Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Malaysian Film Financing, 2+2 = 3

Things are getting weirder and weirder for the Malaysian film industry – especially for the local TV Producers. At times when financing sources are drying up, the few banks that are doing so have decided to do some creative accounting. I guess since it is the creative industry we are talking about, the accounting too needs to be creative.
Now, we poor producers are always on the look out for convenient sources of funding. The new Creative Industry Fund or CIF is much welcomed. However, it is now being handled by Bank Simpanan Nasional, and they are currently in a flux try to find out the best way to disburse the funds to local players.
Once BSN gets its act together, most applications will be dealt with in a fortnight, and loans up to RM5 million can be applied for and received under this scheme with a fantastic 2% interest rate.
All these look great on paper. Let’s see what happens in real life.
Now there is another bank that funds local filmmakers and have done so for the past few years.
They charge at the normal 8% commercial rate, but it is attractive to most TV producers because you can apply for it without having to put up any collateral. They accept personal and directors’ guarantees. Of course, they only fund parties that have real contracts with stations. So basically, what they are doing is factoring your contracts.
A couple of years ago, this bank, in lieu of the non-collateral policy, decided to cover their backs by imposing a mechanism called the sinking fund. This sinking fund aims to get a cash collateral of 20% of your available total funding line. It will be placed in a fixed deposit at another bank giving you a 2% interest.
So if the bank offers you a line of RM2 million, they will keep RM400,000.00 into the sinking fund taken from the payments paid to you by the stations over a period of time. This money is returned to you once you do not owe the bank any more money and close the funding line.
Previously, they deduct the 20% from the final payment you receive from the TV stations. To the producers, what this means is that your gross profit goes into safekeeping because that’s what producers make in this business – 20 percent.
However, we made do with this funding mechanism.
This year, some smart alec decided to change the mechanism. Now the bank has decided that the sinking fund needed to be increased to 30 percent!
To make the fund look less attractive, they also decided that half of that sinking fund should be taken from the producers upfront before the first drawdown.
The balance for the sinking fund will then be deducted or taken from the payment made by the station.
So if you have a half a million contract with RTM for instance, before any drawdown is made from this bank, you need to put up RM75,000.00 cash collateral into your sinking fund.
Later, when RTM pays you the full amount once the project is delivered to them, the bank wallops another RM75,000.00 from this payment – a total of 30% from your billings.
Wait, don’t forget the 8% interest that the bank imposes on the borrowings. That’s RM40,000.00 more.
There’s also a 0.8% e-transaction fee to another party. This may be a mere RM4,000.00 but it adds up.
Now there’s talk about us producers having to ‘donate’ 1 percent of our earnings from RTM to a welfare fund for hard-up artistes and film workers, and if this happens its another RM5,000.00.
So, if one has a RM500,000.00 contract with RTM, you can expect a total of RM199,000.00 already taken away from you (including RM150,000 that went into the sinking fund).
Now, you mustn’t forget that we need to pay back the principal loan. So if the bank loaned you RM400,000.00, they actually deduct that amount first from RTM’s payment to you.
So in actually fact, they take RM400,000.00 plus the RM199,000.00 above the principal amount. This totals RM599,000.00.
At the end of the day, the piss poor producer suddenly finds himself RM99,000.00 in the black.
Does this make sense to you? Not me.
And this is if your billings come to half a million that is equivalent to one 13 x 60 min series. Imagine if you have a RM2 million contract with RTM. The numbers are compounded further.
If there is a banker out there or an accountant out there, can you please make sense out of this? Help us out please. This business doesn’t seem to be kosher.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Who is a Malay?

What constitutes the Malays race?

Here is an excerpt of the reference to the Malays on Wikipedia:

The term "Malay" can refer to the ethnic group who live in the Malay peninsula (which include the southernmost part of Thailand called Patani and Satun) and East Sumatra as well as the cultural sphere that encompass a large part of the archipelago.

