Saturday, October 29, 2011


The likelihood for Malaysian movie industry to go fully digital is real, and it may be sooner than you think.

Today, and without much fanfare, the cinema owners have actually been installing digital projectors. According to unofficial sources, there are 82 digital screens in Malaysia today. And by mid of 2012, there will be a total of 300 digital screens.

What this means is that local film producers, including indie filmmakers, now have a viable digital market place. They can begin their film projects digitally, finish it digitally and exhibit it digitally.
Not a single foot of celluloid throughout the whole process.

Currently about 70 percent of the local film industry is shooting digital but end up spending hundreds of thousands of Ringgit in kinetransferring the whole digital master into celluloid for screening at local cinemas.

If you are a producer with bottomless pockets, you can print 80 copies at RM5000 a pop. This means RM400,000.00 in production costs.

If you are a producer who just have enough, you only make 30 prints adding RM150,000.00 to your production cost.

Now with 300 digital cinema screens across the country by mid or end of next year, digital films can have as big a market as they want to without converting to celluloid for exhibition.

Some TV stations are already anticipating this cinematic paradigm shift. From what I heard, they are currently on the look out for producers who are willing to producers titles for a cost of RM500,000.00 (less than half the current production budgets of digital to film).

With these kind of budgets, young indie producers might consider taking the mainstream leap into movie making, whilst the old school filmmakers would now re-educate themselves into producing digital films. They must now understand what shooting in DSLR cameras mean, or what is the difference between the REDcam, the Cinealtas, the ArriDs and the P2s.

What I fear is that greedy producers would just slightly upgrade their RM70,000.00 made-for-TV telefilms pocket hundreds of thousands in production budget money, and pass it off as a digital movie for digital cinemas.

If digital cinemas screen these z-grade digital movies that didn't even spend a sen for quality color grading and tweaking, the public would be disappointed in both the technical and content quality and soon enough, give digital films the thumbs down.

For example, there is a production company that I heard is offering producers RM400,000.00 to produce digital movies in these digital cinemas. And their business model is that they don't really care about box office performance at all. What they want is to quickly screen the movies at these digital cinemas and then be allowed to screen their titles on Astro First within three weeks.

This is because Astro First seems to be working fairly well for local producers. Even weak titles give a hefty profit to the producers' bottomline.

Whatever the reason is, the future of digital filmmaking is already at our doorsteps. It is up to the filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the actors, the cinematographers, the distributors and the cineplexowners to make sure that digital filmmaking become an acceptable medium of cinema.


Lovers of good classic literature would know where the famous quote above was lifted from. The exact line is: “He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—"The horror! The horror!".

It is from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

However, for cineastes (who may not have read Conrad), the line, for them, was a famous quote from the Francis Ford Coppola movie Apocalypse Now. In the movie, which was based on Conrad’s novel, Brando’s Kurtz lay dying and in his dying breathe, mouths the words “The horror! The horror!”

Today, the quotation is given a new meaning in Malaysia, when our former Prime Minister recently gave us his two cents worth about the state of Malaysian cinema – “Oh the Horror! The Horror!”

Whilst Kurtz was implying something else all together, Tun Mahathir was talking about the rather high number of horror movies being produced by our local film producers.

Obviously, the local media and blogs picked up on Tun M’s concerns. Him being our former national CEO and all, his words were like a clarion call for many authorities to act upon this so-called and perceived danger to local society.

In fact, Immediately after his statement, the Lembaga Penapisan Filem or the Censorship Board, invited industry players for a special round table discussion about the issue. I attended the discussion.

They even invited a representative from JAKIM to present its position on and its perspective about prescribed and allowable content for Malaysian films.

Since it was basically a closed door meeting I won’t divulge what was spoken or discussed, but, for now, the industry censorship has decided that the approach remains at status quo, due to the reason that LPF has a very liberal and understandable DG who wants to see the local industry flourish, albeit with some self restraint.

It is due to the LPF’s supportive approach to the local industry that we get to see movies like Gangster, Dalam Botol and Nasi Lemak 2.0, and of course the ‘thousands’ of horror titles that are produced.

However, LPF is not the only body that has a say in what you get to see on TV and cinemas. There are other parties, and individuals who take it upon themselves to be reactive to things they hear, and when Tun M says something, they listen.

Which is why, our local free to air TV stations will jump and cut down on the commissioning of horror titles (tv series). The lallang-mentality of local media who cover the local film industry will however throw some gasoline into the fire and suddenly flay the local film industry for making horror movies and nothing else. Only suddenly they noticed lah.

The horror genre has always been an easy scapegoat for society’s ills. Horror films it seems will “menggugat keimanan orang-orang Islam hingga percaya kepada tahyul”. Surprisingly, only locally produced horror films can do that. The zombie-fest and vampire strewn movies from Hollywood, Korea, Indonesia and Thailand, doesn’t seem to have an effect on locals - Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

I have always maintained that horror films are mere popcorn entertainment for the masses. If horror movies are so effective, turning all its viewers, or even the majority of its viewers, into a blithering mass of scaredy cat Malaysians, we should have been a failed nation ever since Cathay Keris began producing the pontianak movies more than fifty years ago.

