|Transcript of Tammy Dinopol's Speech at Cinemalaya Congress 2012
||[Jul. 30th, 2013|11:54 pm]
Mainstream and Indie: How One Can Benefit from the Other (REVISED)|
Cinemalaya Congress 2012
Tammy B. Dinopol
Good afternoon to everyone.
First, allow me to clarify something. I am well aware of the topic of this afternoon’s panel. But I ask you to please indulge me. Hereon out I will not be refering to the big movie studios of the country as “mainstream”. For two basic reasons:
One, accuracy. Let me illustrate. At the end of the last Metro Manila Film Festival, the organizers announced that the total gross or total ticket sales reached over six hundred million pesos. This was a new record, they said, without bothering to convert the peso amount to number of tickets sold. Okay, let’s do a little computation. If we divide the total gross, six hundred million pesos, by the average movie ticket price during the MMFF, around 150 pesos, the result is roughly four million tickets sold during the festival. This is the combined total for all seven participating films, for the entire duration of the festival, which was over two weeks, and for all movie theaters throughout the country. In contrast, let’s look at another cultural event that took place almost as soon as the Metro Manila Film Festival ended. I’m refering to the feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, celebrated every year on January 9. Newspapers placed the estimate of the number of devotees who attended the procession at eight million. In just one day, that religious fiesta outgrossed the MMFF by twice.
So, again: four million tickets were sold at the most recent MMFF. The population of the Philippines stands at ninety-five million. Again, by simple math, four million tickets represent 4.2% of our population.
To be honest I do not know the exact figure required for something to be considered mainstream. But my guess is, it’s more than 4.2%.
(PAUSE. LOOK AT THE AUDIENCE.)
Second reason is that the word “mainstream” does not connote production so much as consumption. In other words it refers to how a product is accepted in the market place and not how it was produced.
Certain teleseryes, instant noodles, the song “Call Me Maybe” – it is erroneous to say that these were mainstream-produced. But a good case can certainly be made for the assertion that these have gone mainstream in their respective markets.
Please allow me to illustrate further. Some independent filmmakers, in fact a growing number of them, are willing to admit that they aspire for their films to go mainstream. Does this mean they want to make films for the biggest movie studios in the land? Maybe for some. But for most, it simply means that they want their films to reach as wide an audience as there is, without necessarily having to sign with Star Cinema or GMA Films.
I am one such filmmaker.
So, if some of us in the independent filmmaking community have mainstream aspirations but no intention of giving up our independence, then the oversimplistic dichotomy of the industry as being mainstream versus indie simply cannot hold. Worse, it only tends to relegate small producers to the margins and keep them there. Kaya utang na loob po, at mawalang galang na rin po. Dito na sana mamatay at ilibing ang mainstream-indie-mainstream-indie na ‘yan. Aside from being problematic, this kind of labeling is misleading, counter-productive, and quite frankly, useless.
(HEAVE A DEEP SIGH)
Okay! Now that we have that out of the way, let’s proceed to the topic. Paano nga ba puwede o dapat magtulungan ang giant studios at small producers gaya natin?
I’ll get straight to the point. I have learned, from first-hand experience, that the answer to that question is simply this:
Live, and let live.
Live and let live.
Let me explain by telling you a story. A true story.
Once upon a time there was a film, a comedy. It was made by a relatively new, and very small, movie company. The producers were invited by the owner of a giant TV network to meet with him and the bosses of his company’s film production arm. The meeting went swimmingly well. At the very least it was certainly pleasant and upbeat enough. After all, the producers used to work for the network’s film unit. They were invited to the meeting to let them talk about what they were doing and planning for their fledgling company, and to explore the possibility of them working with the giant studio on projects. In short, chikahan and networking.
The producers showed them a one-minute teaser of the film they had just completed, the comedy. The network owner was instantly bowled over by the trailer, which had him alternately laughing and grinning from ear to ear. “You have to see this,” he enthusiastically and emphatically told the studio head. “You have to see this,” he said again, implicitly telling her that this could be a movie that they could work with, namely, release in the market. “Yes, yes, sure,” the studio head said obligingly.
