April 22 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns are slowly but surely killing the global film industry.
With movie releases postponed, some indefinitely, and production halted or cancelled, the prospects of the US$136 billion (RM595 billion) film industry appear uncertain.
Across the globe from Hollywood to Bollywood, millions of production crew – behind and in front the camera – are bracing for the worst with some already jobless while others remain in limbo.
Although the local film industry is small compared to that of other countries, it may seem to be way down in the government’s priority list.
But with local cinemas and production houses closed since March 18 and film releases halted, the domino effect will hit daily paid workers in the industry.
While larger production companies may have enough reserves to last till the end of April, smaller production houses and freelancers will suffer.
Malaysian Film Producers Association honorary secretary Zahrin Aris said the sudden imposition of MCO had caught the industry off-guard.
“The impact felt by producers will affect the ecosystem, especially jobs for those in the industry.
“We don’t know when the MCO will end but we feel the authorities can help initiate new working methods for the industry to keep it going.”
Zahrin suggested that 25 per cent entertainment tax be returned to local producers while 10 per cent tax from international films be directed to film exhibitors.
“The screening dates of local films should also be re-looked once the MCO is over and we hope Finas (National Film Development Corporation) will be able to formulate a plan to help the industry,” he added.
Director, actor and producer Datuk Afdlin Shauki said despite the glitz and glamour, those in the entertainment industry are “no different from labourers.”
“IF WE DON’T WORK, WE WON’T EAT. ABOUT TWO TO FOUR PER CENT OF ARTISTES MAKE A LOT OF MONEY BUT THE REST LIVE FROM PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK.”
“The MCO has affected us because although people consume our products constantly, we are essentially non-essential.”
Afdlin suggested Finas give out as many grants as possible to invigorate the industry and get people working again as soon as possible.
“We can have a special fund for people producing content for social media from home as this will keep them busy during the lockdown.
“I believe content delivered through social media will be the new normal judging by the number of artistes streaming live these days,” he said.
On April 16, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the ministry had allocated RM1.32 million as an incentive for local film producers affected by the MCO.
The allocation was in response to Finas’ proposal to help film producers.
However, stakeholders claim the RM1.32 million was merely “overdue payment.”
A veteran film maker said the allocation was supposed to be paid to producers for box-office collection and it was for film titles released last year.
“Not everyone will be entitled and more assistance is needed to help others in the industry,” said the veteran who requested anonymity.
This argument holds water as many in the film industry are freelancers who do not have Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings.
Film and TV producer Datuk Nancy Foo said smaller film makers are feeling the pinch as they still need to pay office rental, utility bills and salaries of their full-time staff.
“It is not productive working from home and we are also facing cash flow issues,” Foo said.
“Many freelancers like actors, directors, writers and production crew members require government assistance as not everyone has EPF savings,” she said.
TV director and producer Heykal Hanifah said loses are imminent with shoots on hold during the MCO period.
“When the MCO was announced, I was in the midst of completing two TV series – a 13-episode production that was already in post-production stage and was to be aired on April 29. The other was a 26-episode series which started production on March 2, but had to be halted on March 17 and we had already spent 30 per cent of our production cost.”
Heykal hopes the Communications and Multimedia Ministry and TV stations will issue a directive that all production work which began before the MCO must be completed.
“We also hope government-owned TV stations will settle overdue payments and consider paying instalments for work that has started but is yet to be completed,” he added.
Actress Vanidah Imran said: “We hope Finas has a plan to take care of all of us (including actors, crew members and veterans). If the MCO goes on for a long period, it is not going to be easy for everyone.”
She added the fate of the industry and work flow would also be affected even once the MCO is lifted.
“The rules of social distancing will mean it could be difficult for us to shoot as there are easily about 20 to 50 people on set unless it is a documentary,” she added.