make films. Said investor has a few million ringgit to do movies and my friend was wondering whether I had any sure-fire hits in my computer.

I asked him, "Is the guy doing movies for money, or for satisfaction?"

"Money," he said.

"Then go into the food business."

I am now in the middle of completing two separate budgets for two completely different projects. One is a corporate communications strategy and the other is a creative pitch budget. None of them has anything to do with movies. Both have production work, of course, but none for movies.

The numbers are simply not encouraging, as I have specified earlier on this website. Last year, the Malaysian film scene churned out 76 films at a total budget of RM123 million. These films took RM97 million, notching a loss of 26 million or 21%.

It means a return rate of 79 cents to the dollar if the graph stays the same. On average. You could still make money, as some do, or you could do worse.

This, at a time when box office collections for all movies shown in Malaysia has increased by roughly 300% since six years ago. Last year we saw the total gross at over RM600 million.

Hans Isaac recently made waves with his disappointment at Lemak Kampung Santan which raked in around RM100,000 at the Raya box-office. Hans wants to quit films, he said in an interview with Astro Awani. I don't blame him.

I went to an open house today and met some people in the industry. Lots of frustration, and some hope.

A few still believe you just need to keep delivering better stories. That Malaysian actors are now bloody brilliant and the audience no longer cares about celebrity and star power to decide which movie they go to.

I did not disagree simply because yes, this is true, but it is not the complete answer. And neither are any one party to blame and no, I do not believe there has been vast improvement in any discipline - my personal opinion. I believe everyone shares in their responsibilities for the slow decay of the film scene.

Some people are already pushing alarm bells - more in favour of steps taken by the Korean or Indonesian governments, for instance, limiting the number of screens that can show foreign films or slap a hefty tax on foreign entertainment.

This could mean an increase in ticket prices for Avengers 2 or the next Superman movie. From an informal survey conducted amongst prostitutes in Indonesia, it seems as if this has resulted in resentment from some quarters of the public.

"I only listen to dangdut and watch dangdut concerts," said one well-spoken lady of the night. "I do not give a fuck - literally - about the TV and film industry."

A quick check at the new Malaysian Culture Minister and the only announcement he has made is 'suggesting' playing the National song in cinemas. And only during Merdeka season.

So, maybe no movement there, for a while. Or maybe they will move at an inopportune time, as ministers are usually prone to do.

The Government often seems to believe that '70s style Dharma Initiative brainwashing is still applicable to all 28 million Malaysians and we should not be surprised if this trend continues.

Me? I'm hoping for reincarnation. I believe that once the money people are out of the scene, only the passionate ones - who believe that better stories, better acting, better technical skills are the solution - will stay on.

Maybe we should do Iran-style movies, as some people who are passionate about films only concern themselves with the possibilities of our films making it to international film festivals, commercial success be damned. Iran is renowned for its artistic films, but also manages to produce 130 - mostly commercial - films a year, on average.

For every artistic Iranian film, the numbers dictate there are 10 or more 'commercial films' and some of these overlap. I don't know which because I have only seen exactly ONE Iranian film, and didn't quite enjoy it because it did not have manly men in trenchcoats walking away from explosions without looking back.

Or boobies.

Meanwhile, I am content with my regular role as an observer and wanker of epic proportions. And now if you'll excuse me, I have another budget to edit.

Oy vey.