Local films struggle at the box office
Cinema

Creativity or originality does not necessarily sell — most producers are stuck between their creative ingenuity or the pay check

By SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / Pic by BLOOMBERG

Abang Long Fadhil 2

A billboard along the Sungai Besi highway showed the movie poster for Abang Long Fadil 2. This is the sequel to Abang Long Fadil, which grossed about RM4.6 million in 2014. Such promotion is a rarity for the local movie industry.

In the first five days of its release in August, the sequel was already making more money at the box office than the original first movie, racking in RM5 million in ticket sales.

Within 39 days, the action comedy starring Zizan Razak had grossed RM17.9 million, smashing the previous record held by Polis Evo that collected RM17.8 million in 2015.

Abang Long Fadil 2 was one of the peaks in the challenging local movie industry. But those peaks have been far and few in between.

In contrast, other releases this year — like the much talked about love story Bisik Pada Langit — had grossed RM1 million after 60 days at the cinema, while Mendidih Bro and Luqman only generated RM4,090 and RM3,911 respectively.

According to figures from the National Film Development Corp Malaysia (Finas), local films generated RM34 million in ticket sales as at Oct 4 for the release of 40 films, including Chinese and Tamil flicks.

That paled in contrast to the RM80 million ticket sales recorded from the 46 local movies released last year. The year 2015 saw RM52 million posted in ticket sales from 80 locally-produced films.

A Good Script is Not Enough

A good script and a strong cast are not enough to create a box office excitement among local movie buffs.

Finas board member Zahrin Aris said promotions are critical to the success of a local film and some producers have failed to provide an effective marketing strategy.

He said ticket sales largely depend on the amount of promotion that the production house has in plan.

“The box office does not necessarily translate into the quality of a movie. In the past, there were good movies with good values and message, but did not generate enough returns. “The industry is definitely lacking in promotional and marketing strategies. In terms of demand, local films could not compete with Western movies, as the latter have a worldwide organic demand.

“But our local films should do well as it is closer to home,” he said to The Malaysian Reserve.

Indeed, local movies are left behind the track. Kingsman: The Golden Circle alone grossed almost RM12 million from Sept 21-24, while The Fate of the Furious did RM31.5 million from April 13-16, according to Box Office Mojo figures.

Social Media Influencing Movie Success

In the last few years, action movies like Abang Long Fadil 2 and Polis Evo have been fan favourites.

However, Zahrin said that there is no one “perfect formula” in producing a high-grossing film.

He said it depends mainly on the audience’s interest. But social media comments and reviews are becoming more prominent in determining the success or failure of a flick.

“When we do an informal monitor, a movie which receives bad reviews from the audience through Facebook and other mediums tend to do badly, despite it being a high-budget film.

“Some comments in the earlier period of a screening would also affect the audience in the later showings, as it scales down the rating.

“We could not determine what is working and what is not,” he added.

Zahrin said there is a sense of unpredictability about the local film industry, as seen in the swing in ticket collection for the past few years.

“We see it as an industry that has highs and lows. It depends on the distribution from the film producers. At Finas, we are trying to push as much as possible for the movies to do well in cinemas through funds and incentives,” he said.

In 2016, Finas disbursed RM2.11 million worth of incentives to 23 local productions that released 33 films.

“To further spur both development and promotion of local films, producers can apply for funds and incentives from Finas. For example, producers can apply for a promotion fund with a maximum amount of RM300,000 for each film.

“But they have to go through a process for us to properly evaluate the movie and their plans of promoting the movie. This stringent process will ensure that the fund will be used in an effective way,” he said.

Finas also introduced a compulsory screening period for films which are entitled to receive the incentive benefits.

“After a movie is approved for cinema release by the Film Censorship Board, producers can apply for the government’s compulsory screening scheme, which allows a movie to be screened for at least 14 days.

“But the film has to comply with several requirements set by Finas, such as the film has to achieve 15% from the total capacity of ticket collections in a respective cinema, for a period of three days.

“Films with small budgets usually are left behind in the promotional side, and this scheme would be an advantage to them. Due to the average success rate of local films, we think the required percentage is a reasonable target to achieve,” Zahrin said.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Creativity or originality does not necessarily sell. Most producers are stuck between their creative ingenuity or the pay check. Most times, something must give.

Like any investment, movie financiers are looking at the financial returns. Time and time again, this has been a thorn to many directors and movie makers.

Local filmmaker Nasir Jani said filmmakers are often torn between producing quality films, or conforming to the audience’s demand and the box office collection.

“Making a film that people like will guarantee good returns — but the interest does not necessarily reflect good movies.

“For the current situation of the industry, filmmakers have to find a good balance between movies with values and good returns.

“But from what I have seen, films with real values are starting to take the front stage and filmmakers have managed to find a way out of the scenario. In the end, it is up to the filmmakers to produce films for the art or otherwise,” he said.