A couple of days ago, there was an article in the Malay papers about calon-calon (candidates) for the soon to be vacant post of FINAS Director-General currently held by Mahyuddin Mustakim.
The speculation is that filmmaker and current FINAS Board member, Ahmad Idham, will be the next DG of this hot seat which he has of course denied. He said the confusion may have stemmed from the fact that he has been re-elected onto FINAS's Board.
However, his old friend film-factory producer David Teoh of Metrowealth, who is also on FINAS's board (yeah go figure), is full of praise for the fourth generation filmmaker and has his support as the next FINAS DG.
Amidst all this speculation, three other names have been thrown into the cauldron - Adflin Shauki, Dr Mahadi Murat and yours truly.
I have to categorically deny here that I am being considered for the post. As far as I know, I am the least likely candidate to be offered the job. If I was DG material, I would already have been sitting in Mahyuddin's office and not him, as I was one of the main candidates in the previous DG search. If I was not suitable four years ago, then I am still not suitable this time around.
This doesn't mean that I wouldn't relish the chance to lead FINAS and make into something resembling a body that actually develops the local film industry.
Firstly, as DG, I would ask the Minister to agree that those who are still active in the local film industry should resign from the FINAS Board. Not because they are not helping the industry but because it doesn't make common sense for them to be on the Board in the first place.
However, FINAS would do well by instead creating an Industry Advisory Panel that they can appoint all the David Teohs, the Ahmad Idhams and the Mustafa Maarofs of the world.
As for members of the Board, I would rather request the government to appoint accountants, change managements experts, bankers, marketing professionals, corporate figures and captains of industries to sit on the Board. No film practitioner should be aboard, except maybe the DG.
This statement I just made should also not be taken as support for the Memorandum made by the Malaysian Film Producers' Association for the dismissal of David Teoh and Ahmad Idham as Board members.
This should have been done three years ago when David and Ahmad were appointed as Board members then.
So why the memorandum now? I'm not quite sure, but I heard from a little bird that certain members of the Association are not happy that certain members of the current FINAS board (duhhhhh do I have to spell out their names for you?) have advised against the forking out of more millions for certain production companies who have already taken millions of the government. I don't know how true this is, but someone is said to be orchestrating hard to ensure that David Teoh should not be on board as he is one of the most vocal board member. If David Teoh is not okay for the Board what makes Dato' Mustafa Maarof okay for the Board? Isn't he still active in the industry and has his own production company too? What about Mr Murthee? Doesn't he own one of the fastest growing cinema chain in the country? Isn't that a conflict of interest too? So why only pick on David Teoh and Ahmad Idham?
As far as I know, there is no conflict of interest specifically in regards to David Teoh's position as a FINAS board member. It is in fact a thankless post for him.
And as far as I know, unlike most of those PFM leaders who want him out of FINAS, David Teoh's Metrowealth has not taken a single loan from FINAS or MDec or MCMC or BSN or SME.
He is however the most prolific film producer in the country. Not Pesona, not KRU and not Grand Brilliance. His output have now exceeded two movies per month.
You question the quality of his films? Why don't you ask the million of viewers who pay good money to see his films?
Is he revered by the practitioners (the directors, the actors, the film workers)? Of course he is. At the rate he is going, at least 200 hundred local filmworkers can celebrate this coming Raya with a smile. He gave the director of a box office hit movie he producer a car for work well done. What has FINAS given successful directors?
What I don't agree with David Teoh is his filmmaking philosophy. To him it is the only way for local films to work. His shareholders are happy and by that fact alone, one cannot argue that he is not doing great work. To him, a film should be done with a budget of maybe RM1-1.5 million, 20 days shoot and 20 days post, and wallahhh! a new film ready to be screened.
I also disagree that, for some weird reason, he is going to produce and finance Hatta Azad Khan's next few movies. In this weird arrangement, Metrowealth will produce all of Hatta Azad Khan's directed movies as some kind of strange partnership with Uitm's Faculty of Creative Technology of which conveniently Hatta is the Dean.
