Hitchhiker – Film Ticket Price in Malaysia (Part 2)

timeI suffer from a lot of things. There is, of course, the proverbial lack of time at hand. It is a convenient excuse, one that is no doubt used and understood by many of those who read this blog, as well as those who don’t. Hence, the sporadic updates may appear to some that we’ve, in some way, lost interest in the continuation of this blog. That is not true.

You might also be tempted to see the both of us as incredible procrastinators. In that regard, you would be a lot closer to the truth. A bigger part of that truth, however, is my tendency to try and not to react immediately. I find that I have a difficult time separating the emotional from the logical with a reduced amount of reaction time. In this particular context, what this means is that I need plenty of time to sit down, research, think things through…

…and only then will I peel away the skin and get at the heart of the potential increase in the price of Malaysian film tickets.

What would he think of RM20 tickets?
What would he think of RM20 tickets?

For those not in the know, coming towards the tail end of last year, the Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM) tabled a suggestion that the price of Hollywood movies be raised to RM20. For all that I know, the suggestion may already be dead in the water (I very much doubt whether it got off the ground in the first place), but nevertheless, I feel that the issue of Malaysian films being outperformed by foreign films (especially Hollywood ones) will not go away. Sooner or later, someone, somewhere will come up with yet another hare-brained proposal such as this.

And let’s face it, I doubt whether it’s amongst the smartest things that has been said. We should, however, not take it too holistically. By this, I mean that this suggestion was put forth by the PFM chairman, Ahmad Puad Onah, giving it a sense of credibility. This can’t be taken to mean that all the members of PFM share the same ideas (though I do think that the majority of them share the same concerns), or whether key industry players were even aware of it.

Nevertheless, the underlying concern behind the suggestion is still correct. I believe that there are things that should be done to protect the Malaysian film industry more. The simple truth is that Malaysian films are generally not doing as well when compared to their foreign counterparts. Of course, we do have exceptions to the rule; movies like ‘Duyung’ and ‘Evolusi KL Drift’ do make a barrel-load of cash.

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Didn't 'flop' like Duyung. Geddit? 🙂

Furthermore, we have to consider the standards being used as well, with production cost a big factor to be considered. ‘Mukhsin’ proudly proclaimed to have made RM2 million on its DVD cover; ‘Antoo Fighter’ was considered a flop despite creeping over the same RM2 million mark. The key point that should have been made, then, is that Malaysian films do not make enough money. I do not believe that every production does not make money at all. But then again, my standards are different. To the producers, I suppose when you bear in mind that there probably is no such thing as too much in the minds of money-minded people, then any amount that doesn’t match that is probably never going to be enough.

Why? There’s not enough people watching Malaysian films, that’s why.Using basic economics, it is clear that PFM hopes that by jacking up the ticket price of their competitors, people will undoubtedly plump for the local fare instead. Based on what they have spoken on the issue thus far, what they fail to take into account is the issue of perception. Perhaps image is a more appropriate word to be used. No matter how high the price is jacked up for other films, if the price of Malaysian films remain lower, then the image of Malaysian films will be that of a cheap production. Kinda like buying other things, like shoes, or cars; you don’t mind shelling out for a bit more, because you feel that you’re getting better quality for your buck. I fear that the same will hold true in this case. Generally speaking, there is already a gulf in class and presentation between Malaysian films when it is compared to foreign films. We don’t need to do anything else to enhance that.

Those dogs managed to find plenty of DVDs...
Those dogs managed to find plenty of DVDs...

Perhaps one thing that we could do would be to think big. By this, I mean two things: price and audience. Despite the hoopla over the proposed increase, I am saddened to say that it is already happening to a certain extent. A lot of the big cinema chains already do this; they raise the price of tickets for the big films. I hasten to add that while this may be legal, I also believe that it is taking the absolute, cynical piss. They know that plenty of the middle-class with cash to spare will not want to miss out on Transformers or a similarly big movie, so why not make a few extra bucks on the side. GSC Midvalley even offer a different price for ‘couple seats’, providing lovers with more privacy in the back row of a crowded theatre than a hotel room. Perhaps that is not the case now and everywhere, but nevertheless, there is already a price differentiation when it comes to certain movies, screenings, and seats.

So why not increase the price of tickets across the board? Let’s face it, those who don’t want to watch Malaysian films will not watch Malaysian films, no matter how cheap or how expensive the price is. By the same token, those who likes to watch Malaysian films will most probably continue to do so. Of course, there is an increasing risk that the number of people who will wait for the films to be shown on TV/buy pirated discs will increase; out of the ideas I have here, this is probably the riskiest. Nevertheless, I still think that allied with more concerted efforts on other fronts (increased crackdown on piracy, reduced time gap between cinema and DVD release, delaying a film’s screening on TV, etc.), it is worth further consideration.