The Malay ethnic group is the majority in Malaysia and Brunei and a sizable minority in Singapore and Indonesia, and they form the majority in the five southernmost provinces of Thailand that historically made up the old Malay kingdom of Patani. These people speak various dialects of Malay language.

The peninsular dialect as spoken in the Malaysian states of Pahang, Selangor and Johor is the standard speech among Malays in Malaysia and Singapore. In the Malay peninsula, the Kelantanese dialect in its purest form is the most difficult to understand. Other peninsula dialects include the Kedah-Perlis dialect, the Melakan dialect, the Minangkabau dialect of Negri Sembilan, the Perak dialect and the Terengganu dialect. In Thailand, Malays of Satun speak the Kedah-Perlis dialect while those in the Patani provinces speak the Kelantanese lingo.

Meanwhile, the Riau dialect of eastern Sumatra has been adopted as a national tongue, Indonesian, for the whole Indonesian population. The ethnic Malays have had a Muslim culture since the 15th century.

In Malaysia, the majority of the population is made up of ethnic Malays while the minorities consist of southern Chinese (e.g. Hokkien and Cantonese), southern Indians (mainly Tamils), non-ethnic Malay indigenous peoples (e.g. Iban and Kadazan), as well as Eurasians.

Malay cultural influences filtered out throughout the archipelago, such as the monarchical state, religion (Hinduism/Buddhism in the first millennium AD, Islam in the second millennium), and the Malay language. The influential Srivijaya kingdom had unified the various ethnic groups in Southeast Asia into a convergent cultural sphere for almost a millennium. It was during that time that vast borrowing of Sanskrit words and concepts facilitated the advanced linguistic development of Malay as a language. Malay was the regional lingua franca, and Malay-based Creole languages existed in most trading ports in Indonesia.

The above definition, I believe, is more of an anthropological one.

For a slightly, more political definition of the Malay (in Malaysia), we need to refer to our own national constitution:

Artikel 160 Perlembagaan Malaysia mentakrifkan pelbagai istilah yang digunakan dalam Perlembagaan Malaysia. Menurut Perkara 160 (2) Perlembagaan Malaysia, orang Melayu itu mestilah beragama Islam, mengamalkan adat budaya Melayu, bertutur menggunakan bahasa Melayu dan lahir sebelum hari merdeka sama ada di Tanah Melayu atau Singapura, atau pada hari merdeka telah bermastautin di Tanah Melayu atau Singapura.

Since Merdeka, I am sure thousands of learned persons – Malay and non-Malays alike – have debated on this definition.

However, it is a very sensitive issue I might add.

So, let me once again clarify my intention. I am not going to question or even discuss the ‘special rights’ of the Malays as enshrined in the constitution. I am not even trying to prove that Malays are special. Hardly.
These next few postings that I will do is that I am just trying to figure out, where my race, the Malays, are in preserving itself as a race, as a culture and a tradition. So basically I am trying to analyse my own race.

If we were to refer to our constitution, it is quite definite. A Malay has to be a Muslim. Have to ‘amal’ or practice/adher to the Malay culture, speak using the Malay language and is born before Merdeka in the Malay Peninsula or in Singapore.

If anyone of these ‘clauses’ does not fit your profile, you are not Malay, or rather Malaysian Malay.

Let’s break it down.

You can be a Malay born in Southern Thailand, speak Malay (albeit with a Pattani or Kelantanese accent), practice the budaya Melayu (albeit the culture of the Melayu Pattani) a Muslim but unfortunately not born in Malaysia, you are NOT a Malay.

You can be a Baba or born in a Peranakan family, and most of us know the Babas actually practice Malay culture, speaks Malay (and spouts the pantun and sings the dondang sayang), born in Malaysia before Merdeka, but is not Muslim, and therefore not Malay.

You can be a Muslim, born from Indian non-Muslim parents, speaks Malay (but speaks Tamil at times), live like a Malay, born in Malaysia before Merdeka, hmmmm would you be a Malay?

You are a Javanese, not a Muslim, born in pre Merdeka Malaysia, speak Malay, live like a Malay – culture and all – and you are NOT a Malay?

