Contending the Present Issues of the Film Industry in the Philippines

Now far from breathing its last breath, Philippine cinema is continuously struggling, reinventing itself – especially in the hands of new directors, mostly working on smaller productions that are now becoming more and more noticed by renowned local and international film festivals and award-giving bodies.

With digital filmmaking already becoming a norm in Philippine cinema, new and independent filmmakers with their fresh quality concepts, eccentricities, and nuances included, are now surfacing – giving the film industry its much-needed boost. Some of them are now also starting to break in to commercial film endeavors that, although the mainstream formula is still being imposed on them, the attempts to go beyond such a box is already apparent on certain aspects of their works. Yet, the local film industry clearly has a number of issues and problems that are needed to be addressed and be provided solutions to in order to make the industry thrive further.

Excessive Taxation on the Film Industry

The Philippine film industry is among the most heavily taxed in Asia, if not the world. Among such taxes include the amusement tax, culture tax, value added tax, and tax on raw materials; add up the income taxes of the film talents and permit fees… And the burden is on the producers, the film workers, and the film audience who are provided relatively high-priced admissions to the cinemas. The decline in the number of locally produced films may be attributed to heavy taxation by both the national and local government. The amusement tax also causes the industry to flounder against the tickets sales of Hollywood films. All in all, more than half of a film's revenue goes to the government. And yet, there is the issue of not having enough government projects for the film industry given the tax coming from films.

In order to encourage more local film productions, and breathe life to such a financially-challenged industry, the local government of Quezon City, the entertainment capital of the Philippines, implements the reduction of amusement tax on locally produced films from 50 percent to 30 percent by virtue of a city ordinance passed some years ago; and in mid 2008, the newly-approved ordinance of reducing the amusement taxes on local films from 15 percent to 0 percent is one prime move of the local government. Quezon City still collects a 30 percent amusement tax from the showing of foreign films at the film theaters within its jurisdiction.

Hopefully, similar acts could be provided by other local government units to further help the Philippine film industry.

Piracy

Being in a developing country, it is a reality that a number of people would rather buy pirated DVDs than buy the original ones in video stores or watch the film inside the theater. A pirated video compact disc movie can be bought for around 20 to 40 pesos; while a DVD is usually 50 to 80 pesos. A movie ticket, meanwhile, typically costs 100 to 200 pesos – thus, depriving the legitimate producers of potential income.

Limited Budget, Time, and Resources

While usually working with outmoded or too old or limited equipment due to budget concerns, Filipinos still continue to struggle and hope for the best in the film industry. With the escalating costs of film production especially in the face of the current global economic crisis, the Philippine film industry is greatly affected as well. Given such financial issues, making themselves as promising innovators is what makes the Filipino filmmakers survive in making the best works they could given their production limitations.

Most Filipino films, whether indie or commercial, are usually shot the “pito-pito” way, meaning, a full-length film is shot for around 7 shooting days. The lack of time, budget, and resources make the production half-baked and compromised.

Filmmakers and critics alike have begun to say that despite their exploitative and limiting conditions, "pito-pito" films provide a spark on the dying film industry, serving as a hotbed for new directors making socially significant and critically acclaimed films. Interestingly enough, there are those who already managed to transcend their limitations by fighting all the way. And yet, the “pito-pito” way should not be the norm. From the issues on the lack of decent wages, one shooting day going on for more than 24 hours straight (people without sleep and collapsing from exhaustion) to the compromised art and technical requirements, this is far from keeping Philippine cinema afloat. The too exploitative "pito-pitos" may be a venue for sacrifices for the sake of the spirit of filmmaking, but in the long run, it would just make the industry sink to the very bottom.

Low Budget Filipino Films vs. Big Budget Hollywood Films

On the most basic audio-visual level of filmmaking, local films could not compete against movies made by Hollywood – with the fact that the giant film industry of America is fueled by seemingly inexhaustible funds and mainly reaching out to a worldwide market.

Considerably, Hollywood movies have already been a staple to the Filipino filmgoers. The release and distribution of these films have become a more stable kind of business in the country. And it is not just because of the Filipinos getting used to it, but it is also due to the fact that the technical quality of Hollywood films (big budget or not so) tends to lure the audience more as they primarily seek entertainment and audio-visual pleasure (where the special effects, the technical aspect of the film, and the marketing of the film matter a lot) when going to a film theater for a temporary form of escapism. Filipino filmmakers find it hard to measure up to such standards. And so, the local film industry tends to lose much to the bigger-budgeted foreign films almost all the time.

Overlooking Technical Sound Quality Due to Production Limitations

Whether in commercial or independent film productions, it is very much apparent that the film’s sound aspect usually becomes a problem. In general, the sound aspect of Filipino films becomes one of the most ignored parts of production work. It seems like there are two general reasons for this: the lack of time, resources, and budget allotted for sound production and less number of experts in the field tapped for it.

The Star System

The star system is a common practice in the global movie industry. Even Hollywood revolves around the star system, which, in some way, decides the fate of major filmmaking projects. The Philippine film industry is no exception to this as the need for bankable stars still reign in various kinds of productions.

Audience Demands and Other Options in Watching Films

Cable, TV, and DVDs are the legally formidable alternatives in watching films which makes the traditional domain of movies, that is, watching films inside the theaters, a lesser option. People tend to wait for the films to come out on TV/cable to save money. And sometimes, they just wait for them to get released on DVD. Worse, the piracy issue comes in which actually makes the producers unable to get anything from such a demand for pirated films by the masses.

The Lack of a National Film Archive

Just like the other forms of art and literary pieces, films serve as a window onto our life and times, our dreams and stories, our history and culture. The Philippines has been making films since the start of the 20th century. How much of the films made since the said time have been saved?

The Filipinos have a hard time showing Filipino classic films as there are no more available film prints of them. There are times that some prints are found through film collectors from other countries. Sadly, Filipinos even have to beg or borrow or pay some of these collectors from abroad just to get a copy of Filipino classics.

Sadly, the country has no national film archive yet until now. This is very vital for the preservation and promotion of Filipino history and culture through films. And coming up with one means having to allot enough government money, and perhaps, also non-government funding, to keep up with the required technical capacity of a national film archive able to effectively store and organize film negatives and prints and their digital copies.

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