Generally, the main cause of the movie industry’s sudden decline is the technological piracy. But a veteran director whom we interviewed preferred to talk about some other matters that can be easily resolved by the movie industry people themselves. The informal interview was held over a bowl of noodles and a bottle of Coke in his Makati residence.
“Like fashion, movies follow a trend,” were his beginning words. “It’s safer to produce a simple romance that features the young stars.” Basing his logic on the recent Metro Manila Film Festival, comedy and fantasy are still at it but good movies, as per the taste buds of the critics, will encounter a great difficulty in the box office. Blue Moon, hailed by the critics as a sensible movie with a Best Picture award to boot, failed to capture the imagination of the patronizing audience.
Producing a decent film requires at least 3.5 million pesos excluding the promotional expenses which amounts to about half of the production budget. Promotion is an integral part of producing a movie. There are producers who gamble by spending more money for promotion than for the production budget. Almost always, the movie sells like what happened to Tanging Ina of Ai-ai Delas Alas.
“That’s why the filmfest earned a lot. It was not wanting in promotions. And what more do you expect? It was loaded with a lot of intrigues and controversies. Even people in the same stable are quarreling just so to get attention.” Athough the director didn’t specify, we had a hint that he was referring to the spat of Mother Lily and Annabelle Rama which many suspect to be just a ploy so that Mulawin could overtake Exodus in the box office sales. And the complaints of Joel Lamangan and Mother Lily versus the MMFF committee seem valid to the eyes of many. But in fairness to the MMFF organizers, newspapers were deluged with press releases of the filmfest even two weeks before it opened on Christmas Day of 2005.
“Amid the dire strait the industry is in, napakamahal pa rin ng mga sikat na artista,” he cleared his throat before continuing with his baritone voice. “Yes, nagbaba ng presyo yung iba but still, exorbitant pa rin. Take the case of, no, let’s not mention names na lang. Pero kulang ang three-point-five if you will get marquee actors. Look at the romance movies, paulit-ulit lang ang plot but it still sells because yung artista ang bumebenta, hindi ang istorya. But of course, dapat me laman din ang istorya kahit konti. So it’s not surprising if Juday’s latest film will be a hit. They have chemistry, sila ni Piolo.”
That may be the reason why bold films used to be out there fighting in the box office. It only went out of fashion due to the new ruling of SM theaters – they prefer not to show R-18 rated movies, foreign or local. The so-called “pito-pito” films with low-priced starlets could be finished in seven days. It doesn’t matter if the story is the same as long as there’s a lot of flesh shown so a little promotion, centered on the sexual theme, would be enough to draw the male viewers. The production cost is just so much and there is the guaranteed return on investment. A film can be sold to TV, cable or local, for more than half a million pesos.
“Patay na rin ang action,” he said it with obvious sadness in his voice. “Technology, oo, partly but the main problem is the changing times. Wala nang siga-siga ngayon. The peace and order now is far different from the peace and order during the peace time. Siguro action films need to upgrade their plots to avail of the technology. But as I see it, walang radical writers ngayon kasi puro matatanda na yata lahat. If you remember the I Love You virus, Pinoy daw ang gumawa nun, di ba? It would have been a good material for an action. Pero walang tumira kasi puro Jurassic ang writers natin”
Action movies rely mainly on the stunts and stories. Like romance, the plot is always the same where the underdog hero triumphs in the end. Foreign action films can make it due to the infusion of modern technology and techniques in their script. Like fantasy, one thing going for foreign action films is the unique setting and the complexity of conflict and resolution. Fists and guns alone wouldn’t make a good action film nowadays. The recent blockbuster documentary Farenheit 9/11 exploited the real World Trade Center tragedy with the modern technology as the backdrop.
“Kung gusto mong sigurado, go for comedy. Yung kay Bearwin, alam ko kumita yun. Considering that the guy is new, hindi masasabing talagang sikat, but his movie hinged on the popularity of the song… Hari Ng Sablay, tama ba?” The director gave out a series of chuckles coupled with hand waves. Hari Ng Sablay was given enough exposure in the media in contrast to Okay Ka, Pare Ko, a Pekto starrer which was hurled into oblivion on the first day of showing. The trailer looked promising with the funny spoofs but only a few viewers got to know of the movie due to lack of proper promotion.
With the recent MMFF as proof, Enteng Kabisote, a hard-core comedy with fantasy for the backdrop, again topped the theater tills. Although Vic Sotto is the established filmfest box office king, the writer should get a big share of the credits. Aside from the good fairy tale for the story, it appeared that the scriptwriter took time to determine the trendy jokes and gags. Of course, the colorful costumes and expensive digital special effects added to its success.
“For a writer, a story normally starts with a plot. Pero sa movie, it starts with a story or a storyline. What’s next is the story conference to define the parameters. Dyan papasok ang creativity ng writer at director. Sometimes there would be a debate. Worse, nakikialam pa ang producer na wala namang alam.” The director had wanted to emphasize the importance of the story since it is the main root of the film. If only producers have the heart to stick to the stories perhaps we would have had a lot of sensible films. It is common for a story to be cannibalized for commercial motives. Characters are added or deleted depending on the actors/actresses that the director or producer have in mind.
“Producers need help. Dapat marami tayong incentives so as to motivate producers especially the new ones. Uso na ang digital kaya marami na ngayong Indie,” referring to small-time or independent producers. The government was not amiss in providing assistance but money alone will not solve the pervading problems in the industry. There is a great need for the movie industry to be united in order to give support to each other.
The veteran director harped on the shortcomings of the different organizations that are identified with the movie industry. Too much politics. Too much divisiveness. Organize a group and soon it will break up into two then into four. Unity in the movie industry is simply too far out of sight for the moment. But, like an ending of a good movie, there’s still the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s just pray that it’s not a wayward container van coming our way.
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