You are the child of two Chinese Muslim couples, who speak Malay and nothing else, you also practice budaya Melayu because since young you lived amongst kampung Malays, and you were born before Merdeka in Malaysia – are you a Malay?

The combinations are numerous – but sometimes, it still doesn’t make you a Malay.

Now, the strange thing is that, I know of many rich or rather well-to-do Malays, who claim to be Muslims, who speak English daily, and live like Westerners (hardly wear kain sarong, eat with fork and spoon, have bangers and mash for breakfast) and were born in Malaysia before Merdeka, and yet they are Malays. Hell yes, they are Malays!

In fact, what peevs me is that Malays are slowly losing their Malay-ness – and worse still, they are either comfortable with that or oblivious to it. The Malays in the towns and cities are becoming more Westernised whilst those in the rural areas, who are very religious, are turning into pseudo Arabs.

The latter accepts all that is Arabic as things they need to practice and follow, and they are more than willing to expound that all other Malays should follow suit. They confuse tamaddun Islam with tamaddun Arab.

The former pulak, feels that being a Malay prevents them from embracing modernity and therefore they need to be Americans or Britons, like those successful Pakistanis and Indians in the US of A and London. These Malays, think, speak and behave like Westerners. They don’t care about adat and budaya Melayu. The only thing Melayu that they may still find acceptable in their lifestyle is Malay cuisine.

All you have to do is check out the Malay city weddings in recent years. They are now basically the parents’ ego trip trying to outdo their peers by spending hundreds of thousands of Ringgit in five star hotels. Most if not all these functions usually have extravagant AV shows of how the bride and bridegroom met. There will be also a combo playing pop music and rarely a ghazal or asli group.

The couples’ love theme played during their entrance is usually from some soppy American movie like Titanic. They walk to the dais in their Gucci suits and Jimmy Choos, a flowing white gown straight out from an upmarket SS2 Bridal Agency, and have little kids in matching tuxedos and dresses. You’d be surprised to see a real bunga manggar procession, a traditional mak andam moment, a silat performance and classic berpantun session.

Luckily, the menu is still Malay (most of the time).

What happened to the kompangs? What happened to the berzanji and bergendang.

What happened to the gotong royong? Is the term ‘kerja kahwin’ only meant for people living in the rural areas? Aren’t Malay brides now not interested in berinai but look forward to western styled bridal showers?

That’s just the modern Malay wedding.

There’s more.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let me think jap.......

I have been busy writing these past weeks. So much so I haven't had the time to update my blog. Not much has happened since my last posting. Watched a few movies - Merantau and Ju On White Ghost Black Ghost and Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. Enjoyed the latter very much. Merantau was fun too. Ju On's creators on the other hand seem like they want to out-Tarantino Quentin himself.
However, there were of course non film events that caught my attention - the sad Church bombings on our homeland. The deadly earthquake in Haiti.
Not a good start to the new year isn't it?
Anyway, I am thinking of writing a piece about the Malays - from my own perspective. Why? I don't know. Just need to I guess.
I am no anthropologist, so I might not sound like much of an authority on this. My justification for writing this forthcoming piece is that I am a Malay, and am damn proud of it. Proud of being a Malay however does not make me a racist nor a bigot. Being defensive of my roots, culture and race, also does not make me one.
However, I really need to get some things of my chest. I may ramble a bit, sound crazy and chauvinistic, but nevertheless I hope I make sense. I welcome feedback. I welcome debate.
I will leave you with this statement - Malays are a disappearing breed. And we, the Malays, are letting it happen.

Monday, January 4, 2010


On Facebook, there's a group called FDAM - Film Directors' Association Malaysia, that has been the battleground for various groups and individuals prior and after the recent Annual General Meeting held on the last day of 2009. Everyone was taking potshots at everyone. I plead guilty too. Harsh words were exchanged, some bordering on libel but all is fair in love and war.

I have been having a running battle with the President of PROFIMA Encik Khir Mohd Noor. But let's leave this relationship out of the picture, because apart from name calling, there's nothing much to be said. He knows who I am, and I know who he is.

