Saturday, July 10, 2010


Today I am highlight an interview where the top guy at Finas, a local film body
talks about their role in improving the film industry in Malaysia. The article appears in the sun on May 20. 2010.

Headline: Scripting box-office success

Finas director-general Mohd Mahyidin Mustakim fields questions from BISSME S on our film industry.

There is a perception that Finas (the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia) is not doing much for the Malaysian film industry. What is your comment?

It depends on who you ask? Those who read the entertainment columns are aware of its events, activities and contributions.

What is Finas’s main function?

We are a development and regulatory body; we issue licences for production, distribution and exhibitions. In 2005, the government launched the National Film Policy where several strategies were drawn up to develop the film industry. We have diligently carried out a lot of programmes to achieve this target.

Tell us about some of these programmes?

We are focusing on developing human resources. We want to increase the skills in the film industry. Since 2005, we have conducted more than 40 weekly training courses every year covering most aspects of filmmaking. Every year we organise nine master classes where we bring experts from overseas. These foreign tutors have at least 20 years of experience. We work closely with the foreign embassies to identify experts who are qualified and experienced. Even established local film talents such as Afdlin Shauki, Adlin Aman, Sofia Jane, Ramlie and Erra Fazira have attended the master classes.
Finas has been building a post-production facility in stages. We need to buy a few more software programs, then we will have a complete post-production facility. By the end of the year our filmmakers will not need to go to Bangkok or India for their post-production work. We also offer a cheaper rate compared to our competitors.
Since our infrastructure is new, we have the latest technology so our facilities can be considered as one of the best in the world. (He laughs)

Do you think our movies are far behind in terms of box-office collection?

I do not agree. Everyone says Malaysia is a small market. Yet in this small market, a local film (Adnan Sempit) got RM7.66 million at the box office in February. In the past, the local films that got RM1-2 million at the box office were considered big successes. But of late, some of the local films are getting RM3-6 million at the box office. Local average collection of some Hollywood films are between RM1 million and RM2 million at the box office. Only the big guns like Spiderman and Transformer get RM15-20 million.
Last year, local movies generated RM50.854 million at the box office while in 2008 local movies generated RM43.927 million. This is a big increment. Since the launch of the National Film Policy in 2005, the box-office collection for local films has jumped from RM25 million to RM50 million last year. That is a 100% jump in five years. It is a wonderful achievement.
This has encouraged producers to make more films. In 2005, we had 21 films and now we are making more than 30 films. You can expect more films to be made in future. I feel the box-office collection for local films will only get bigger because cinema chains are growing. Three years ago we had 75 cinemas and 350 screens in Malaysia. Now we have 98 cinemas and 550 screens. There are plans to extend the cinema chains to rural areas and this will improve the box-office collection for the local movies.

Some young filmmakers feel Finas does not help them in marketing and promoting their films.

We support them with their film projects or when they want to make short films. We provide funds and assistance to them to participate in foreign film festivals, assist them with flight costs and accommodation, to attend training and seminars and other skills enhancement programmes and activities. Of course you cannot expect to make millions out of short films. But these short films give you a chance to prove that you can be a filmmaker … a director.
Young directors and producers can come to Finas for assistance and funds and our doors are always open. We have given them a lot of support in the past and continue to do so. But you can’t expect us to do everything. We have talents who tell us to get them jobs in television. But that is not our job scope. Our role is to support you, not to spoon-feed you. If I am doing the marketing, promotion and getting you the jobs, I might as well become the producer.

Is Finas doing anything to push Malaysian films overseas?

In the last few years, we have been going to international film festivals and markets selling Malaysian productions including animations and documentaries. Feature films are more difficult to sell. But our documentaries and animations have met some success and the response from foreign buyers is encouraging.
Recently, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa managed to get seven to eight overseas distributions. We took the producers (KRU production Sdn Bhd) to Cannes and America. We have come out with a new strategy to get our films shown overseas.

What is the strategy?

We will co-produce movies with foreign production houses to gain access to overseas markets. When the movies are made, we have a ready market. We are looking at some production houses in Australia.

What is one achievement that you are really proud of?

Almost every year, we received more than 80 foreign applications who want to do documentaries in Malaysia. I was wondering why our filmmakers are not cashing on this and making documentaries. I also find that our filmmakers are making documentaries on a tight budget. They have no choice but to compromise on the quality. But in 2007 we initiated a programme where our filmmakers could work together with established channels such as Discovery and National Geographic to make documentaries. Soon other established channels also joined the bandwagon. With better budgets and more experienced guidance, the level of our documentaries has improved tremendously.

There is a strong perception that Finas only helps Malay filmmakers. What is your comment?

