Are cinemas dead?

For film buff and ANIMA (Kroma Entertainment) consultant Joe Caliro, he believes it’s a yes. He gave the reasons in his talk during the first committee meeting of the Creative Industries of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines titled Is the Philippines the next global film production hub?, while presenting the realities of the global entertainment industry and how these relate to the local setting.

Firstly, he discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted people’s viewing habits. He noted the dramatic effect across the entire industry as cinemas have started to re-open. He said, “The only films that are actually getting attention are these big blockbusters. The smaller films just cannot make it in the cinemas. In the Philippines, when you go to the cinemas, there is nobody there. I’m a film buff, right. I continue to go to the cinemas.”

Newcomers Alexa Miro and Rob Gomez topbill A Girl and A Guy, which became one of the top trending movies on Netflix Philippines.

“The irony is, I saw Unchartered this weekend, I paid P900 to see a film. Now you want to kill the industry. The cinemas should better figure out (that) you can’t be charging P900, you know, for a single ticket to see a movie,” he continued.

The Hollywood film Unchartered starred Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas. Although the major plotline of the action-adventure flick is set in the Philippines, they didn’t film in the country, said Joe.

The members of AmCham Philippines Creative Industries Committee with Film Development Council of the Philippines chair Liza Diño, ANIMA (Kroma Entertainment) consultant Joe Caliro, Creative Economy Council of the Philippines executive director Celina Agaton, ANIMA executive director Quark Henares, and BASE Entertainment chief creative development officer Tanya Yuson during their virtual meeting

“They were able to generate the backgrounds in the Philippines,” and described it as a “dangerous thing going forward on this” because “you can cheaply create the Philippines. It is really important to make it easier for films (productions) to come and film in the Philippines. Otherwise, they are just created much cheaper. (It has) sliding effects in the cinemas and the small films are dying.”

Another effect of this is the war of subscription video on demand (SVOD) platforms such as Netflix, Disney, Amazon and other streaming platforms because they are in a battle for content, Joe pointed out.

In the Philippines, this scenario is “starting to heat up and there’s also a backlash that’s happening within that battle,” he shared.

“The danger of that context is all about how long that piece of content is and how long it takes to get people to view it,” he added. “There’s a question of whether the Philippines (will) decapitalize (on this) or the question is whether they are even aware of it.”

“What’s happening is, two hours of small films are becoming limited series because the SVOD are more (into) series than they are in films,” explained Joe. “Why? Because in the series, people keep coming back. They are trying to build habituation. They are trying to show the value of the subscription of that service, so a series is what they are looking for.”

The problem is that a two-hour film does not make a 10-hour episode with each episode being an hour, he furthered. The stretching of the two-hour plotline is “very difficult” and it affected the Philippine film industry because the “storyline for that content and recreating it are very thin.”

“As the industry shifts to the paradigm of this limited series or the smaller film being stretched to longer films, we’re gonna be in trouble in not being able to capitalize that on that particular piece,” he went on.

Comparing the success of international series like the Squid Games and Money Heist, Joe said that these contents are “complex,” replete with multiple storylines and characters but the Filipino contents are not due to lack of budget and the Philippines is “stuck with the traditional window of theater, SVOD, free to air, etc.”

Furthermore, one cannot “compare or hope that the Philippines will ever be South Korea (in terms of successful international content),” he detailed, “It’s exactly what Liza (Diño) was saying, you got to get the government to really support and fund (the film industry). Korea is about the government, it’s about the support, plus, they don’t follow the traditional window (as mentioned earlier) and they start and build network.”

However, in the Philippines, “they are not creating content that has an IP (intellectual property) to travel. That’s the mentality that has to change because you create content on the networks that are complex, compelling, and that will travel.”

“When somebody asked me a question, how did you get all this stuff on Netflix and Amazon and stuff. And I gave a quote that kind of went out there, ‘Oh, that’s simple, don’t produce films for Filipinos, produce Filipino films for the world.’ That’s a mind shift that needs to happen,” advised Joe.

He further urged the Philippine film industry to “change,” produce more “complex storylines” and “increase budgets.”

Joe also commended ANIMA executive Quark Henares, and Reality Entertainment’s Erik Matti and Dondon Monteverde for doing a “phenomenal job” in pushing Filipino content to the global scene such as A Girl and A Guy, which became one of the trending movies on Netflix, and the first Filipino original series on HBO and now on HBO Max, On The Job (OTJ).

The latter was originally a movie that took over two million USD to produce. “You need that kind of budget to get the attention of an international audience. It was complex. It had a great character build. It had a great storyline. And take note, the soundtrack of that movie alone was the cost of an average two Filipino films. So it takes that kind of bravery to go out there and make that kind of content,” shared Joe, who is one of the executive producers of the series.

With more major international deals coming for OTJ, apart from the Volpi Cup Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival for John Arcilla, the series has “opened a window for international content out of the Philippines,” declared Joe. As such, his challenge to the entertainment business and creative groups is this, “Rethink the way you’re thinking about the windows (of opportunity).”

On the contrary, chief creative development officer of BASE Entertainment and one of the producers behind Netflix’s Trese, Tanya Yuson believes that the cinema is not dead.

Citing the success of Trese, she said, “It is something that we’re really proud of (Trese) and something that we really looked at, showing us that we really need to connect with the Filipino audience.”

She continued, “I think, (it’s) not so much that cinema is dead but we need to figure out, we have to look at the big picture of where we are as an industry, where we are as an audience and how do we connect with the audience.”

Meanwhile, Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) chair asked for more funding to achieve its goal for the film industry.

“Investment is key for us to really upgrade and really elevate the projects from the Philippines. We have great stories but we need to be globally competitive by investing more on our film projects,” she said.

“The FDCP is exploring private and public funding schemes that will invest on a slate of films to ensure the timely completion in the context of a commercially sustainable industry. This may come in the form of film financing services, venture capital investment and financial bonds that will really create a good and viable, sustainable financial structure for the Philippines,” she added.

So, is the Philippines the next production hub? She answered, “We asked ourselves this constantly and with every partnership and collaboration, this has become more and more like a reality. On the government side, the FDCP, through its incentives and programs, is here to strengthen and empower our stakeholders and players to achieve this goal. With the help of AmCham, we can still fill these gaps and perhaps get miles and miles closer to the reality.”

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