Out of the blue, there's this guy who used the pseudonym Bujang Senang, who entered the fray and posted this statement:

Bujang Senang
Bujang Senang
siapa anwardi jamil ni...?sedap sangat bercakap...dia ni sebenarnya tumpang glamor bapak dia je..anwardi tidak dikenali pun kalau muniandi tu lain lah...anwardi ni tak buat ape pun untuk industri ni...cakap je lebih..lain la bapanya banyak menyumbang untuk industri begitu ibunya...tapi klu dia habuk pun tarak..jgn marah itu hakikatnya..terima lah.

(Translation: Who is this anwardi jamil? so easy for him to comment. He actually is piggybacking his father's one knows anwardi unlike muniandi..anwardi did nothing for the industry...he talks too much...his father ha contributed a lot as did his mother...but he? not even a spec of dust...don't be angry...just accept the truth.)

Thank you very Encik Bujang Senang whom I consider a coward who hides behind a stupid nickname or handle. Unlike me, and Khir, we don't hide behind anonymity. When I comment or criticise anything or anyone in the industry, especially in my blog, my name is clear for all to see. I am no coward unlike Bujang Senang.

But I am surprised that he dragged my parents into this non-issue.

Well, since he asked the question who I am, let me introduce myself to him and to others who thinks that I have not contributed to the industry. I do have to say that it is a pity that there are filmmakers or film commentators like him who don't know me or others of my generation. And for you readers out there, yes, I am going to isi and angkat my bakul for all to see.

I started life as a journalist and film critic and cartoonist with the New Straits Times in the late 70s. In the early 80s, I was seconded to TV3 as its first procurement officer and then to be part of its production department. There were two initial producers - the late Karim Mohd and myself. I was tasked to produce the station's first two tv series - Nona and Kuali - which became two of the most successful and longest running series in TV3's history until Majallah Tiga came into picture.

I left TV3 to pursue corporate communications work and helped organise the first Defence Show in the country in 1985 with a company called IMS.

However, when RTM started a programme to help local producers survive called Drama Swasta, I decided to try my luck at being an independant filmmaker. However, when my mother read a script I wrote called Karam Di Mata Karam Di Hari, she asked me if I wanted to direct it. Who wouldn't want to jump on such an opportunity? Of course I accepted. The drama starred the late Mahmud Jun and Marlia Musa and it was shot on 16mm.

After that, my mother's company RJ Filem offered to produce my first feature film Tuah starring Jamal Abdillah. The film when completed was invited to Montreal, Berlin, Fukuoka and Tokyo. It also won a Jury Award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Jakarta in 1989.

Before directing Tuah, I worked on the foreign movie Farewell to the King directed by John Milius and starred Nick Nolte. I was one of the two local assistant directors working on the shoot.

After Farewell To The King, a couple of friends decide to form a company with me, called Double Vision - a company geared to producing interesting dramas for television (at that point in time).

Amongst the titles I wrote, produced and directed in the early days of Double Vision included Gado Gado and Teater Seram. Tell me who doesn't know about Gado Gado?

As a producer, I have brought in many friends at that time to direct for me under Double Vision - amongst them (please don't be surprised) - Khir Mohd Noor, Harun Salim Bachik, Syed Mohamed, Ahmad Tarmimi Siregar, Meor Hashim Manap, Roslan Hussin and Ebby Saiful. A few other directors have worked with me during that time to but not as directors but as my assistants - they included Liza Ismail, Ebby Yus, Thorpe Ali.

As for actors and actresses who worked under my company, I don't think I will list them because I think it would be easier for me to list those who had never worked with me before. However, I do have to mention that I directed Rumah Kedai Jalan Seladang for RTM and Meor Hashim Manap won the best actor award for his role in that drama.