However, somehow, much to the amazement of learned scholars who advised the government over the years, we have survived the pontianaks, the orang minyaks, the hantu pocongs, the bomohs and the pawangs and the dukuns, and have gone on to participate in the growth of a strong and wonderful democratic nation that we call Malaysia.

My problem with Tun M’s statement is Why? Why does he want to even comment on the current state of Malaysian cinema? Is it wrong that local film producers produce mostly horror movies? Is it wrong for movie patrons to spend their hard earned money to go get spooked in out cineplexes?

Why when he was PM, didn't he support the growth of quality Malaysian movies? Give grants to make the Malaysian film industry better than its neighbours? Identify filmmakers to create quality content and internationally acclaimed movies? Increase the price of commissioned television programmes by RTM, so that producers don't have to depend on producing cheap horror movies to make ends meet?

You see, the film industry, like most other industries, is business first, art second. Good or bad, this is unfortunately the case in a free competitive industry .

I am personally an avid horror film fan, but that's not to say I don't appreciate quality dramatic movies. Nevertheless, I would defend any producer's right produce horror movies - no matter how bad they are. In time, the viewers will become jaded when the quality of local horror movies go South. Film fans are a notoriously fickle crowd. Today they like horror movies, tomorrow comedies, and the day after gangster movies. So why make a big fuss?

To Tun M, whom I respect as a statesman, stick to the more important issues of nation building and acting as the voice of reason in the season of madness in local and international politics and economics.

The proliferation of local horror movies, truth be told, doesn’t affect local mentality nor psyche. Even if it does, it is really no big deal.

The phenomenon is nothing compared to the explosion of kopitiams and kedai mamaks in the country that charge obscene prices for Kopi O, Nescafe Ais, roti canai, roti bakar and nasi kandar. These establishments swipe hundreds of Ringgits per person per month out of their salaries. It is also nothing compared to the inexplicable growth of tomyam warungs all over the country as if it is now the national dish.

So Tun, trust me, horror movies do not corrupt nor pervert the minds of the Malays and other Malaysians. You know what does.

Friday, October 7, 2011

24th Malaysian Film Festival November 2011 - A Preview

The coming Festival Filem Malaysia 24 in mid November has attracted 41 entries which is according to Finas a record of sorts. It is the highest number of movies competing in the history of the festival.

However, the big hike in entries doesn’t mean an increase of good quality movies.

The list of movies entering for the BM section are:

1. Mantra

2. Senario asam garam

3. 4 Madu

4. Cuti Cuti Cinta

5. Ngangkung

6. Aku Tak Bodoh

7. Hantu Kak Limah Balik Ke Rumah

8. Aku Masih Dara

9. Janin

10. Khurafat

11. Damping Malam

12. Sini Ada Hantu

13. Kembar Siang

14. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa

15. Ratu the Movie

16. ...dalam botol

17. Cun!

18. Di Larang Masuk

19. Senjakala

20. Pemburu Istana

21. Seru

22. Momok Jangan Panggil Aku

23. Kongsi

24. Nur Kasih The Movie

25. Karak

26. KL Gangster

27. 3 2 1 Cinta

28. Rasuk

29. Sekali Lagi

30. Tolong Awekku Pontianak

31. Flat 3a

32. Senario Ops Opocot

33. Karipap karipap Cinta

34. Hantu Bonceng

35. Bini Bini Ku Gangster

36. Libas

37. Al Hijab

38. Sumpahan Puaka

39. Raya Tak Jadi

40. Jangan Pandang Congkak 2

41. Klip 3GP

The list of non-BM language films are:

· Lolio Popo

· Great Day

· Nasi Lemak 2.0

· Garuda

· Appalam

· Homecoming

The breakdown of genres are as follows :

  • · DRAMA – 5 TITLES
  • · COMEDY - 13 TITLES

The most prolific director is of course non other than Ahmad Idham who has 6 titles in the running. He is followed by three other directors who have three movies each in the competition. They are Razak Maidin, Azhari Zain and Bob Hashim. Three other directors come next with two titles each – Syamsul Yusof, Yusry KRU and Pierre Andre.

As for producers, it is obvious that Metrowealth has the most entries.

The surprising entry in the BM language section is Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. Most would agree that the BM usage in this movie does not allow this movie in this section.

A surprise omission from the competition is Dain Said’s Bunohan, a movie that has received good reviews in various international film festivals. Another movie not in the list is the much hyped Dua Alam.

From observing industry and local media talk, the front runners are Merong Mahawangsa, KL Gangster, Nur Kasih, ...dalam botol, Khurafat and Hantu Kak Limah Balik Ke Rumah.

Rank outsiders would be Ngangkung, Karak, Cun! and Mantra.

If language is not a consideration, Homecoming and Great Day should be in the forefront. Appalam which is a remake of Afdlin’s Pappadom, could be in the running too if well done.