Malaysia’s filmmaking industry is about to enter a period of sustained growth thanks to incentives and programmes to develop the country’s film production sector said industry players at a recent Industry Speaks event organised by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) in Kuala Lumpur.
But as the lights shine brighter on the industry and it gets ready for its close-up, it could also be in for a potential shake-up with a new chief at the helm of FINAS in Dato’ Kamil Othman (pic), a former Vice President from the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), who helped put Malaysia on the map as a destination for animation production.
Bill Donovan, Executive Producer at Biscuit Films Sdn Bhd, a production support company which is helping Netflix produce its epic mini-series Marco Polo in Malaysia, said that the industry is on the verge of a breakthrough.
“I can see what’s coming just from the phone calls (from major foreign production companies) I am getting,” he said.
Donovan (pic) said that he expects more foreign production companies to take advantage of the incentives introduced in recent years – in particular the Film in Malaysia Incentive (FIMI) – which offers a 30% cash rebate for production expenses incurred while filming in Malaysia.
The Canadian, who has resided in Malaysia since 2006, also said that he sees a maturing of the industry over the next decade with more Malaysian films being exported, the base of skilled production crew workers getting stronger and the establishment of film making schools like those in Los Angeles and New York.
Michael Lake, Group Managing Director of Rhizophora Ventures Sdn Bhd, Khazanah Nasional’s holding company for creative content and media investments, concurred with Donovan and said that the industry is headed for “exciting things.”
Lake, who was formerly CEO of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, added however that Malaysian film makers needed to develop “cutting edge” intellectual property (IP) that can travel to foreign markets, especially the populous Asian markets which have collectively surpassed the North American market for box office takings.
“Think regional to start off,” he said. “Producers need to think of where the markets are. If they do that, there are great opportunities here.”
Dato’ Kamil, who was appointed the new Director General of FINAS in November last year, said that under his watch, it would no longer be business as usual and things are going to change for the industry.
For a start, he said that he intends to slash the number of filmmaking license holders by half from the current 7,000 in order to boost quality.
“We only want the real McCoys,” he said. “Any funding that is given to the wrong party prevents the real film makers from getting onto the right path.”
He also admonished local producers for excessive in-fighting over trivial issues as he said it was hurting the industry. Dato’ Kamil noted that film was possibly one of the most heavily subsidised industries in the country and urged producers to stop relying on the “Wajib Tayang” or mandatory screening policy and focus instead on making better products.
“If people don’t want to watch your films, deal with it. Get real,” he said.
He added that the current funding framework will be restructured.
Filmmaking has been a boon to economies in moviemaking hubs from Vancouver to New Zealand. Not only does it help tourism, but it also generates jobs and demand for supporting services such as accounting and legal work.
The US state of Georgia, the location for movies and TV series such as The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead, was reported to have benefited from USD934 million in film production in 2013 which generated USD3.3 billion in related economic activity.
Malaysia is also looking to capture a slice of the global media pie. The Economic Transformation Programme has nurturing the creative content industry as one of its initiatives. Revenue from export of creative content increased to RM565 million in 2013 from RM200 million in 2000. Estimated total qualified Malaysian production expenditure (QMPE) meanwhile grew to about RM149 million in 2013 as compared to just RM20 million in 2011.
Donovan told Business Circle that US film producers focus on locations that offer incentives and with Malaysia now on that list, it is primed for take-off.
“I am on the phone constantly with top studios in Los Angeles,” he said.