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Quo vadis Philippine Cinema?

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LAST YEAR, not even half of the Philippines’ population of 110 million went to the cinema. Then in February, seasoned film director Erik Matti went on Facebook calling for government intervention in order to save the ailing film industry. A month later, industry stakeholders have finally sat down and begun discussing what should be done in order to toss the industry its much-needed life jacket.

“[I was] pleasantly surprised with the results of the first two meetings because we saw the intention from both sides to resolve the issues. [All] parties came with an open mind and were willing to listen to each other,” Mary Liza Diño-Seguerra, Chairman and CEO of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), told BusinessWorld via FB Messenger on March 20.

The FDCP reported in February that about 50 million Filipinos went to watch films in cinemas in 2018.

OPENING FRIDAY
On March 14, Ms. Diño-Seguerra announced on her Facebook page that at a meeting on March 13, industry stakeholders — filmmakers, distributors, producers, exhibitors and the government — had come to an agreement that films will now open on Fridays instead of the Wednesdays in order for films to take advantage of the weekend crowd.

Many smaller films are at a disadvantage when they open midweek as they tend to draw a sparse crowd which results in the cinemas pulling them out before the weekend. By opening on Fridays, it is hoped that these films will be able to draw more cinemagoers at a time when they are free from the concerns of work and school and are assumed to have more free time to see a movie.

Though no date has been set for implementation of this change, she said that this was an important step to “reach a unified solution that is amenable to all our stakeholders.”




She added that having the different stakeholders in the industry sitting down and talking about issues might spell a “new beginning… and was a good gauge to see the next hundred years of cinema,” as “for so many years, it felt like people were on guard against each other.”

The country is now in the midst of celebrating the centennial of Philippine Cinema as the first Filipino film, Jose Nepomuceno’s Dalagang Bukid, was released in 1919.

POINTS OF CONTENTION
Aside from the change of opening day, Ms. Diño-Seguerra told BusinessWorld that the ongoing series of meetings (another one is scheduled on March 27) has also seen discussions on 10 other points including: booking of new films, admission prices, run length of films in theater, ratio of local versus foreign films, and the hold back period (or the period before films are introduced to small screens beyond their theatrical release).

“Almost all points were resolved or agreed. [Though] further discussion is needed for admission prices, minimum guaranteed days for every film booked for theatrical release, and holdback period of films released in cinemas before it goes to other platforms like VOD, etc.,” she said.

In 2018, according to FDCP data, the overall box-office gross was P11.5 billion — “almost the same as [2017]” but that the number is “mostly because of inflation and the actual ticket sales is lower,” she explained.

No concrete agreement has been made by theater owners and producers, and they have requested “further study and data.”

GUARANTEED DAYS ON SCREEN
Ms. Diño-Seguerra also said that they are still trying to get people on the same page when it comes to the guaranteed number of days a film will be shown in the cinemas, saying that pulling out a film because of its poor showing on its first day is “detrimental to a producer who has invested millions on a movie that gets pulled out on its opening day because it means he’s already losing his chance to recoup his investment through a theatrical release and has to resort to other revenue streams to get his money back.”

She noted that other countries have a guaranteed one-week run for films, yet acknowledged that this is a tricky problem.

“But this issue is very complicated because part of the reason why films don’t perform [well] in the box office is because, among others, they aren’t marketed and promoted enough and also, because of the content itself. Some films, especially independent ones, need word of mouth to be pushed to [get a] better audience turnout,” she said.

Another item on the agenda that needs to be resolved in the next meetings is the ratio between foreign and local films. She said that the current ratio is 70% foreign films to 30% local films.

“There must be a more equitable ratio between Filipino films and foreign films booked every playdate in cinemas. This is part of the next discussion as well,” she said.

BIG DAY FOR PHL CINEMA
Mr. Matti, who was very vocal about the ills of Philippine Cinema, said that the meeting on March 13 was a “big day for Philippine Cinema” because “finally the cinemas, distributors, and producers through [the] FCDP are starting to work towards an effort to revive Filipino movies.”

“It’s not yet perfect but inch by inch we’re all in agreement that our movie industry needs saving,” he said in a Facebook post on March 13.

Ms. Diño-Seguerra said that after the March 27 meeting, the FDCP will conduct public consultations for the matter.

“As soon as guidelines are finalized, we will publish in a major broadsheet and on required publications for compliance to rules. We are looking at April or May at the latest for its full implementation,” she said. — Zsarlene B. Chua

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