This poster wants YOU.
This poster wants YOU.

We should also consider how to increase the population of those who watch movies regularly.Yes, I know, it’s a very BN way of looking at things (increasing the size of the economic pie and all that jazz), but once again, this is simple economics. It doesn’t quite reduce the number of people watching non-Malaysian films, but at least Malaysian films have a chance of making more money than they did before. Perhaps it helps if the majority of film marketers get their act together and work up proper film ad campaigns. Let’s be honest here: most of the efforts I’ve seen looks like a lazy Photoshopper’s attempt to squeeze the whole cast on the poster. For the most part, it looks like a B-grade film. Perhaps I will look more into this in another article, but I feel like there’s a missing link here somewhere, something that’s not particularly difficult, but can help to make for a better image and perception.

Or if we’re really serious about wanting to improve the market share for Malaysian films, why not take a look at the competitors in a non-price way? Why not go beyond ticket prices, and impose something a little more drastic? We can look at China for this, who impose a very strict quota on the number of foreign film screened in mainland China (by the way, the link is an interesting article in its own right about how China tries to increase film viewership). Perhaps we don’t have to be so drastic; reduce the number of foreign films, but also vary them a little bit. I’d welcome more films from across all of Asia. After all, we don’t really need ‘The House Bunny’ to liven up our lives, do we?

a half-dressed Anna Faris.
Just what we need: a half-dressed Anna Faris.

At the same time, we can also have a quick look at the wajib tayang scheme, which basically states that a local film must be shown for two uninterrupted weeks (terms and conditions apply). I think it is a good move, but I’d also advocate a further rethinking of the conditions, which makes it easy for exhibitors to drop local films if the attendance is very low. I would, for example, like to see it increase to three or even four uninterrupted weeks, with no conditions allowing for the film’s removal within the first two weeks under any circumstances.

Of course, from a pure business perspective, it is a foolish move to show an initially unprofitable film. However, not all films follow the American box office pattern and hit the peak within the first three days of release. A lot of films, if given the time to grow via word of mouth, positive reviews, and the like, could do considerably better if they’re not killed after two weeks, a week, or even three days. For a more informed opinion, Malaysian filmmaker Afdlin Shauki has written about this on his own blog.

One example that he has pointed is something that a lot of other people have pointed out when it comes to film protection schemes: that of Korea. Yes, Korea has a system in place to ensure that the cinema chains there would screen local films for at least 73 days out of a whole year. Previous arrangements were actually higher, but nevertheless, despite the objections, there is one big factor why Korean films have more than 50% of the market share. And that reason is Koreans love Korea. Afdlin points out that they love their own language. I will point out that they love everything that is their own. This includes culture, history, tradition, drama, songs, language…and yes, their own films. Though this doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of Korean society, I would put my mortgage on the fact that Koreans would kick our arses hands down when it comes to having pride in one’s own national culture. How to improve our own love for our culture? Well, that’s a whole other blog completely…

Cool, dangerous, charismatic. Even when subtitled...
Cool, dangerous, charismatic. Even when subtitled...

And they’re not stopping there. Generally speaking, Korean films are not subtitled, putting a lot of foreigners off. However, a new scheme announced will change this slightly, enforcing the subtitling of Korean films in English in order to increase their accessibility to non-Koreans…and make more money along the way. I saw ‘Histeria’ recently at the tail end of its cinema run, and I’m surprised that it didn’t even have Chinese subtitles (considering that the director is a Chinese himself). Perhaps this is a decision that is out of his hands, and perhaps this is the exception rather than the rule, but I do feel that its the little details like this that can help to improve our competitiveness if we want more people to watch Malaysian films.

These are merely the ideas that have been simmering in my head for a while. I have no doubt that they’re not perfect, and that such things are easier said than done. I’d welcome whatever thoughts you may have on the issue. Furthermore, they smack of idealism. I have, for the most part, been accused of being an idealist many times. That is OK. Perhaps these are ideals that will never be reached if I lived to be a 100 years old. Nevertheless, I do believe that such ideals are important, for they give us something to reach for, to look at, for it is only when we have that do we know how much further we have to go before such dreams and ideals become a reality.

It is only then that we’ll realise that ultimately, all of the above starts with one ideal that is a universal truth, no matter where you come from or what you do.

Just make good films worth supporting, and the rest will fall into place.

Now that is something shouldn’t be procrastinated for too long…

Fikri didn’t realise that this write-up reached almost 2000 words. That’s Monash essay proportions, man. Read Part 1 of our reaction here.

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