Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Malaysian Film Industry Reboot

Been caught up with the whole Selangor MB issue - the intensity, the drama, the twists and turns, the dick jokes - that I just need to write about something else for a moment. That thing would be the proposed Malaysian Film Industry Reboot.

I'm writing it in English so I don't get sued. If I were to write it in Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese, it could be taken as propaganda aimed at the majority of the current Malaysian film audiences. At least by major Malaysian studios. Young people who understand English and actually want to read a pseudo-intellectual article - people who possess the lexicon and education to understand it - are all pretentious snobby bastards who don't watch local films anyway. They all want intellectual films like Transformers and Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.

So no one can prove loss of income in the court of law.

First, the problems:

1. The "industry" (note the quotation marks)

The Malaysian film industry sucks. The first thing is the fact that production houses and TV stations take all the money. In some other film industries - industries that can call themselves industries - almost everyone involved in the creative process gets a cut of the gross (an early Animaniacs cartoon taught me that nett doesn't exist and that I should always go for gross).

I don't know about the rest, but the Screenwriters Guild of America guarantees around 2.5% of gross across the board. This means if Tanda Putera V: Khalid Strikes Back makes RM100 million at the box office, the writers of the script/screenplay get RM2.5 million.

Which brings us to another thing. Scriptwriters don't usually get credit as screenwriters, no matter if they did any screenwriting or not. This is because directors take all the credit for screenwriting. Why? A few reasons.

First, most directors treat the script as a mere suggestion. When it comes to shooting, they sometimes just throw the script away for practicality or just for the fucks. Our pre-production process is in shambles and matters little for the final product. Some directors actually are the screenwriters themselves because they decide on the final product on the set.

I'm not making excuses for screenwriters. Observing all this, and knowing how much we're getting paid at the end of the project, we also make arrangements to finish a script as soon as possible. A lot of us jobbers were used to fixing things before a shoot or doing it on the fly.

Whereas in the West, if you did a great script, you can live off the royalties till you die a fat old person, over here, it is not unusual for scriptwriters to take on 10 jobs all at once. I did it. My friends did it.

And come award time, scriptwriters are recognised by exactly only one award - Anugerah Skrin. FFM does not recognise scriptwriters. They recognise screenwriters - who are actually the directors who change a lot of things on the shooting script.

Which brings us to awards. Who the fuck cares? Gay people. Yes, Malaysia has a vibrant gay community, working under the cover of shadows to turn straight young men into whatever.

Aside from them, those awards and award shows mean little other than to entertain some folks at home with slight pageantry as well as increase the asking price for some actors. Yes, you may disagree with me, and I might be wrong. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and are just my own wanking. Don't take them seriously. Or fuck off. I don't care.

And then, when all is said and done, the TV stations come and buy everything. The rights to a lot of movies. Do the production houses even get royalty? They might, nowadays. I'm not sure. I do know for a fact that most creative workers - cast and crew - get nothing.

2. The people

When I threw a pitch for an almost impossible movie, every cast and crew member said they could do it. I listened very carefully to what they have to say and believe that for most of them, it is just a matter of getting another job. They perhaps suspect that I could land them another gig.

I'm gonna talk about level of skill, so I'll be the first to admit that my capabilities as a screenwriter are limited at best. I see the same lack of polish across the board. There are many excuses, but fuck it. For example, I approach screenwriting like problem solving, based on my training as a computer programmer. It is my personal opinion that we currently lack the skill to do something great and the way the industry is set up means sometimes crew and technical people have to choose between getting it right, honing their skills or simply to put food in their families' bellies.

Don't get me wrong. There are highly-skilled people in the industry, but sometimes they, too, are burdened by extremely short deadlines and crazy budget restrictions. Producers always sell the fact that they are working on a million other future projects to keep the crew and cast motivated. "He's doing 10000 hours of TV after this. If I could just get 50 of that..."

The people who have been honing their skills are the ones in the Chinese film industry. Then you have crazy freaks like Dain Said.

