Saturday, 25 October 2014

Switch Off 2014: What is exactly the deal?

Is it true that the biggest setback of this campaign is the lack of public support?

KUALA LUMPUR: As a fresh graduate with a passion for filmmaking, I'm tired of hearing the same things repeatedly: Is there a job for you?Does it pay? Isn’t it worse than labour, working odd hours?

It’s even sadder to hear that some people in the filmmaking industry just shrug the matter off as “that’s how it is”.

But my biggest pet peeve is when my peers exclaim, “Malaysian film sucks-lahhh” but no one seems to be doing anything to make it better.

And I’ve tried to explain that it’s not that Malaysia has no good directors or storytellers; there is so much more to the movie, the process involved from the script to the screen, and yet something somewhere falls short and it is unfair to say that all Malaysian films are mediocre.

It’s similar to when a salesperson is trying to sell you their product, but no one will listen, and it gets frustrating. What do we have to do to earn the respect like other professions?

So, when the Switch Off 2014 campaign came to the light of my knowledge (and it was only because I write on local arts and entertainment), I was delighted to know that there are still fighters in the film industry, whose intense passion burns bright to light the path to the betterment of the industry.

These are real people who have been in the industry for over two decades and have seen nothing but decline. They are also exhausted with constant lamenting on the situation of the industry and have had enough of round table discussions that amount to nothing. It is time to revamp our dying film and TV industry.

As I became interpellated deeper into the on-goings of Switch Off, I began to realise that despite the judicious demands, the rest of the campaign seems the total opposite: the sudden conception and rushed execution of the campaign, and the poor build-up to the November 11 solidarity event, the lack of action plan from the day of the press conference up until the handing of the memorandum, and the fact that there is no official website for anyone curious to refer to.

The 11 demands seemed to have originated out of thin air, suddenly slapped onto the film and TV industry. Discussions may have been made, but where are the minutes of meetings? Who exactly was involved in the making of the demands?

How exactly were the 11 demands decided? What was the process involved in coming up with the demands? In the press release, there are mentions of “issues” and how requests for meetings with the Ministry and FINAS have fallen on deaf ears, but what exactly are the issues?

An outsider will never know the oversimplification of issues in the film and TV industry, which brings the need to bring more light to the situation and the issues of the industry.

If I did not attend both the Switch Off rally and press conference, I would never have been aware that people have been paid the same amount for the past 20 years, or that a recent Deepavali advertisement (aired by a certain TV station) featured actors from India rather than our homeland, that major TV stations refuse to air local content because it doesn’t help with ratings, and that major TV stations gain billions of revenue per annum but the production budget never reflects their financial standing.

As someone who studied to be in the industry and not yet aware of all this, what does that speak for the public? The campaign becomes a very closed-off, niche battle for the workforce of the industry.

But for a change to happen, one as substantial as Switch Off’s 11 demands, the public should be the biggest stakeholder in the campaign. Revolution is not possible without the support of the public at large.

A film may not be made without the workforce of the industry, but what is an industry without the public to consume it? Thus, I feel the public deserves a right to know how our local filmmakers are unfairly treated in the system.

The public is oblivious to what happens behind the screen as they only see the glamorous film stars and are not aware of the tedious processes to make a film from scratch. Unlike the political Blackout 505, filmmaking and creative arts are only for the passionate, for people who love it. Malaysians seem to have lapsed into paralysis when it comes to fighting for the abstract. We don’t do anything unless we see something concrete. As filmmaking is a creative process, no one will care for the art if the output is not gratifying enough to garner support to defend the rights of the people who make the film.

Therefore, there is the pressing need to highlight more on the issues plaguing the industry rather than the campaign itself. Perhaps another one of the problems is transparency.

A decent dearth of data on the entertainment industry is extremely hard to come by because it involves private and confidential business figures, production costs, etc., and distribution of film or TV content are things pretty much left in the dark for anyone outside the industry.

There is no doubt that the aims and objectives of the campaign are a good cause, and there are points which I agree upon, for example: the need to have one coherent act to govern the workers of the creative content industry; the emphasis on the 70 per cent local content wajib siar to promote our films and TV dramas; to create Malaysian content so we could sell it as a cultural export rather than segregated into the three main languages; and to enforce a standard payment rate to prevent underpayment to workers.

The biggest setback for this campaign is the lack of public support.

Film is a mass media, so where are the masses? Perhaps it is too early in the campaign to tell, but it is essential that Switch Off engages public support and gathers enough momentum as soon as possible if the campaign is to be a success in achieving their goals in the long run.

- Sumber: Daily Seni, Wendy Sia

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