So, a day or two later, the producers sent the studio head a screener. After watching it, the studio head called one of the producers and said she wasn’t sure about the movie. She couldn’t quite put a finger on what bothered her about it so could she show it to her “generals”? By “generals” she meant her heads of creatives, production, promotions, and distribution. The producer said yes, please show it to your generals.
So she did. And they all hated the film.
The other producer got a call from one of the generals. “Heeeeeeeey,” the general said, “I tried to laugh as loud as I could, ha!” Okay, the producer was thinking, this is not going to be good. The general continued: “And each time I laughed, the women in the room would glare at me, wondering what I found so funny.” Okaaaaaaay… The producer was now sure it was bad. “You know what, we tried, we really tried so hard to think how we could help you. We wracked our brains trying to figure out how we could market the film,” the general continued. “You didn’t like it. It’s okay, really,” the producer butted in, strangely feeling it was the overly apologetic general who needed consoling. “No, it’s not that,” the general said. “It’s just that, wow, your group is soooooo brave for making a film that is unmarketable.” Pause, as the producer swallowed, hard. “That bad, huh?” was all he managed to say. “Well, my colleagues didn’t think it was funny, and we all agree that it’s impossible to sell, even to schools or for special screenings.” Ouch. The producer thanked the general anyway, who didn’t miss a beat as he said, “You’re all so talented. Let’s work on something that will sell. Something that will really make a difference.” “Sure,” was all the producer could say. End of conversation. And that was that.
Except that it wasn’t.
A week later the same general called the other producer, his voice trembling. “I made a mistake,” he said. “The studio head is so angry with me.” “Why?” the producer asked. “Because I told you and your co-producer that we already rejected your film.” “O, di ba you said our movie was unfunny, uncommercial, and unmarketable?” “Yes,” the general answered. “But what I didn’t tell you was that the head of promotion was absent when we screened your film, and when he saw it for himself, he said it was very funny and very commercial.” Pause. The general then continued, “The studio head wants to meet with you.”
The meeting took place. The studio head told the producer that they would release the film, but that they wouldn’t put their name on it. Most of it was left unsaid but in short, the studio wanted to make money off the movie but stood by their assessment that it was a shameful thing and didn’t want their shining name sullied by any association with such a morally bankrupt project. So, in short again, they not only found the movie unfunny and uncommercial. It turned out they also found it immoral. But hey, Promo General liked it. And he’s usually right about these things. So, sayang naman their share if they missed out on a potential hit.
The producer took it all in stride. Calmly she said okay. “We just need to clarify the TV rights agreement because that will determine the amount of TV spots we’ll get to air our trailers.” Note: when independent producers sign away their films’ TV rights to the networks, oftentimes – and wrongly – in perpetuity, they usually – again, wrongly – do not get any cash in return. It is an X-deal whereby the producer gets the agreed amount in terms of TV spots on which to air their movie’s trailers. A thrity-second spot on a primetime teleserye costs around three hundred thousand pesos per airing, or ten thousand pesos per second.
So the copy of the movie was sent to the boss of TV Programming. Weeks passed. Finally, an answer: No. Why? “Because,” the TV boss said, “once the censors are through with this film there will be virtually nothing left to show on TV.”
In short the deal with the giant studio fell through.
The producers decided that they would release the movie themselves. And, mainly because of the size of their promo budget, which was XXS – extra extra small, they opted for a main marketing strategy that required the least cash: Word-of-Mouth Marketing.
This strategy is always a double-edged sword because it hinges on the judgment of the end user. If the early audiences to whom you show the movie love it, then you’re in business. But if they receive it with anything less than love, maybe not hate, but worse, indifference, then maybe you should start drafting a long, heartfelt letter of regret to your investors.
Eyes half shut, the producers decided to go all in. They would premiere the movie at the biggest, and possibly scariest, venue: at the Main Theater of the CCP, on Closing Night of Cinemalaya. Tickets sold fast and ran out days before the event. One thousand six hundred people came that night. They roared with laughter from the get-go. The movie was a smash.
The producers’ gamble paid off. But it also backfired, in a major major way.