Not 'missing talent', but there is hardly any way to even improve the level of skill on the job.

Actors? Acting? I believe if the crew can recognise bad acting, there wouldn't be bad acting anywhere. maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe we should do 3D stuff only. That way, we don't have to use actors.

I'm biased. Instead of spraying liquid shit and blood through my ass on them, let's get to the common enemy:

3. The audience

Filmmakers here LOVE blaming the audience. "It's not MY fault, you're too STUPID to get it. Get it? STOOOPID!"

Or "I make stupid movies because those sell well to our STOOOPID audience."

And then the audience say, "I'm not stupid. HOW DARE YOU! I watch intellectual movies like Transformers and Transformers: Age of Extinction. You're the one who is stupid, for making stupid films."

You know what? They are all correct.

Movies have become an extension of our identity, our brand, our ego. The movies we like, or how we like a movie, define our image we put forth to the world, even though all images are always lies.

And thus, movies and our taste in movies are used as both weapons and targets. If you don't like Bunohan, then you're an uncultured idiot. If you don't watch rempit movies, you are a fucking elitist snob. All that hate, from people who say they love movies.

I don't believe there is a formula to get audiences to choose the 'right' movies for them to watch. And I believe it is undemocratic to chastise anyone for watching and/or liking anything. It's like being angry at a girl for not liking the right person (you).

The only solution is for everyone to grow up. To mature. This will take over 500 years, but eventually, we will have a vibrant Malaysian film industry, if Malaysia stays above water for that long. Figuratively and literally.

The Plan:

So here's the plan. It's amazing and elegant in its simplicity.

First, destroy the film industry.

In order for this to happen, we need to stop making movies for say, 10 years. Let most of the cast and crew move on to TV or Youtube. Let them hone their skills there.

Next, we rebuild the industry.

This requires bureaucracy and a heavy hand from administration. Funds must be spread horizontally first and vertically after that for specific goals. Proper guilds ensuring a fairer distribution of wealth must be backed by the Government at first and then hands off. We already see Music Authors Copyright and Performers' Rights royalty collecting setups in Malaysia and while some of that is a clusterfuck, the fact that they are there shows that it is possible.

Some initiatives such as limited screens for certain types of local films can be done, and given to some in the industry for them to manage it into a sustainable venture or the continued grants for short films by young people (FINAS has done some in order to foster new talent and we can see it working somewhat).

Guilds can also be a way for the industry to increase its own skills. People hardly join filmcraft associations because the associations are not functioning as unions who fight for the right to say, 2.5% across the board. But the template is there. If the guilds are useful and relevant, then they will hold power and clout amongst the filmmakers. They will listen to the guilds, then, which opens up various opportunities.

Some filmmakers love to shoot the shit for free. Pay them some money and a lively sustained discourse can be started. I know young filmmakers to be very passionate in bed. I mean, very passionate about their craft and love talking about it all night long. Most of it is complaining, but it is a viable platform for the sharing of ideas, tips, tricks, and so on.

Finally, we engage the audience.

I hate the term 'educate the audience'. Educate them to what? To movies YOU like? Fucking elitists.

Okay. I like pinku eiga of the Roman-Nikkatsu era. How about I educate you to the merits of having body fat on actresses who do BDSM? Or perhaps the revival of pseudo-intellectual pron that addresses existentialism and social issues in porn movies such as The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai and The Cow Cries at Dawn?

Nobody likes things imposed on them. Shoved down their throats. So I believe the term 'educate the audience' as a stupid way to try and bully the masses into some form of approved thinking. Stupid because it will not work.

Malaysia does not really have a film-viewing culture. Our reactions to our politicians also reveal a lack of maturity in some quarters. Therefore, I postulate that aside from some low-hanging fruits in the initial reboot of the industry, the final goals of improving the industry will only be felt around 50-500 years in the future.

But hey, you got to start somewhere.