Who Actually Selects What We See On The Screens?

About the writer: Unemployed writer, stressed beyond belief. Waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel to shine on his world. Bad golfer. Wannabe cartoonist.

By Hang Kasturi

Friends of mine in the local entertainment industry have been screaming blue murder of recent. No one seems to know if they are being looked after or at least told of any measures or programmes that have been implemented or introduced to help their lot.

Earlier this year, there was a sigh of relief when the government announced many grants and loans available for the creative content industry. The funds handled by three government agencies will also be channeled through selected television stations (to both help the stations get new content and ease their financial worries) and cable companies. This is personally something strange. If the government want to help their filmmakers or creators, go directly to them. Why the need to go through stations? They are cronies everywhere, from friends of the agencies in the upper tier, right down to the stations. So those who do not have friends in the three layers – the ministry, the agencies and the stations will just ‘termenung’ for the rest of the year.

<strong>Who chooses the images on the monitor the filmmaker or the authorities who give the funds<strong> Photo credit <a href=httpswwwcanvacom data type=URL data id=httpswwwcanvacom target= blank rel=noreferrer noopener>Canvacom<a>

In the last few weeks, my sources informed me that many film producers have been meeting the powers that be on all the different levels. All asking about the status of their proposals and what not. Many recently have been receiving rejection letters even though they say their proposals and personalities that are attached to the proposals to execute the project (if and when they get it) are those with top credentials.

Some producers even lamented that if they have been blacklisted, or if the agencies and stations already had people that they have identified with, they shouldn’t announce Request for Proposals. To create and complete proposals take time, energy and money for a lot of these people. So if the agencies already had others in mind to be the beneficiaries of these funds, it would be such a waste of time and money for a lot of people – not to mention the level of disappointment they will experience once they are rejected.

From what I hear from my friends in the industry, these have been happening a lot. Nevertheless, those filmmakers who are not friends of the powers that be still submit proposals in hope that one day projects are chosen solely on merit and not on how thick your cables are.

Whilst there have not been any good news for the creative industry, except for a miserly sum of a few million to be channeled through another government agency Cendana, the industry, especially the movie film industry is facing bleak times. Cinemas have closed down entirely since 01 November, allowing no first output channels for film producers (not that there are people flocking to the cinemas these days).

<strong>Who fills the cinemas the funders or the filmmakers <strong> Photo credit Canvacom

But upon doing a bit of checking, there have been no announcement or statements from powers that be to address this issue (apart from a Ministry statement that they will look into possibilities on how to help the cinema hall owners who are in actual fact owned by multi-million ringgit corporations).

There were even calls by members of the industry elites for filmmakers to consider ignoring the cinema circuit (non-existent at it is nowadays) and concentrate on releasing their movies through the little box and online streaming services.

I asked a little bird to give me some figures and was surprised to learn that these OTT channels as they are referred to (Astro First, etc) take a huge chunk of the amount collected via video on demand. For example if you pay RM10 to see a local first run movie through their service, they take RM7 and the producer gets ONLY RM3.

According to them, the 70 percent share in releasing the movies via their service is because of the cost of the infrastructure, the promotion work that they execute on behalf of the producer blah blah blah. So RM3 for the producer out of RM10 is justified, according to them.

And after the three months on being on the video-on-demand platform, they will then offer a lump sum to put your movie on their main channels. This can be as low as RM30,000 or as high as RM150,000 for the rights. What producers are raging about is that this offer comes with a 3 to 4 year exclusivity window meaning, you cannot sell the movie to any other television channels during that time.

From what I have seen, in Malaysia content is NOT king. The owners of the distribution channels are. Content creators are mere slaves and baruahs for these channels may it be the cinema chain or broadcasting or narrowcasting channels.

Anyway, I wanted to find out what proposals have been rejected just in case these proposals are really, really bad. So here are some of the proposals that have been rejected officially according to my sources:

Television documentary series – a series about the arrival and the development of Islam in Malaysia. The series starts of with trying to answer the question of when was the first contact with Islam in our country’s history. Is it Kedah or Melaka or Terengganu or Sarawak. The answer, according to their research would probably shock you. The series then continues over 13 episodes to educate the public about why Tanah Melayu never became a Christian country even though it was controlled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British over 450 years of colonial rule.

This series sound bloody interesting to me. I would personally like to see it being produced.

Film for festivals – when I heard that grants are available for film producers to make movies meant for festivals and not for commercial and main stream reasons, I was quite elated. Here are four proposals that have been rejected or have not been accepted.

First there is this script about the practice of old Chinese people going to a place called the Dying House. In the 70s and 80s, Chinese families prefer their old not to die at home and therefore the old and sickly are sent to these sad looking places (which are usually funeral homes) to die. There were also old Chinese folks who saved their hard earned money and were without family to go to these places in their final hours, just to ensure that they get a proper burial. The script is a fictional story about one such person who had to endure this experience in the 70s.

Secondly, there is this proposal called the Duel which is basically about the fight between Tuah and Kasturi as depicted in the Malay Annals. The screenplay tries to correct the legend that Tuah fought Jebat when in the Malay Annals it was Kasturi who had the deadly battle with Tuah. What is interesting about this movie (and possibly make this movie ideal for festivals) is that from beginning to end there are only two characters in the movie (Tuah and Kasturi). The movie, apart from showcasing the various forms of silat within the two hour movie duration also sets out to understand the psychology of two friends fighting to kill each other.

There have been many interesting and bad movies about Tuah and Jebat and fall of Melaka, but this one seems to be fresh and reminiscent of Uwei’s stage play Wangi Jadi Saksi. Again, I would pay good money to see this movie made.

And last but not the least, because I was privy to many proposals, is a movie about one of our greatest poets J. M Aziz. The movie sets to show the tragic life of this wonderful artiste who became blind due to leprosy but continued to write about the country (Terengganu), the sea and the beaches. The movie is said to also depict a few of his best poems as translated and envisioned by different directors.

This too was rejected. I view this as the saddest rejection. For once, someone was brave enough to promote one of our greatest poets through the medium of movie and a treatment that is non-commercial, meaning the creators of this movie will have full artistic freedom. Why was it rejected? Is J. M. Aziz not considered worthwhile material to be made a subject of a movie created solely for festival purposes? Are the people involved in the proposals not worthy to handle such a project? I heard the producers were only seeking a bit over RM1 million to realise this movie. Therefore if I hear that someone else with a lousier proposal getting more than RM2 million grant, I would really get pissed.

<strong>Are filmmakers creative souls or robots<strong> Photo credit Canvacom

So, that is the state of the local cinema industry these days. An industry full of dreamers who are living in a nightmare. Unless of course, the powers that be surprises everyone and be the saviour of the industry that they claim to be.

I still remember the Minister responsible for this industry saying that he wants to see a Malaysian movie win an Oscar in the near future. This is his agenda. Will he achieve it when the selection of movies that are deemed fit for receiving grants are filtered through these agencies with personal agendas of their own? That remains to be seen.

Que sera sera. – New Malaysian Herald

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