The world of Philippine movies may have found a way to resuscitate itself. In the past few months, producers, actors, and filmmakers have rallied against the dwindling of Filipino moviegoers, as more and more local films suffer at the box office. The defibrillator came in the form of a meeting between producers, cinema representatives, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), led by its chairperson Liza Diño. One of the attendees in the meeting was Baby Ruth Villarama, who helmed the successful documentary, Metro Manila Film Festival entry, Sunday Beauty Queen (2016).
“It was a long overdue meeting,” she tells ANCX, her tone optimistic. The assembly wasn’t easy to put together, she says. There have been attempts—twice, she remembers—to put the stakeholders in one room, where they could discuss the imminent issues. A few months ago, the producers started asking for a meeting with the FDCP and the cinemas, “a plea for help,” if you will.
“The producers are very competitive with each other,” adds the filmmaker. “I guess it came to a point when the producers decided to unite and say, ‘I think we have a common enemy here.’ Let’s fix this together.”
The “enemy” actually refers more to the challenges to a relentlessly evolving industry. First, there are the streaming apps, like Netflix, to contend with. Second, there are changes in the lifestyle of the moviegoers who are spending more and more time in traffic—or would rather not spend time on traffic therefore would forego a trip to the movie theater. Third, there is that high preference for Hollywood films. Lastly, there is the issue of high movie ticket prices. At the gathering Wednesday night, the issues were discussed in detail, but Baby Ruth admits that more meetings are necessary to come up with a feasible ruse to overturn Philippine cinema’s current situation.
“It’s a matter of political will,” she says when asked about a battle plan against, for example, Netflix. “The government has to really make sure that we make our own content, own stories. There should be laws. It’s not about isolating ourselves from the rest, but making sure that our industry is nurtured. With FDCP’s connection, I’m pretty sure they can champion it, to push things forward. There needs to be a policy. I don’t know what happens after Liza’s turn is over.
A major strategy that is forthcoming is the possibility of moving the films’ opening day to Friday, from Wednesday. Baby Ruth—who has a Master of Arts in Film Distribution and Marketing from Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom—says that a Friday opening would be beneficial to both producers and cinemas. “In the malls, where the movies are shown, on Wednesdays, there is no foot traffic. Friday is end of the work week. Wala pa pasok the next day. Mall traffic is high on Fridays. Recreation mode. Naka-align siya sa psyche ng tao.”
“One of the achievements [of the meeting] is the agreement to switch the opening day of cinemas from Wednesday to FRIDAY. We still have to wait until the rest is finalized for this to take effect, but at least we are moving forward,” wrote FDCP Chair Liza Diño on her Facebook page.
Among the topics discussed Wednesday was the 90-day period rule that the cinemas wished were followed. This means that the producers and filmmakers need to book their films 90 days before its opening. The meeting also dealt with the 120-day suggestion, wherein there should be a 120 days between a movie’s release in the cinemas to the movie going straight to other platforms, such as TV or DVDs.
There were also detailed discussions about ticket prices, student discounts, and a three-day guarantee for movies. For the latter, the producers hope that the cinemas guarantee to give each movie a theater for at least three days before they pull out the movie—if it doesn’t make good profit. “Without the guarantee, the producers are scared to invest, and to invest in the marketing of the film,” Baby Ruth explains. She presumes that it should be interesting to listen to actual moviegoers on what an ideal ticket price would be for them.
“But more than reaching an agreement to the proposed solutions,” wrote FDCP Chair Liza Dino on her Facebook page, “my main takeaway from yesterday's dialogue is the willingness of both parties (finally) to sit, talk, LISTEN and accept each other's sentiments calmly and in good faith. The goal is to understand and acknowledge the concerns of BOTH [producers and theater owners] and work towards solutions.”
Another meeting for a technical working group (TWG) is set sometime this month, which gives hope to everyone who is involved in making films. And these measures are clear proof that starting now, steps will be taken to impede a sad reality from becoming worse.
Baby Ruth admits that there is one other thing the industry needs to fix: “We really need to give people good stuff. The problem is there’s really no variety available.”
She says that although what was mentioned above are experimental strategies, they comprise a good start. She understands that it may take a while to see changes, since the cinemas “also have a business to run.” They are hoping, however, to implement the plans by April since it’s summer, and the children won’t be in school.