You see, the producers had friends working for the giant studio. Like I already mentioned, they used to work there, too. Before they literally walked out the door and started their own company. So anyway, these friends came to the premiere to show their support for the producers. And they were truly happy for them in their success. They excitedly shared the news of the phenomenal screening back at their office. “It was a laugh-a-minute show!” exclaimed one of them at the Monday Management Committee Meeting, the day after the premiere. The studio head was there to hear all this. And her mind went, “Oops.”
This was understandable. After all, she had passed on the chance to release what was now looking to be a hit. She must have then remembered what her boss, the network owner, said: “You have to look at this. You have to look at this.”
Immediately she called her Distribution General to a meeting. They changed their lineup. At the cinema bookers meeting the following day, they submitted their revised playdates. At the end of the next month they would open their comedy starring the most popular comedienne today. It was the exact same playdate as that of the producers’ comedy, and one of the stars of that movie was also the same comedienne.
One week later they would open another movie. And the following week, yet another. In an unprecedented move, the studio opened a new movie each week for three consecutive weeks. It seemed reckless. But in fact they knew exactly what they were doing.
They were effectively blocking the small producers’ movie from cinemas all over the country. They had the clout to do it. They didn’t need a hit. All they had to do was release a movie, and another, and another. In fact, all three of their movies flopped. But no matter the ticket sales they always got the theaters they wanted.
Meanwhile, the producers’ movie was turning out to be the small comedy that could. After the much talked about premiere at Cinemalaya, several other advance screenings were bought and organized by several groups across the country. The word-of-mouth strategy was working. The buzz was good and getting stronger as the playdate neared.
It lived up to its promise when it became a big hit in Metro Manila where it beat the studio’s release, outgrossing it by forty percent. In the provinces, however, it was another story. Because the malls there were much smaller, their three or four cinemas were practically locked down by Hollywood and the giant studio. By opening a new film each week for three straight weeks, the studio effectively blocked the small comedy from getting booked in several provincial theaters. Not only that, the studio even put a stop to the small movie’s special advance screenings throughout the country. The studio did this by prevailing upon the National Cinemas Association of the Philippines to threaten the participating cinemas with sanctions if they pushed through with the said advance screenings. Those screenings are an unfair advantage, the studio cried. What it was, actually, was a promotional activity that they wouldn’t do, because they couldn’t. They can’t hold sneak previews well ahead of their playdates for the simple reason that they only finish their movies the day before they open. Everything to them is not rush; it’s “rush-rush”.
They even bullied a cinema and forced it to bump off the small movie in favor of one of their releases. It didn’t matter that the small movie consistently had sold out shows every night, or that the studio movie hardly sold twenty tickets even in the prime showtimes.
I won’t keep you guessing. Anyway some of you must have guessed it already. Any guesses?
(WAIT FOR THEIR ANSWERS)
The small comedy was Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington. The producers were myself and my partner Raymond Lee. The studio… hmmm… wanna guess?
(LET THEM ANSWER)
Now back to the question at hand: How can giant studios and small producers benefit from one another? I cannot speak for all independent film producers. I can only speak for myself.
And I say: Make good films. Put in more time, effort, and care into them. Don’t rush.
And then I will be your cheerleader. A good Filipino film is a good Filipino film, regardless of who made it, regardless of the studio or indie labels. I will support it, promote it, post about it on my facebook, tweet about it, drag people to see it. Yes, even if it was produced by the studio that went out of its way to minimize our movie’s potential success. And to that studio, I have this to say:
We may have written many of your hits, but not for one moment did we feel any sense of entitlement. We never felt that you owed it to us to help us. We didn’t expect you to hold our hand or give us free TV spots to air our trailers. But we also didn’t expect you to try to kill our movie. We thought that you, as the market leader of an industry that has not grown in the last two decades, would be happy with the success of small producers like us because any success in this business will no doubt redound to everyone’s benefit, but most of all to the market leader.
This panel today asks how we can help each other – you, the giant studios, and us small producers. But you know what? If you don’t feel like it, it’s fine, really. You don’t have to help us. I just have one request:
LEAVE US ALONE.
LIVE AND LET LIVE.
Maraming salamat po!