Historically, the film industry in Malaysia is a Malay film industry. (The first Malay film, Laila Majnun, was made in 1933 by Singapore-based Motilal Chemical Company).
Some non-Malay producers are not aware of what Finas can offer. The basic thing a producer requires is funding and our funding is open to all races. Dana Pembangunan Seni Filem dan Multimedia gives funding up to RM50,000 to young and new filmmakers to make films and helped filmmakers to take their films to international film festivals. This funding has been going on for the last ten years and to date we have given more than RM6 million in funding to young filmmakers.
We do not look at the colour of your skin when we give out the funding. We only look at your proposals/projects and your body of work. We helped many non-Malay filmmakers such as Tan Chui Mui, Ho Yuhang, Lina Tan and James Lee with their film projects and to attend or participate in international film festivals.
For the Dana Skim Pinjaman Film Cereka, it doesn’t say the funding is only given to Malay films. In January, the government launched the RM200 million Dana Industri Kreatif that is open to all Malaysians.
We also have the Skim Wajib Tayang where it is mandatory for the cinemas to screen local films and they cannot take down the local movies from their venues for at least 14 days. (Unless that local movie fails and ticket sales show a below 15% occupancy of the hall). You have to apply for this scheme three months before your movie hits the cinemas. But not many non-Malay productions use this service.

Why do you think this perception exists? Why do you think non-Malay productions believe Finas is designed to help Malay filmmakers?

There is a Malay saying Tak kenal tak cinta (If you do not know someone, you will not love him). As long as it is a Malaysian-made production, we will try to help you. Perhaps, these facts only appear in the Malay newspapers and as a result the non-Malay filmmakers are not aware of our services.

What is the biggest misconception people have about Finas?

When local movies get banned, people point at us. But we have nothing to do with the Censorship Board. We are in different ministries. The board is with the Home Ministry while we are under the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry.

But when a movie is banned, Finas keeps silent. Shouldn’t it be helping them?

We do assist the producer. But we must also be mindful of our duties and not step on other people’s toes and jurisdiction. Censorship is everywhere even in the United Kingdom. To be fair, our censorship board has become liberal in the last few years. In the past, we could not make horror movies. This changed in 2004 when Shuhaimi Baba made Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam.
Recently, the board met our filmmakers and came out with better guidelines.Some filmmakers feel the censorship board’s strict rules hinder creativity. For example if you portray Mat Rempits and gay characters, they have to repent or die at the end of movie.
Unless you are shooting porn, you will not face much problems with the censorship board. You need to be creative and work around the rules. Look at what KRU productions is doing. They make a film about a mermaid (Duyung) and a man with superpowers (Cicak Man).

Some believe the development of the film industry is at the bottom of the government’s priority list. Is this true?

That is a misconception. If that was true, the government would not have created the RM200 million Dana Industri Kreatif last year. The prime minister would not have personally launched the Dana recently. All these elements are a testimony of the government’s sincere commitment to the development of the film industry and the creative industry.

Some people think Finas should be privatised to run more efficiently. Do you think it should be privatised?

I cannot comment on this. I am not supposed to talk about government policy.

Some say the people who run Finas are not passionate about films and arts. It is just another job to them. Do you agree?

Attitudes are changing in Finas. There is also a change in culture. In the past, Finas was just a regulatory body. With the National Film Policy in 2005, Finas was given a more prominent role.
Funds are given to us to build new studios. Research and development entered the picture. The staff in Finas are given better training. The government looked for an outside player (not from the government bodies) to run Finas. They wanted someone with film experience. That is how I came into the picture. If we were not passionate about our jobs, we would not have carried out all those activities that benefit the film industry. All projects and programmes for the development of the industry are carried out after consultation and input from industry players and associations.

Tell us more about yourself?

I worked with an oil company. After ten years, I left and worked in a family-owned film production company. I worked there for ten years before holding this post. I have been executive producer for six films. I was also the secretary for Malaysian Film Producers Association.

What was the biggest change you have brought to Finas?

I found decision-making in Finas was slow. I have speeded-up this process.

Malaysians prefer to watch commercial films. As a result, Malaysian art movies have a hard time at the box office. What is Finas doing to change this trend?

The first challenge is to get Malaysians to watch Malaysian movies regardless of whether they are art or commercial films. Malaysians are more interested to watch foreign movies. Ninety per cent of Malaysian films are Malay films. Even the elite Malays are not watching Malay films.
We have started a programme called Merakyatkan Film Malaysia three years ago. On the last Saturday of each month, a classic Malay film will be shown at Coliseum cinema for free. There are 700 seats in the cinema hall and often the movies are played to a full house. We even brought some veteran artists who starred in these films to the cinema.
Movie fans get to meet them and get their autographs. We hope this will encourage people to watch local movies. We have even formed film clubs, Kelab Pencinta Film Malaysia, in secondary schools and universities. There are about 58 clubs in Malaysia, and one each in London and Melbourne.
We provide a home theatre system to each of club which has to show two Malaysian films a month. In that way, we are instilling a love for Malaysian movies especially among our youths. We even send the DVDs of Malaysian movies to the clubs in London and Melbourne. To date, we have more than 6,000 members.

What is your view of local films?

In the past, we were making slapstick, comedies and romances. But in recent years, we have been making movies of different genres. That is good sign.

What is your hope for the industry?

I would like to see more investment, professionalism and key players in the film industry. Right now a big number of people come into the industry and start a film but they cannot finish the film because they run out of funds. Then they start looking for money. This is not healthy. There is a small pool of technical people and actors. We got to expand that and only then we will have variety.
Our producers are making films for the local market and then trying to take these films into the international market. This mindset has to change. They have to make movies with an international audience in mind and show them at the local market. Then, they will be more successful in getting their films screened internationally. It is time to have bigger dreams.

What kinds of films do you like?

I like most films except for gory horror films. My personal favourites are movies that emphasise technology and special effects.

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