"Jesus is Dead" is among four indie titles premiering on Netflix this weekend.
Culture Movies

How Filipino movies get into Netflix

And beyond the bragging rights of being in the biggest streaming service in the world, what’s the real reward?
Jerome Gomez | Dec 20 2020

It’s an extraordinary weekend for fans of Filipino cinema. It began with a whole-day access to the Mike de Leon 1981 classic “Kisapmata,” also known as The Most Macabre Christmas Movie Ever, and today, Sunday, Netflix starts streaming four acclaimed Filipino indie titles from the last decade: “Apocalypse Child,” “Balangiga: Howling Wilderness,” “Patay na si Hesus,” and “Zombadings, Patayin sa Sindak Si Remington.” 

More and more Filipino movies have been gracing the Netflix galleries since 2018 when the streaming giant started hosting Pinoy content in the form of “Birdshot,” “Heneral Luna,” “Buybust” and “Kita-Kita.” For their films to be carried by the biggest streaming platform in the world has become a source of pride for local filmmakers and producers. Additionally, in the last nine months, Netflix has also become a necessary alternative venue to showcase our movies, the pandemic having turned the film business upside down, forcing cinemas to close.

But how does a Filipino film get programmed into the Netflix roster?

Content that will engage as many eyeballs as possible is a good start. Hence the strong number of comedy titles, rom-coms, and light drama in the service’s current offerings, from Vice Ganda blockbusters to Kathniel flicks to the LizQuen adulting tale, “Alone/Together.” Movies with high production value seem also to be big come-ons, the better for them to fit into the Netflix mold of glossy and capably-crafted offerings from different parts of the world. (Netflix declined to answer our questions for this story.)

But how does one get an audience with Netflix execs if one is interested to land their film on the platform? Does it help if a title is represented by a big, legit outfit with a respectable portfolio?

 

Solid backing

“Admittedly, being in a big company, especially Globe, had something to do with us having the first Pinoy content on Netflix,” says Quark Henares, head of Globe Studios, the entertainment production division of Globe Telecom. “Mostly because we were dealing with them already to help bring customers in through their bill pay.” 

It was Henares’ group that got Mikhail Red’s powerful “Birdshot” into the streaming platform in March 2018, making this not-really-mainstream story of a farmgirl who accidentally shoots an endangered Philippine eagle the first Filipino content released by Netflix. 

But while a reputable, solid company representing a film is important, “that was just to get the foot in the door,” says the Globe Studios chief. “Ultimately, it was the quality of films that attracted them. ‘Birdshot’ was the first, and ‘Birdshot’ as you know is just a beautiful world-class movie. That was followed by ‘Goyo’ and ‘Heneral Luna,’ two other world-class films.” The outfit clearly prides itself with representing top-tier content that’s both bold and creator-focused. 

Watch more in iWantv or TFC.tv

Meanwhile, the four films coming out on Netflix this weekend were brokered by the distribution arm of Reality Entertainment. Reality is the company behind “On The Job,” “Buybust” and “Honor Thy Father.” Erik Matti, it’s frontman and co-founder, recently said on social media, “We sell our own films to Netflix too but we also help others, whose films we love and deserve a wide exposure, to connect with Netflix.” According to its General Manager Stacey Bascon, her group’s goal is really to widen the spectrum of what represents Filipino films on the streaming platform.

Like Globe Studios, Reality has a solid reputation for quality and has somehow built good relations with the streaming giant over the past two years. Its film “Buybust,” after all, was one of the earliest titles on Netflix, with the distinction of being released globally, meaning not only in the platform’s Asian territories.

Annicka Dolonius and Sid Lucero explore the limits of love in "Apocalypse Child," now streaming on Netflix.

One of the four films Reality is bringing to the Netflix fold this month is “Apocalypse Child,” which won raves and devoted fans when it premiered at the Quezon City Film Festival in 2015 where it got a Best Picture nod. A fictional tale about a Baler surfer who might have been sired by Francis Ford Coppola when he shot “Apocalypse Now” in the Philippines, the film braved the mainstream theater circuit the following year to not exactly encouraging results. For a project that cost around P6 million to produce, one can say “Apocalypse Child” made little money—but only because they hardly spent a cent for marketing. “I think the better term is we didn’t lose money,” says its writer and producer Monster Jimenez. 

Despite the accolades, the movie did not have a lot of luck in terms of sales. “Our ‘New York-based sales agent’ was truly disappointing so much so that they even closed even before the pandemic started,” says Jimenez. The movie’s stints on iTunes and Amazon Prime weren’t also attracting significant number of views.

“So we were off on our own when we decided that we could start a Netflix campaign. I emailed Netflix—ignored. I emailed another Netflix contact—ignored,” Jimenez says. She and partner Mario Cornejo, director of the film, even started their own little Twitter campaign to convince friends and their film’s fans to keep tweeting they want the film on the service. “I finally reached out to Erik Matti, who’s had films in Netflix, to ask if he could represent our film. He immediately said he was interested but also added, ‘no promises.’” 

Matti’s strategy was to choose the films he believed in, and championed them as a collection. Then it was up to Reality’s Bascon to pitch the films. Screeners were sent to Netflix Asia and soon they were going thru the nitty-gritty of pricing, the length of time the movies will be in the platform, the subtitling and other deliverables. 

 

What they’re looking for

The one other thing we remember Bascon telling us over the phone is that “What really works for specific territories is local content.” Which is to say that the platform has recognized the Philippines as one of its more important markets and is out to continually woo it with movies that its audiences can relate to the most: Filipino stories with Filipino experiences expressing a universal message. 

“I guess when it gets down to brass tacks they're looking for something that can cross over, transcend the local market,” adds Henares, answering our question on what the platform is looking for apart from the obvious ‘will-get-the-most-views’ requirement. “Production value is a very major factor. It has to look like it was spent on, even if it's an indie. As of late, you'll notice that they have their favorite set of stars, too. Alessandra de Rossi and Anne Curtis probably topping that list.”

Henares also agrees with the way Matti brokered the four indies premiering this Sunday. “It will help if you sell your film as part of a package. It makes more sense for a major entity like Netflix to buy films or series in bulk as opposed to picking movies off one by one.”

An ecstatic Mailes Kanapi in the quirky, funny "Patay Na Si Hesus" ("Jesus is Dead"). Now streaming on Netflix.

We ask Moira Lang, producer of “Zombadings” and “Patay na si Hesus,” what to her is the real pull of getting one’s film on the streaming platform. Is it rewarding money-wise? She replies with the sentiments of someone whose movies has had to suffer the fate of being blocked or shut out from local theaters by more powerful entities in the industry. “Both Patay na si Hesus and Zombadings went through theatrical releases that hewed closer to nightmares than dreams come true,” she recalls.

“To us non-studio filmmakers (aka indies), it's about visibility and accessibility really,” Lang continues. “Most of all it's an equalizer in that it puts us on the same platform as studio blockbusters, with the same access to Netflix's Philippine subscribers. I don't have the exact figures but that number is well over 250,000, I'm told. Multiply that by the number of people per household and you have over a million potential viewers. For me that's significant and possibly game-changing — a chance to go beyond ‘preaching to the choir’ or being in a never-ending circle jerk.”

Asked the same question, Jimenez of “Apocalypse Child” says getting their film on Netflix does not necessarily equate to box-office success kind of earnings, or recouping the film’s production cost. “The reward lang naman for a film like ours is the reach. We can’t expect to make it in theaters—which we tried here and Poland!—so we might as well be on a power platform. We’ve had offers before but iba talaga reach ng Netflix.”