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Why Do We Turn Our Backs on Local Films?

Many people treat watching movies as one of their favorite past time, it also happens that I am a movie lover too. Watching movies not only brings joy and excitement to many people, but many other movies also invoke a lot of thinking to the audiences. Movies like “Joker” and “Parasite” has attracted much attention towards the psychological and social issue respectively, including people who were not professional in those circles.

The graph shows that Singapore has a strong contribution to global box office

According to boxofficemojo.com, over the past 10 years, Singapore contributed almost 100 million dollars per year to the global box office. However, there is a trend that you can observe from the information above, all the number one movie released was all big-budget blockbuster. Very few releases are local movies, and these local films have no choice but to go against some of the biggest movies of the year.

IMDA film stat for Singapore cinema in 2019 shows that local movies were utterly defeated by biggest movie of the decade.

According to Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the top-grossing movie in 2019 was “Avengers: Endgame”, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, it earned a total of 18.27 million SGD by the end of its run. In comparison, the highest-grossing Singapore film in 2019 is “Killer not stupid”, directed by Jack Neo, but it only earned only 767554 SGD. Despite being the highest-grossing Singapore movie and released during the Chinese New Year period, “Killer not stupid” pales when compared to other foreign movie releases. In 2019, even the lowest box office earning in the top 10 list from IMDA is “Disney’s The Lion King” also earned five million SGD by the end of its run. Although using box office earnings to judge a movie’s quality is wholly not serving justice, but it also shows how many people paid money to watch the movie.

What exactly happened?

The three overview and data from IMDA shows that the highest grossing local movies are always CNY movies.

According to the data from IMDA, we can see that in the last three years, 2017 to 2019, most of the high grossing Singapore movies are all Chinese New Year movie. Chinese New Year (CNY) is a very interesting time period for movie releases and is mostly strictly for portraying the holiday mood, there is very little difference between all the CNY movie releases. From the story to the overall theme and even genre, CNY movies contain very little risks and require very little effort to write. As long filmmakers remain on track, making a family-friendly CNY movie, audiences are willing to spend money during this period to catch a movie, thus the very reason why the highest-grossing Singapore movies are mostly CNY movies. However, this is also precisely the problem for local movies. Outside of CNY movies, local filmmakers struggle to produce movies that captivate attention from local audiences.

Creating a genre film is also a huge problem for many Singapore filmmakers, as there is a lot of skepticism over locally produced genre films from the audiences. There is three most common genre in local movies, they are “comedy”, “horror” and “drama”. According to IMDA 2019 film stat, out of the six theatrical releases, two were comedy genre, two were horror, one was drama and the other was a crime thriller. Although there are some non-theatrical, the genre explored still did not go beyond the three genres mentioned.

Filmmaking is a tough process, it would be even more difficult if there are not enough demand and not enough investment.

Lastly, although this is more of a comment from a professional filmmakers’ standpoint, filmmakers tend to have trouble funding their movies from investors. From a business standpoint, local movies have very little probability to earn enough money to make a profit, thus investors either invest a small amount of money or avoid funding movies totally. This also means that the resources for local filmmakers are limited, they are making movies with both hands tied behind their backs. Despite that there are some movies made with extremely low budgets, such as “The Blaire Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity”, but those are some of the extreme cases, it cannot be applied to every filmmaker’s project.

What Do the Audiences Think?

I have conducted a survey to seek moviegoers’ opinion on local movies, although the numbers were small, the results are interesting. All audiences across all ages watch movies regularly, most people between the age of 25 to 35 years old, many of them are Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. When asked about the names of Singapore directors that they can be named, no surprise, most of them mentioned Jack Neo, Eric Khoo and Royston Tan, but they can’t name many other local movies.

I asked a follow-up question: “Why do you not watch local movies”, this is where the answers get very interesting. The answers were all varied, but they can be simplified into several reasons.

  • “Not enough marketing is done to create attention to the release of the films”
  • “Not enough exhibition or screening of the local movie”
  • “Filmmakers did not explore more than just stereotypes and prejudices”
  • “Movies are too identical to one another”
  • “Local movies did not explore any other genres than horror, drama, and comedy”
  • “Production value and storytelling pales when compared to foreign movies”

Although the audiences rated Singapore movies average around 4.8/10, many of them are still looking forward to local movies if there are more diverse local movies being made, especially if the movies can explore more genres and move away from stereotypes.

We Are Getting Better Bit by Bit

Over the last five years, Singapore local movies are getting more recognition and awards, more new blood is being added into the industry to bring new life. In 2017, director Kirsten Tan was nominated and won several international film festival’s awards all over the globe with her film, “Pop Eye”. Director Yeo Siew Hua also won several international film festival’s awards, including Golden Horse Film Festival and Locarno International Film Festival, which are some of the most prestigious awards any filmmaker can hope to receive.

From blockbuster to art films, Singapore filmmakers are exploring more possibilities outside of their comfort zone.

Singapore filmmakers are also starting to experiment with other genres to increase the entertainment value of their movies. Director Jacen Tan shook the ground with his work, “Zombiepura” in 2018. Prior to “Zombiepura”, there is no attempt to blockbuster movies in the last five years. There are also more future projects that Singapore filmmakers are experimenting to create a more compelling and captivating movie for audiences. A monster movie, “Circle Line” directed by J.D Chua, is working on its post-production, Singapore first monster movie. Fans of a local comic book “Celestial Zone” can also look forward to the movie adaptation of the comic book, as announced by Wee Tian Beng, the creator himself. According to the Facebook post from TCZ Studio, the shoot will commence in 2020, fans can expect more news to surface soon.

Singapore movie does have a lot of trouble and filmmakers must do a lot of proving that local movies can be as good as any blockbuster foreign movie. It is true it is extremely difficult for the local movies to be as spectacular as the latest blockbuster, but the future seems to be brighter than usual. We are most certainly hoping to see local Singapore movies to shine brighter with more local directors testing new grounds.

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