What do you do when the station counters our creative decision as a director? It's really weird. From my colleagues around the world, once a TV commissions a production to the producer and director, they give you somewhat of a freehand to deliver what was agreed upon. You have a director that has a track record and a producer who has a budget to deal with.
Over here in Malaysia, its different. Of course there are instances when the station gives you carte blanc for your work, but it's far and few in between.
Here even after you have shot and wrapped and edited your work, a station has the right to tell you to reshoot, reedit, redub, reanything else to their hearts' content, and producers are left to lament whether in the end the product is theirs' (creatively) or the stations'.
The funny thing is, even after the interference of the stations, either through the executives or executive producers, when the programme fails, the producer takes the blame.
I believe, that in a few of these stations, most of the executives are wannabe writers and directors, and they like the idea and the misplaced glamour that they had direct input in the product. They like to say for example, “ you know the first cut was lousy, only after I had my input it turned out to be better.”
In the end, directors and writers are disillusioned.
It actually begins even at the proposal and development stage when the station even tells the producers that their proposals are good BUT....
Its the buts that hits you in the guts. But since producers are at the mercy of the stations, they listen and agree and nod. Yes, yes, that's a good idea, we will include it. No no problem...your idea is better than my writers and directors.
Once the storyline or storybeats (stations love this term) are agreed upon (which in the end is about 70% the station’s creation), the producer smiles and signs the contract.
The next stage of course is the selection of the creative team. Most TV stations seem to have this idea that only a handful of directors can deliver the goods the way they want (read between the lines – directors who allows the station to control their creativity) and artistes that they are comfortable with (read between the lines - artistes who are friends) and who they think pulls in the crowds.
Sometimes, the producer agrees. However, the are times they push the envelope and hope that their suggestions would be accepted. Most of the times, they have to compromise and agree with the suggestion (read betwen the lines - take it or leave it) of the stations to cast named artistes that they prefer. Whether or not the artiste fits in with the writer’s or director’s idea of whom the character should be.
Once that has been agreed upon, the producer than sighs with relief and hope to go on with the business of producing the programme.
At this stage, most stations don’t bother to interefere but there is one that attaches a personnel to ‘monitor and assist’ the production. Some of these personnel monitors, some actually interferes. Second guessing the directors shots and location selections, makeup and even acting.
Then come the dreaded editing stage. When everything is wrapped, and the cast and crew released. The raw footage goes into post production for an offline edit.
So imagine the horror when a producer presents his offline edit to the station for previewing and receives a whole list of unflattering comments regarding the production.
If the comments mean just tightening the shots and pacing of the programme it's quite acceptable, but when the whole direction and creative licence of the programme are queried and second guessed, you are in deep shit. Questions like do you have more shots? Why didn't you take a shot of this? How come the scene looks like this? Why are the artistes dressed like that? Why is the cars not impressive? Why was this particular location shot like this? Why did the director choose that particular angle? Don't you think it would have been better in the scene was shot in another way?
So much for creative licence right?
This means that your livelihood, your reputation as a filmmaker actually depend on the reception of a handful of people who watch the offline. If these people are professionals and objective, you can be guaranteed a fair judgement. But if there is a suspicion that the station, or persons in positions of power within the station that has a personal grudge with you, you are royally screwed.
This kind of politics that exist in the industry is totally unwarranted. It plays with careers and even a company’s survival and goodwill with the said station.
If the producer buckles and acquiesce to the numerous requests by the station, these actually means that the station in the end pruchased the work of a few individuals who are actually the personnel of the station and not the producer who was commissioned in the first place. The product is no more the creative collaboration of the producer, director, cinematography, writer and the artistes commissioned in the first place.
And to tell you the truth, the producers are in a no-win situation. The stations are the paymasters. And these executives or personnel in the station can make or break you.
Worse case scenarios are re-shoots and re-edits because you are now under the whim and fancy of a few executives who are basically jerking you around. If they are professionals and objective, they would give you a fair shake. But if they hate your guts, especially if you think that you are a better filmmaker than they are, they will fuck around with you.
Once the product has been completed to their satisfaction, it is then delivered. And hopefully the final payment from the station can be expected within three months.
In the end, maybe, we the producers, who now feel like sodomised prostitutes, don't really care what the end product is. We just want to end the whole affair and wait for the payments to be received.
Now the success of a programme on TV is mainly based on the viewership ratings. If the viewership or the ratings are low, the programme is deemed a failure. Even if technically and creatively, it is good.
Now when a product receives good ratings, the station executives grin and said that they made the right calls. If the programme sucks at ratings, the station executives will blame the producers, the directors and the writers for producing crap.
Not that they didn’t help promote the programme effectively in the first place.
Being a producer is tough business. Unless you know the people in the station, and they are pally with you, and you pander to their whims and fancies, you will not get far. In this business, filmmakers are second rate citizens compared to the executives in the stations. These station executives are more creative, they are more intelligent and they generally know better than the producers what the audience wants. So live with it.
Sometimes I really wonder why they need us. They should just let these executives write, direct and produce, because they seem to know the formula of a successful programme more than us - something even Western TV executives do claim not to know. They depend on writers like Steven Bochco and Shonda Rhymes to hoepfully come up with the next big thing.
Lastly, some of you may wonder why I chose the title The Malay (Producer's) Dilemma. This is because I believe that racism and bigotry have also raised its ugly head in the commissioning process in some of these stations, especially one in particular. I do not need to elaborate on this because it's difficult to prove. Nevertheless, in the spirit of 1Malaysia, maybe that's why the Malay producers seem to have grudgingly accept the fact that some stations prefer to work with non-Malay producers who, according to some TV executives, work better, are more professional, and deliver higher standard of products than the Malay producers. I hope I am wrong, but what do you think?