Apart from the first few early projects I did with my mother's company, all my work were done under my own companies - either Double Vision or other companies that I started after that. Under Double Vision I co-produced two video movies for Japan which starred Sheila Rusly and Sofia Jane and two sinetrons for Indosiar and RCTI. I directed Pak Amy Priyono and Pak Fritz. If you don't know who these two guys were in Indonesian cinema, than you don't know fuck-all about Indonesian cinema.

Over the past twenty over years that I have been involved in the industry I have never worked for any other company except companies that I owned or co-owned. This is unlike most of the FDAM members who live their lives earning director's fees from other producers. They don't appreciate the risk that producers take by offering them the director's jobs.

In 2005, the then information minister, Dato Sri Kadir Sheikh Fadhir invited me to start a new company to help 'sponsor' female veterans that RTM had pre-selected. Including my father and mother, there were ten other veteran actresses in the scheme.

In the two years that the special project was handled by my company, I forked out more than RM250,000 in cash to these 12 people. The project also helped finance my mother's 26-episode drama which she had a free-hand to develop and direct.

My company did not make much if any in profit during that time because all our profits went into the special fund for the veteran artistes. I was hoping that the project would be continued, but unfortunately, as with RTM, each new Minister that comes in have their own plans and ideas and therefore the project was scrapped. And therefore, I had to start again from zero to pitch for new productions.

That's okay, because making movies and TV dramas was my passion. Luckily, in the mid 90s I started a company called Mass Media Interactive which in turn helmed a consortium called Konsortium Multimedia Swasta that was awarded one of the first e-Government under the MSC initiative. In this project, the government did not fork out any funds. The private sector was going to fund the multi-million ringgit project for ten years.

At that time too, being the nobody that I am, I kept in touch with my love for culture and history. With the National Museum, I assisted in various exhibitions including the Asia Pacific film festival exhibition and the performing arts exhibition. I was also involved in the wildly successful and original Hantu exhibition in Muzium Negara and wrote and directed a standing room only play (for two weeks) entitled Hantu-hantu Yang Saya Kenali which M. Jamil acted in; and according to him influenced him in the VCD production Momok and later his successful Momok The Movie last year.

I also found time to research and write two books - the History of the Asia-Pacific Film Festival and Gamelan Nusantara. Both for Muzium Negara. I am sure Muniandi did not do any. And I am sure Khir Mohd Noor and Bujang Senang too did not have the opportunity to do so. I guess Muzium Negara only offered such jobs to nobodies. By the way, in last year's Senjata Nusantara exhibition, I also produced and directed the short video clips for the muzium.

Meanwhile, in the early years of the new millennium, I went a bit bonkers and produced and directed two movies - both were unsuccessful but both financed by companies I controlled with friends. I lost money and so did they. These movies were Ah Loke Kafe and Budak Lapok (which was invited to represent the country at last year's Korean Film Festival). But through failure we learn and move forward.

I also make it a point, that as and when I deemed it fit, I try to employ my 'uncles' from Jalan Ampas in my productions. Amongst others, they include Dato Aziz Sattar, Dato' Mustafa Maarof, S. Shamsuddin, Mahmud Jun and Kuswadinata.

During all these time, I have never tumpang-ed my parent's glamour because it is actually a burden to me as a filmmaker to have legends as parents. Others are luckier. I have said so many times publicly that I always shy away from my father's shadow because it would be stupid of me to try and piggyback on his success and his stature as one of the doyens of Malaysian cinema.

Now my eldest son is interested in becoming a film director and he has done so. Starting as an assistant director under my tutelage and some others, he has now directed on his own, more than ten dramas since last year. Many of you would in fact have seen his direction in the series Bilik No 13, which was amongst the three highest rated show on RTM in 2007 and 2008. He is now developing a new series called Detik 12 Malam. Like me once before, I am giving him the tools to survive in this dog-eat-dog world of filmmaking.

I have produced, written and directed more than 500 hundred hours of TV and feature films in my own lifetime. Best of all, at this point of writing, I don't owe SME Bank or FINAS a single sen.

What I am proud of really is that through my productions, thousands have earned a living at one point in time under my productions. The rezeki that I have been blessed with, I share with others.

