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Motion picture, the billion rupiah gamble

Publication Date : 28-05-2012

 

Although close to eight decades have passed since the first Indonesian movie played in local theatres, the film industry has yet to grow into a stable industry as filmmakers continue to struggle to attract viewers.

Data from Film Indonesia, a website dedicated to the film industry, shows that the number of moviegoers watching Indonesian films was on a downward trend, sliding to 14 million people in 2011, from 16 million people in the previous year.

Yet, amid these conditions, filmmakers point out that they still found investors willing to pour in funds into movie production, sometimes simply in the name of passion for the story and artwork.

Merantau Films producer, Maya Barrack-Evans, said that her two films, Merantau and The Raid, were significantly funded by investors.

“A majority – or approximately 80 per cent – of Merantau was funded by an investor, with the rest coming from the production house” she said, declining to specify the investment numbers and source.

Proceeds from the first movie were then reinvested in The Raid, which cost around US$1 million, though a local investor still had to cover 40 per cent of the remaining expenses.

With private investors still playing a pivotal role in film production, eyeing and getting hold of potential investors become critical.

“Looking for investors goes back to networking,” Maya said. “The film Merantau was rich with the theme of silat, so we went out to find investors who are concerned about pencak silat.”

Merantau, starring Iko Uwais, showcases the almost extinct West Sumatran martial art called “Silat Harimau”. The Raid has won critical acclaim all over the globe for its original delivery of jammed-pack action movie.

Sheila Timothy, the producer of Pintu Terlarang and Modus Anomali, pointed out that she had to hunt for private investors to fund her projects because banking policies were not supportive of loans to those in the creative industry.

She added that there were different types of investors, with some looking to profit from the film itself, while others justified their investments by making profits elsewhere.

Pintu Terlarang cost  7 billion  rupiah ($756,000) to make but Modus Anomali cost 3 billion rupiah ($315,700) because of simpler script requirements.

Sheila, who runs Lifelike Pictures, spent these investments on production while relying on funds from sponsors to cover marketing and promotion expenses.

Yet, Paul Agusta, an independent filmmaker with a penchant for explorative themes, faced a different challenge when it came to raising funds.

According to him, he would fund his films by himself if the topic was “too off the wall”, such as with his first film, Kado Hari Jadi (Anniversary Present), which cost around  56 million rupiah.

“If it’s commercially viable, I would then look for local investors because I could return their money. If it is an ‘art’ film, I tend to immediately look abroad,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Paul, who runs Kinekuma Pictures, was able to secure 20,000 euros from the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) – a grant program by the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IIFR) – for his second film, At the Very Bottom of Everything, with additional support from an investor.

However, his third film, Parts of the Heart, was crowd funded. The film is made of eight stories, with different investors choosing the story they preferred to fund.

Finding investors and wrapping up the films are not the only challenges local filmmakers face. The costs and limitations related to film distribution pose another challenge for filmmakers.

“Our distribution is limited to two theatre chains,” Sheila said, adding that the limited number of screens forced Indonesian films to compete fiercely for screening.

Indonesia has 172 theatres, with a total of 676 screens, data from the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry shows.

The chance to gain big revenues were further whittled down as filmmakers had to bear many expenses, including taxes and the shipment of films to theatres outside Jakarta.

Sheila noted that filmmakers only received  8,000 to 10,000 rupiah ($0.84 to $1.05)  in revenues from a ticket priced between 25,000 rupiah ($2.6) to 50,000 rupiah ($5.2) after tax deductions and a 50 per cent revenue split with theatres.

Maya added that after the booking of accounts, the production house would then split the earnings with their investors according to the percentage of investment.

The Raid, however, became a runaway hit. Within the second week of April, the movie had garnered 1.5 million local viewers. Yet, the film’s highly spoken of achievement is its Hollywood breakthrough.

The Raid had made it to number 11 on the US box office charts and was played in over 850 screens.

The Raid’s journey to the US began when the filmmakers sent raw footage to the Cannes Film Market, where Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions acquired the film.

Sony has since brought in world musicians, Mike Shinoda and Joe Trepanese, to add upon the soundtracks.

 “We ourselves are surprised at how The Raid has fared,” Maya said.

Meanwhile, film festivals and foreign distribution have become a choice for Paul, given the themes in his movies, such as sexuality. His first movie broke even through DVD distributions to countries such as Japan.

But this has not stopped him from going commercial – though not commercialised – on his latest movie.

“The stupid form of idealism is denouncing money but then there’s rational idealism in which you split your workload to allow financially profitable projects to subsidise the non-profitable ones,” he commented.

“It’s not an immediate return though, as it takes two to three years to see profits which could sometimes reach five or six times the initial budget,” he said, adding that there was “glamor” and “prestige” attached to financing a film.

Alex Sihar, director of Yayasan Konfiden – a foundation focused on pushing the use of audio visual media in the society – likened investing in a film in Indonesia with gambling due to the lack of film infrastructure.

“The government has not given any significant help to the film industry in the last 10 years,” he said, regarding both financial support and adequate policies.

He pointed out that the government could increase the number of theatres – a move that would benefit filmmakers – by offering tax breaks to those who open them.

Alex and a few other parties plan to establish the Indonesian Film Financing Agency (BPI), which would provide grants for non-commercial films and vouch for commercial filmmakers so they could secure funds from banks.

In the meantime, with no sure-bet ways of regaining investments in films, Alex described film investors as passionate fools.

“These are people who are ultimately struggling to establish this industry because mathematical wise, this business seems impossible,” he said.

 

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