Students and lecturers it seem will be involved in this agreement as part of their course work.
Of course, I believe that Hatta will be paid as the director and writer for the work.
I have already said in an earlier blog posting, filmmakers who want to teach should just teach. If they miss making movies, leave the comfort zone of a salaried position of a lecturer or Dean and be a filmmaker.
Anyway, the only winners in this scenario are Hatta and David:
Hatta gets to become a Dean and a film director at the same time and have a financier for all his movies.
David pulak because he is deemed to be helping out an institution of higher learning's creative programme.
But I digress.
Back to the question of FINAS DG.
Who would be my suggestion to take over the post?
Easy. Get the guy who took Singapore's non-existent film industry into a critically acclaimed film industry within a decade, whoever that guy is. So what if he isn't a Malay or Malaysian. We need results and someone who would push the envelope and make the world stand up and take notice of our films.
We need someone who actually knows what makes the industry tick and what it will take for us to make movies that tick too.
We need someone who would listen to the real players in the industry and not to just one or two friends and relatives.
FINAS's role is to develop and support the industry - it is not a body that tells the industry what to do without consultation. It is not a body that patronises the industry players.
FINAS should also not be a body that sieves and evaluates scripts and approves loans for these scripts. It should be a body that would instead actually put its money where its mouth is. If they think a script is worth giving a loan to, they should actually invest in that script.
Why pass the risk to the producers? If FINAS think they can evaluate a script and tell the producers who to cast, what budget to maintain and who to direct and what location to secure, then shouldn't they be the producers and take the risk themselves? How can they evaluate and approve the script and the marketing and promotion plans of the film, and approve the loan? And when the film flops, why do they blame the producer?
See? Conflicts occur when FINAS doesn't know what role it should play in the industry.
To me, loans should be minimise or even scrapped.
There should only be joint venture funding facilities and full grants.
And these grants are only given to projects that are unique and need not be necessarily a commercial undertaking. It should be for projects that would elevate the industry cinematic profile worldwide.
Loans? Just get the banks (BSN or SME)to simply evaluate the capability of the producer to pay back the loan, and not the project's artistic merit. In the end, it is just another business loan from a bank to a client. And the client MUST be able to pay it back. Simple as that.
You have a contract with a TV station? Sure here's the loan. You have some valuable land as collateral? Sure here take a million ringgit loan. You have a salary of RM30,000 a month? Sure, here, take the loan.
You have the next Avatar screenplay that everyone is raving about? Sorry, not interested. Go find investors. Banks don't deal in fantasies.
FINAS's role should be making policies, and identifying ways of educating young filmmakers. Even after so many years of existence, it is still hard to believe that FINAS has not created a scholarship fund for young up-and-coming filmmakers who need to hone their knowledge in Universities around the world.
What other things should FINAS do? Here are some suggestions:
FINAS needs to promote Malaysian movies locally and not only internationally.
FINAS should hold hands with film producers and fight for a cess fund taken from foreign films that are screened in the country. This fund would be used to finance film projects.
FINAS should not beg for funds from the government but instead get it from the private sector. In the UK, the lottery concessionaires pool funds to help the creative industry including the film industry to create non-mainstream movies.
FINAS should fight for some of the money from sin taxes - gambling, smoking and drinking.
Companies like Genting and Sports TOTO should funds movies yearly.
FINAS should get each state to produce one state-themed movie every year.
FINAS should really tell us how long it would take them to develop filmmakers or films to be accepted by the major film festivals of the world like the ones in Turin, Berlin, Cannes and Venice.
Heck, FINAS should be moving their butts and make the industry buzz instead of going phhfffttttt!
So if the people in the corridors of power think that Ahmad Idham can do all these, then give him a chance.
What ever it is, the last four years have been uneventful for FINAS and directly the film industry. Therefore, it is really in dire need of a new Kapitan who has new ideas and new directions and brings us new hope.