It has been a challenging period for the film industry that saw cinema closures, production postponements, event cancellations and release dates being pushed back, in the wake of the the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent movement control order (MCO).
The impact to the Malaysian film industry started as early as February, which was when a few big titles from China (Vanguard, Jiang Zi Ya: Legend Of Deification, Detective Chinatown 3 and The Rescue) were abruptly taken off the Chinese New Year movie calendar.
“We already spent money on promoting these titles and then we got the news they would be taken out from the schedule, ” recalled Tung Yow Kong, general manager of GSC Movies.
“CNY is a great period for Malaysia box office; this year we lost at least 50% of our revenue.
“When China announced total lockdown, it led to film shoots being completely stopped. We really had to change our mindsets... That’s when we realised we would have a big problem ahead of us.”
The problem became real when Covid-19 started to spread in Malaysia in March. And the local films were hit when MCO was implemented on March 18.
Bulan Dan Pria Terhebat, the action flick starring Maya Karin, had played in the cinemas for only five days when multiplexes stopped operating. Director Muzzamer Rahman’s horror-comedy Takut Ke Tak, which was scheduled to open on April 2, has been postponed to an indefinite date.
Many film productions that were scheduled to start shooting have been postponed.
Director Dain Said had two projects scheduled to go into production during this period. They’re obviously shelved and he’s not sure if the filming would even happen now. “It all depends on the investors really, ” Dain said of their status.
On April 7, Datuk Hans Isaac, the chairman of National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas), told StarLifestyle that the government film body is presenting a proposal to the Ministry Of Communications And Multimedia that aims to restart the film industry that is on a pause right now.
“One of the things on the list is that all the affected films that were scheduled to be in cinemas for the next six months will be given new release dates.
“Films that were disrupted because of the MCO can reapply with Finas to come back to cinemas again.
“I am holding conference calls with key players in the industry and people from Finas to put this proposal together.
"We hope to be able to inject more fund to the film industry to boost the economy so that the money (that’s in turn generated) can trickle down right down to everyone involved, ” Hans said in the phone interview.
On April 13, the ministry released a statement that it is looking for ways to help the members of the creative industry, and is agreeable to Finas’s request to give new release dates for all the films affected by the MCO.
On April 16, the ministry released another statement with minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah saying it has allocated RM1.32mil as an Incentive Feature Film initiative (ITFC) to local film producers, also in response to Finas's proposal to help film producers to continue producing local films.
Keep calm, keep working
Luckily for director Syafiq Yusof, two of his biggest films – Abang Long Fadil 3 and Polis Evo 3 – are in post-production stages, which means he could work on them remotely while obeying the MCO. Similarly, Adrian Teh, who is done shooting his next film after Wira, is hunkered down with post-production work.
(Both Syafiq and Teh were not reachable for quotes for this article.)
Director Muzzamer, who is waiting for the new release date for Takut Ke Tak, is also in the midst of post-production for his other film, Prebet Sapu. He, and Dain, concur that their work continues even though they are not able to go out.
Muzzamer said: “I have been working on Prebet Sapu since 2017 because the whole thing is funded by my own money. Right now, it’s in post-production. I am seeing through the editing, sound design, music composing and special effects process, that are all done by different companies.
“I deal with post-production crew via text or we have Skype meetings. And that is normally the case anyway.
“Only thing I am stuck at right now is the additional voice recording that needs to be done by the actors. I can only do that after the MCO ends.”
While Prebet Sapu is going as per normal, Muzzamer’s two other film-related projects are stalled.
“Pesta Filem Kita which was originally scheduled for March 21 is now pushed to June or July. We had workshops and seminars planned. Also, I was doing the SineBuku project with (production house) Kuman Pictures, where we grant a chosen filmmaker RM15,000 to make a short film based on a book. That has been postponed as well.”
He added: “I had a shoot scheduled in June, a travelogue series with filming set to take place in Netherlands and Germany. That won’t be happening this year I think.”
Taking the right step
With everything up in the air, it is only natural for people to be bracing for a slump. GSC’s Tung expects a slow climb to overcome this slump in the coming months. Nonetheless, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
“Things are already moving ahead in China. Film productions are resuming so we can hopefully get our film supplies from there. Maybe the postponed CNY titles can be released soon too.
“One of the countries that took a quick handle of the Covid-19 situation was South Korea. We are looking at new films coming from South Korea to populate our cinemas in the coming months. We recently launched the teaser trailer to Train To Busan Presents Peninsula. I think we will start to see a slow momentum going probably by July or August,” Tung said.
But realistically too, he says, things are getting worse in the United States. He cautioned: “We can be more confident of what will happen next when there is a definite treatment for coronavirus.”
Since we are encouraged to still practise social distancing after the MCO is lifted, Tung noted: “Cinema halls is one of the places where a large group of people gather. It will be a challenge moving forward, so we have to figure out how to approach this.”
Last week, the Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors announced that the cinemas in Malaysia will be closed until the end of April 2020, due to the Covid-19 crisis.
According to Hans, Finas is talking to film exhibitors on how to ensure the safety of patrons when cinemas are finally opened.
“We are figuring out how to apply social distancing in a cinema hall. Do we empty one or two seats in between and do they wear face masks while watching a movie?
“Also cleaning steps such as fumigating the whole cinema from time to time, sanitising the seats and other items in the cinemas must continue.”
Muzzamer is also doing what he can to keep the spirits up. “I am quite a positive person. I believe it will take a few months for everything to get back to some sort of new normal. Definitely it will take time, but we will get there.”
For now, he is uploading some of his old short films on his YouTube channel (Le Mediator) to encourage others with ways to create good content with a limited budget.
Hans is equally positive about the future. “We are a strong nation. We can come back with proper guidance and leadership. There will be an economic loss, that is expected globally.
“Our films did well before Covid-19. The three animation films (Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal, Ejen Ali Movie and BoBoiBoy Movie 2) last year for example did really well. Covid-19 has been damaging, but if we work together and not be greedy and selfish, we can bounce back, ” stated a hopeful Hans.