The Malaysian film industry is unique because it reports to many Ministries. Previously (before last week's announcement of the new cabinet make up), it was subservient to the Ministry of Information, Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Science, Technology and Information, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Finance and various State and Municipal bodies.
For example, for television production, most companies have to liaise with RTM which is under the auspice of Ministry of Information (MOI). Filmmaking on the other hand falls under the umbrella of FINAS which is part of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. Censorship pulak is under Home Affairs Ministry.
Animation and new content however has a lot of dealings under MOSTI or rather under MDec and MCMC (who also presides over the private sector broadcasters).
For post production, most companies refer to MITI for rebates of film equipment and accessories.
Furthermore, for you to do business with RTM or any other Ministry for that matter, you need to have your Kewangan status approved by MOF.
Rebates for box office returns, on the other hand, you need to apply for it through various State governments; likewise cinema owners licence and operating permit are tied to Municipal councils.
Now, after the cabinet shake up last week, the scenario has somewhat changed. Ministry of Information has now 'converged' with Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage and (surprisingly) Ministry of Communications. Now all TV and radio stations, private and government have been put under one Ministry. Film and TV are no more separated as RTM and FINAS, and Film Negara will be under one roof.
Animation, CGI and post production (and digital content) will also be working under the same roof.
So, the new Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim (who has been MOI Minister twice before) has been appointed to helm this now very powerful and massive Ministry.
I hope Datuk Seri Rais (pictured above) will once again look deeply into the problems that exist in the film and television industry, and understand that one cannot survive without the other.
Television industry has always been the breeding ground for filmmakers whilst the television industry in itself is an important ancillary market for feature films after its theatrical run ends.
As you would have known from reading my earlier postings, I am not much of a FINAS fan. I see it under performing under the current Director General for the past two years. FINAS can be a powerful entity supporting and developing local film production and talents, but it has somewhat neglected its role in the industry. Some may say that I am sour grapes, but let me just show you one example. Education and training is important, not only in the film industry but also in every industry, yet if someone receives an offer to study film in a prestigious college like the AFTR (Australian Film, Television and Radio) College or even in USC, UCLA or NYU, to name just a few, there is no scholarship scheme or study grant available from FINAS for such purposes. Amazing isn't it? Of course, FINAS says it hosts and organise regular workshops and master classes here in Kuala Lumpur, but I don't think that's enough. Fine, for those who are trying to make ends meet in the industry and want to upgrade their knowledge and skills to a certain extent that may be enough, but if a quality institution like USC or UCLA gives you an opportunity to study film on their premises, I don't see why scholarships or grants cannot be made available.
If FINAS can give loans and grants up to a few hundred thousand ringgits for making short films, monies for overseas education should also be available for budding young filmmakers.
The process of giving out loans for filmmaking too needs a complete overhaul. Too many producers and directors who pitched unproductive projects have been given money and to which the projects either stalled and died at the box office or at the hands of the film critics.
I believe, that if the filmmakers are in the business of making commercial movies and that they believe in the project's success, they should find private investors and not apply loans or grants from FINAS.
FINAS's ultimate role is to develop and help produce Malaysian movies with unique visions and ideas that would be accepted by the viewing public and also the festival market at large. They are there to help Malaysian movie makers get noticed.
And only through the development of such quality movies (albeit maybe non-commercial content) would world class Malaysian filmmakers be created.
These filmmakers must be allowed to make personal movies, interesting movies with unique visions without financial tension and pressure. Only through a radical makeover of the funding process would these filmmakers create such masterpieces.
FINAS should also re imagine themselves as the champion of local movies (Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English languages ones). They should create new marketing strategies to help increase the viewership of local movies in Malaysia itself, and then regionally and later internationally. They should study and maybe implement new exhibition policies for local films even to the extent of creating an outdoor kampung-to-kampung screening of the latest local movies (harking back to the old days). Such events, coordinated and assisted by the artistes and producers, would bring the film industry, and indirectly the entertainment industry, to the people. At the end of the day, it is the people that matters.
They are the ones who buy movie tickets, purchase DVDs and VCDs and pay subscription to watch the latest productions on TV, with their hard earned money. They (the public) cannot be taken for granted and since they pay good money, they must be entitled to good products. The public cannot be shortchanged anymore. It is about time, the film industry delivers quality Malaysian films to the public regularly and consistently.
And on a personal note to Datuk Seri Rais Yatim, I do hope he investigates the massive distribution of 'hours' from RTM to only a handful of companies, who then hold the local production community at ransom by subbing these hours to them at rock bottom prices. These companies, for example, are 'guaranteed' by RTM at least RM100,000 for a 90-minute telemovie. These companies then find gullible and desperate producers and filmmakers to produce said material at a cost of RM70,000 or less.
These producers, obviously, also want to make around RM15,000 to RM20,000 in profit and therefore budgets RM50,000 for the production.
What happens is that RTM pays RM100,000 for crap material made for half the price. No one wins. Only the vendors. They make at least RM30,000 for doing nothing, and if they make 52 telemovies a year (one per week), these middlemen make RM1.5 million in clean profits with not much risk. What's more disheartening is that this is just a small part of their concessions. They are also allowed to produce never ending TV series, magazine programmes and other materials are dirt cheap prices and high profit margins.
If this does not stop, RTM loses out, the local film community loses out and last but not least, the biggest losers are the viewers at home.