Hey, who did the research on this? Why on Earth has FINAS spent RM30 million on taxpayers money to build this facility?
There are many other aspects in the industry that needs immediate attention (and funding).
Fine - if they (FINAS) really think producers can afford the rental or technology well and good, but do they (the producers) really need it? Hey, they could have asked their Chairman the highly hyphenated Yang Berhormat Tan Sri Dato Dr Senator Jins Shamsudin whose own sound studio in Hulu Kelang closed down years ago for lack of business. Or even that Sarawakian businessman who opened a multi-million dollar digital sound studio in Petaling Jaya who in the end had to sell it off as it couldn't recoup its investment.
Nevertheless, let's first see it from a simple business point of view.
There are currently an average of 24 movies spending approximately RM1.5 each making a full length theatrical release locally. As far as I know only a handful of local movies actually went the Dolby way (officially).
Currently, most local films have gone digital surround but most do not pay the rights nor the license fee to actually carry the logo of Dolby or SDD or THX (because the fees are quite astronomical). (Note: the cost of mixing the film digitally with surround technology does not include the cost of carrying the logos of Dolby or THX or any such companies. The first local film to have paid the licence fee to carry the logo would be Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin's Jasmine - if I'm not mistaken).
The local producers, instead, would go to friends, who have either legal or illegal copies of audio post software like ProTools who would digitally mix their movies for them in the comfort of their small office or even at home using a RM50,000 PC or Mac set-up. They are cheap and (for our current requirements) technically acceptable.
How much would a producer spend of audio post per movie? Let's say they spend RM20,000 per picture. Now, if this is the same amount that the new facility in FINAS is going to charge - then it will take 1,500 movies for FINAS to earn back their investment (actually their investment is going to be more because of operating costs but let's just look at their initial outlay).
Now even if Malaysia now produces 50 films a year, and then, every producer uses the facility, it will take FINAS 30 years to recoup their finances! Wow!!!! Now, I may not be a fantastic business man lah, but if I take a business plan to investors or even bankers, and show the ROI (return of investment) only kicks in after 30 years - I would be chased out of the presentation room.
Look, currently, even in FINAS's feature film funding scheme, we have to pay back our loans within 3 years. Who in their right mind gives funds to projects whose returns can only be paid baik in 30 years lah???!!!
Now, what could they have used that RM30 million for? Well, I won't suggest funding mainstream movies as the mechanism for such is already in place - the RM50 million fund which is dished out to no-name producers and 'friendly parties' who failed miserably at the box office and have yet to settle their loans (but that's another posting for another day).
FINAS could have used this RM30 million windfall from don't-know-where in setting up at least 6 high quality digital cinemas (since the current cinema operators are dragging their feet in setting up such halls). We Malaysian producers are currently at the mercy of these cinema operators. They take 50 percent of our box office revenue and they don't even help share A&P costs.
So, imagine if FINAS sets up a cinema chain of their own - a national cinema chain - that is digital (allowing us film makers to shoot cheaply on the digital medium without having to spend money of kinetransfers and expensive 35mm screening copies) - it would open up a huge new business sector in the film industry.
For a start, three digital cinemas in KL and Penang each would be ideal.
This is what we need. With a national film chain, owned and managed by FINAS (if they are allowed to), filmmakers who dread making commercial and mainstream movies, can now try and produce movies that they have been wanting to do for ages - movies that are serious, personal and hopefully with more aesthetic values than Anak Mami or Duyong.
Once the digital cinemas are successful (and I'm sure with proper management it would), a franchise could be created whereby groups of producers and entrepreneurs can pool resources to repeat the model but on a smaller but wider scale - creating a chain of mini-digital cinemas around the nation in the numerous malls that we have.
Do also remember that revenue for cinemas are not only derived from ticket sales. A big percentage is from concessionaire sales (selling popcorn, drinks and snacks). A cafe attached to the mini-cinema can also bring in extra cash. Don't you think this is a much better investment for the taxpayers' money than the RM30 million sound studio?
Nevertheless, one does really hope and pray that the RM30 million sound studio will not become a white elephant. It would be disastrous for FINAS (who is already having an image problem of non being able to develop the local film industry to the max) if the studio fails to perform.
Hey, who knows? Maybe the operators of the facility is expecting to attract foreign feature film producers to use their facilities and hopefully kick in the much needed revenue. Maybe they have someone special in the MDeC (Multimedia Development Corporation) who can sweet talk Lucas or Spielberg or Scorses to come use the facility. Yeah yeah...I'm not going to bring up the Cyberjaya E-Village fiasco again - that's already history swept under the carpet.
But if that is their plan, then marketing a facility internationally means having to compete with the likes of Siamlab, Oriental Post and Adlab in Thailand and the many other labs in India and Hongkong. I wish them all the luck. They need it.
Let's not allow the state-of-the-art facility become state-of-the-fart studio.