And for your information, I have never relished being in the lime-light as a filmmaker. I do however relish the notoriety that I have created for myself as a troubleshooting blogger for the local film industry.

The above is just a snapshot of what I have done in my life. I don't think I have to go into detail about who I am as a son to my father and mother, right?

Bujang Senang, you have actually hit below the belt by bringing into the debate, that is between me and other individuals, my parents. You can call me names or you can criticise or condemn me. You're not the first nor the last. Hassan Mutalib amongst many others has beaten you to it by many years (and I hope you are not Hassan by the way).

But never ever bring into the fray my parents. Never ever say I tumpang glamor. If you knew them personally or even respected them, asked them if I have.

So my cowardly Bujang Senang, (and unless you post your comments under your real identity I will call you a coward), what have YOU contributed to the industry? Let's compare notes shall we?

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I'm not one to hide my ideas when it comes to me. I love to tell others about it, no matter how raw or how polished the ideas are. For example, I am excited about developing a Suatu Ketika project with Astro - one based on the Selangor Civil Wars of 1867-1874. So most of my friends know about it - because to me film making is a concerted effort of talented invididuals - the producer, the writer, the director, the cinematographer, the art director, the costumers, the music director, the editor and the actors.
And everyone who takes part in it should be excited about it, about being in it and contributing to its success. It is not about WORK. It is about passion.
Whilst I am looking for to 1870, if and when it happens, I am also looking forward to translating Tan Sri Herman Luping's novel Pangazou into a TV series.
I bought his book in some small bookstore some time ago, and was lucky to have interviewed him for my documentary of the creation of Malaysia. During the interview I asked him about the novel and whether he had envisioned it as a movie. To my surprise, he said he had already received and paid for two attempts at turning it into a feature film. It seems he was so excited at the prospect then that he had spent money to build a long house as a set for the movie.
Unfortunately, both attempts didn't come to fruition and he actually had the long house torn down.
I was sad and disappointed to hear him say that, as I found the novel an interesting insight into Kadazan culture and folklore. So, out of the blue, I asked if he would allow me to option it into a TV series for RTM. Instead of a feature film.
I believe that the Malaysian public would really like to see Pangazou - not as a feature film but as a long TV series, because even though the novel is short, it had many ideas that can be developed further and be made into at least 26 one hour episodes.
The story is about two brothers journey into manhood - Bihangan and Somboi Dansip - and how they achieved the status of Pangazou - warriors. It was an ideal story about a hero's journey - a writing concept and philosophy 'invented' by Joseph Campbell - that is based on an aspect of Malaysia a few have witnessed or knew about.
So when he agreed, I quickly developed the novel into a TV series for RTM and proposed it officially during its last pitching session in September last year.
I was hoping that YB Dato Seri Utama Rais Yatim, as the Minister of Information and Culture, would somehow hear of the proposal and because his ministry has been harping about the lack of dramatic programmes on RTM about Sabah and Sarawak may find this proposal interesting.
Furthermore, it is based on a novel by tan Sri Herman Luping, a much respected senior politican of Sabah politics and once its Deputy Chief Minister.
It is now 2010. And there is no word yet of whether they found the proposal acceptable or not.
Tan Sri Herman is still optimistic. So am I. So both of us wait and wait until RTM realise that it has a very different and interesting drama series on their hand. A series, when done well, has potential to be sold overseas and also promote Sabah as a tourist attraction.
So we wait and wait.
Meanwhile, I am creating a new sitcom called Melaka FM 1400. About the first entertainment initiative in Melaka in the year 1400. Its like WKRP in Cincinnati meets Melaka history.
FM stands for Fasal Melaka and the 1400 is of course the year. It's at first a live news service which was developed by its manager Belalang into a full blown entertainment programme with news, music and commercials.
I plan to add in some zany homour, the kind I had in my Gado Gado comedy series way back in the early 90s. However, such ideas will stay just ideas, until some TV executive finds this idea and proposal exciting and interesting.
So, let's see what the new year heralds in.