I went to the launch of the multi-million ringgit dolby digital soundmix studio in Finas last night (Sunday). It was officially launched by our Deputy Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak. As with many entertainment industry launches involving high ranking officials, the bash was quite impressive with the dinner accompanied by live performances from Amy Search and Annuar Zain. Fullamak!!! Plenty of colorful dances and not-so-bad beriani. I still remember with much fondness the magnificent launching of the E-Village in Dengkil many many years ago. That project was supposed to have been the catalyst for Malaysian movies going global, but everyone knows what happened to the multi-million ringgit project after the launch right?
FINAS has also declared the facility as the first digital soundmix studio in Malaysia. Wow! Wonder what the audio-post facilities like Synchrosound, AdAudio, Betarecs, Kings Studio, APV and the sound studios in TV3 and Astro are? Analog?
Oh okay, it's Dolby! So okay, justified mahhh!
The studio is quite massive - lots of wide corridors and spacious rooms. I just managed to see the main soundmix room - with a state of the art soundmix console - very impressive.
I also got a glimpse of the main-frame room - counted four G5s. Impressive.
I didn't get to see the recording room and the foley room. So I cannot say whether or not those rooms are also impressive.
The cost is also impressive. When first mooted I heard it costs RM30 million. Yesterday, I heard someone say it was RM50 million. Whatever lah... it's a multi-million ringgit facility. And it's the government's way of showing that they support the local film industry...very impressive.
I have actually written about this studio facility before - and I remarked then that at RM30 million (and this figure does not take into account the annual opex), I shudder to think about the ROI (Return of Investment) scenario. Then I heard them saying that it's the government's gift to the industry, and therefore, they are not looking to make a profit out of it...yeayyyyy!!! I hope they take this spirit further and let us use the facility for free.
I mean as a producer, who would use it? We haven't even seen a Rate Card.
Who is going to be behind the consoles? A civil servant with a three month training or a genuine sound engineer with a degree in film sound and with years of experience in sound design and direction? Or an expat who fears going back home and losing his expat allowances and perks?
How good will the total service be? Would you risk your film in a brand new facility like this? Or do you still send your films to Bangkok or India where the rates are competitive and the service world class and you know the people behind it?
Let's take the Foley Studio for example. For those who don't know what a foley studio is, it is where we add in physical sound effects (when such sound effects are not readily available on the sound effects library).
When I did my foley in Hongkong, the room was full of stuff - from mini-doors (for opening and closing door cound effects), to dozens of male and female shoes, to gravel and sand, wooden floor panels and a multitude of textiles. All these to match the action they see on the screen.
These foley artistes look at the scene one time, and then they prepare whatever stuff they need to match the action on screen and record it in real time - synchronised. And these guys were good. They usually get it the first time, but sometimes, they request to do the sounds a second time - just to make sure. There will also be times, multiple layers of different sounds are synched in.
Now remember, these guys work fast because the more work they do the more money they get. Time is of the essence to them and to the producer. And they do it day in day out, and for most of them, it's like second nature.
I wonder if we will have any foley artistes that are of that standard - professional and fast. We shall see.
If they do, it will be impressive.
But then again who will be the first to try?
Producers, I believe, will still keep on going to Bangkok, Chennai and Hongkong, because the studios there are service oriented. They know our needs, they know how to market their services. And it is a one stop facility - from digital audio to sweetening to color grading, to kinetransfer or telecine, to special effects, opticals and graphics right up to the A Prints and release prints. All under one roof. Senang kerja. Can we do this at FINAS? I'm not so sure.
But we must support our local industry, so let's see what the cost of doing digital audio post there will be. If it costs more than the cost of doing the same thing in Bangkok, I doubt the scenario will change. But if those who receive loans and grants from the government for the movies are forced to use the facilities, than maybe, there will be a hive of activity soon at FINAS.
However, a week's work in finishing your movie in Bangkok offers various other perks that are very hard to ignore.
Let's take another look at the cost of the completing the new digital studio.
Just look at the simple mathematics.
A producer spends an average of RM50,000 on audio post - digital or analog. That's about it. Any more spent on it, would and may cut into the profitability of the film itself.
Now, if that's what producers spend on sound in films, it will take 600 films to recoup the RM30 million initial investment of the studio. If local producers make 30 films a year, it will therefore take 10 years to recoup.
Now if only ten producers use the studio per year, it will instead take 30 years to complete. By then, the technology might be obsolete. And I will be 80.
Now, where do we find the producers to make 30 movies a year? If we can find these producers, where do these producers screen their films?
Thirty local titles means an average of 2.5 movies per month or a new movie screened in the cinemas every fortnight.
Even if we have these screens, where are the moviegoers? Are there enough people who would be willing to see two local movies per month every month for a year? This means they would have to spend around RM300 on movies (this cost escalates when you factor in their dates and the amount of popcorn and coke they consume when watching movies).
Whatever or however you look at it, the numbers and statistics send shivers down the producers spine. And you know, times are difficult at best.
Worse still, if you make a movie now, you will end up in the screening queue, and if you are film number 30, you have to wait a year before you can screen your movie and get your returns (if people decide to watch your movie lah).
Heck, never mind lah, at least the film will have good sound - Dolby some more!!
Oh yes, by the way, did you know that if you use the Dolby logo on your movie and posters you have to pay a licence fee? The last I checked its about RM18,000 for the territory of Malaysia. If your movie travel across borders, the fee increases exponentially. Interesting isn't it? Too bad many local producers don't know about this little matter.
Now, would Wayang or Antoo Fighter or even Budak Kelantan have fared better if they had Dolby sound? If they did, now THAT would be impressive!
TRIVIA: First ever Malaysian movie to use Dolby Surround is Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan directed by Jamil Sulong and produced by Kay/Sarimah Films Sdn Bhd.