This is what happens when a local producer puts out a film:
The film gets released and is shown at cinema halls and competes with other local movies and international movies. So when you are lining up for your tickets, be aware that every time you choose between movies, you are casting a vote as to how successful all the movies are in relation to each other.
There are about 30-35 individual cinema halls in Malaysia (compare this to one thousand in Tokyo alone and you get an idea about how small the whole thing is). When there is a blockbuster movie such as Pirates or Spiderman, the exhibitor (TGV/GSC/Cineleisura, independent exhibitor, etc) will probably give 60-80% of their biggest halls to reap the best of benefits. This means local films (if there are any released at the time) or other films get the smaller ones or the worst times (early morning, early in the week).
THis is where Wajib Tayang comes in. A local film has the option to go through WT as an added security. Any film given the WT certificate gets a guaranteed 2 weeks showing in the theatres, no matter how well it does at the box office. This means that an exhibitor cannot pull it off the showlist even with poor sales. It is supposed to protect our industry, and to a certain extent it does. However I think there are a few issues which arise with it.
First, let me take you back to Buli and Buli Balik, which were released under WT. After two very successful weeks, there was a significant drop in sales and the reason was purely because after the 2-week point, the exhibitors could reduce the showings as they saw fit. New international movies came out, etc. Buli went from having 6 or more showings a day to two, one in the morning and one at night. Still, it continued to do well.
I tell you this because it brings up one of the issues I am concerned with : that the exhibitors will take calculated risks, and that the odds always seem to favour new international releases that are potential blockbusters. So even with a big seller like Buli, the view is that the potential sales from Buli would be far outstripped by the as-yet-unknown sales of the international release. On one hand, thank goodness for the WT certification which guaranteed two weeks of a good showing.
On the other, a bigger issue comes up - the issue of space (or demand or supply).
If local films are competing against international blockbusters for space in the cinemas, why don't we just have more cinemas?
Is it a matter of supply? I'm sure exhibitors would relish the thought of more collections. So is it a question of demand? Do exhibitors fear that there wouldn't be enough people to fill all the extra cinemas? Don't think so. I think movie-going is becoming more and more of a culture here. And of course there are cinephiles who would watch every movie they could if they had enough time and cash. And there are many out there who would watch more local movies now, with the better quality we are getting all round.
And I think this is where we are really waiting for a time when moviegoer mindsets and business mindsets align - if an exhibitor were willing to continue showing a successful local movie fully (not reduced showings after the two-week mark) then perhaps they would see there is a lot of potential with a good local blockbuster. However, the mindset is that local movies are not supported by the whole audience, only by the ethnic group to which it belongs. I think this is only partly true as I believe there is a change underway.
There is the moviegoer mindset too, which is currently changing I think. More and more people would rather enjoy the cinema experiece than get a cheaper, tackier version to watch in a lonely living room. And more and more people expect good quality and good ambience in the theatre. Nothing beats seeing a great movie on a huge screen surrounded by people who are loving every minute as you do.
What really is the issue as I see it, is not the demand for more space for showings, but the demand for BETTER QUALITY local films. Films that could compete with international films.
A totally free market in the industry is the ultimate, I think, though it may be too early for that here in Malaysia. By free market I mean a film would reflect its success purely in box office terms, and would continue to show if it is successful, unhindered by other releases. By it being too early for Malaysia, I mean two things -
Protectionism means there is no real free market. But Wajib Tayang still has a very important role because of the stigma local movies have of not being high on the list for viewers, and its protection is necessary for some movies because we can't have the industry suffer too many losses at the box office. Thus it is too early to do away with it, nor am I advocating that at this time, though I think ultimately we should strive for a stronger industry so that we can do without it.
This brings me to the supply of local films. In a free market, if the people ignore a movie, that's it, it bombs. No chance for box office success that Wajib Tayang certification sometimes gives. This means higher risk for the producers and the exhibitors, whom it costs to make way for the movie. It also means more and more producers will have to consider actually making movies with the satisfaction fo the masses in mind, that don't insult their intelligence or waste their time. In short, give the people what they want - good stories, told well, that entertain and maybe enlighten.
All this brings me to something that has come up for Sumolah. In order to keep within the confines of our agreement with major sponsors, we have to release the film before the end of March. Trouble is, if we go through Wajib Tayang, we have to sit in a queue till they decide which is the best date to release, which will not conflict with the dates of other local movies, or international releases. The queue is really long for this year and it seems the slots for Feb and March are filled up.
We have another option, that is to release without a WT certification. Sumolah is expected to be a big release, no doubt about that. But some opposition has come up about doing that, because there are concerns that its release will squash the sales of other local movies. To me, though the sentiment is valid, it is illogical. Sumolah could do that even with a WT certificate. I think the fear is that once one movie is successful without the protection of the WT, then WT will cease to be a significant body - which I do not think is true at this moment. There are still many elements from which the WT cert protects against failure.
My ideal? A place where the success of a local film is determined by the audience reaction. It is a business after all, and even movies made purely for entertainment need to respect their consumers. Producers and directors, writers and actors will have to keep in mind that they cannot present an all-round crappy film. And audiences will be movie-literate enough to know what a good film is - and be able to separate their desire to see a celebrity act from their desire to experience a great performance.
So, local movie will have to get rid of that stigma and be comparable to an international film in order to make it in a free market. Then maybe more and more halls will open up, providing more and more opportunity for watchers and more business for showers.
As with all ideals, it is an up-in-the-air kind of wishful theory and needs a long hard climb upwards to get there. But with more vocal people and more insistence on better quality, the move forward begins.
So be vocal! Insist on the best. Not just in forums of dicussion, but one on one with the people around you who either don't mind bad local movies or never watch any because they assume all local movies are crap.