MANILA — Acclaimed director Erik Matti believes that Philippine film industry is “in a state of coma,” citing the the supposed plateau in coming up with new stories and the “stale” state of art-house productions.
Matti shared his reflection as a filmmaker in a Facebook post Monday in light of the centennial celebration of Philippine cinema.
“This industry is on auto-pilot now. No wonder Cardo doesn’t die in Probinsyano. Until we’ve figured out how to woo the audience back, let’s just keep Cardo alive for now,” he began.
Matti was referring to the lead character portrayed by Coco Martin in the popular primetime series “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano,” which is approaching its fourth anniversary on air.
He went on to describe “rehashed” storylines that cycle on the big screen, and lamented the lack of imagination to push genres forward or to discover new directions.
“The industry is abuzz, don’t get me wrong. Everyone seems to be working. It’s hard to put together a crew these days. If they’re not doing movies, they’re into TV or some digital series somewhere. Everyone’s working. But the work seems to be just getting by. No game changers looming in the horizon. No high concept fresh ideas coming out. Rehash after rehash. Rehashed love triangles. Rehashed May-December affairs. Cliche children stories and old age stories. Cliche boy-girl commitment issue movies. Good thing we got over with finding-the-great-one-love-in-the-world stories.
“Everyone’s into genre too. One-line premise genres . Everyone wants to discover a new genre or sub genre but there’s not much reimagining that goes into it. We mostly get fast and easy genre stories with old and told character arcs and plots.
“We are all guilty,” he said.
Matti surmised that the prevalent reliance on the tried-and-tested is due to the risky business of doing film, given the supposed dwindling audience who are willing to pay for a seat inside the cinema.
“This is not to say that everyone is not doing their best. That no one wants something fresh and sort of original. It’s the call of the times. It’s a calculated risk. Let’s try a different genre but let’s try the stories that sort of already worked. That’s the only thing we can afford. In this volatile industry where we don’t know if there’s an audience for any story we come up with or if it will ever see the light of day in cinemas, everyone is on desperate mode. Steady middling mode,” he said.
Matti then went into detail about the film industry being on “auto-pilot,” and its tendency to keep churning out content while notably veering away from risky decisions.
Matti wrote: “Keep on doing movies. Work is work. Let’s do it fast and loose. Write it for 3 days. Yes, that’s a record writing time and studios seem to love it too whether it’s a good script or not. It’s just about content. More more content. You want content? You say every story’s been done 20 years ago? Well, so long as it’s content then anything is good. Some dumb ass browser sitting somewhere will devour this tired story nonetheless. The logline says it all no matter how shitty it all comes out, says the all-knowing producer. We can sell the logline. Let’s hope when they see it there’s word-of-mouth.
“Hope. Everyone’s always hoping. Yes, we know it’s bad but maybe there’s an audience for that somewhere. Maybe. We love maybes. We are a country that believes so much on luck that we still make movies based on luck and chance. Maybe we get lucky. We’ve gotten used to always wishing for the best.
“We should be able to grab luck by the throat and make luck bow down to our bidding. But how? Easier said than done. We are where we are now because we have been cornered into this as an industry and as a market. We have stopped dreaming of big things. We are resigned to the fact that this is all we can do. Who’s to blame? The whole thing is so muddled that I dunno who’s the culprit anymore. Is it the audience whose gauge on a good film is based on the polished look of a Hollywood western film? Is it the cinemas who have found a sure hit with Hollywood and would find it to be too much work to push for local movies? Is it the producers who can only risk so much and would fall back on tired stories just to not alienate the ‘audience they know’? Is it the filmmakers who have come up with some wild original film stories only to be slowly circumcised and eventually castrated by being told to calculate the risk of stories by making it more relatable than different? Is there anyone to blame? No one? Or everyone?”
Matti, whose filmmaking career spans over two decades, also expressed disappointment in the art-house scene, which to him has become stale.
“Art-house always explore the unknown whether in substance or in form. Our art-house no longer does that. They shock but it’s not groundbreaking. They gross out but it’s not visceral. They are contemplative but super boring. Art-house for the sake of art-house,” he said.
A filmmaker himself, Matti admitted being caught in the same struggle.
Addressing his fellow creatives in the industry, Matti continued: “Where have our mojos gone? I’m losing my mojo. I’m at a loss. Do we still know our audience? Do we still know who we’re making our films for? Does the audience still care about the films we make? If all Filipino filmmakers stop making films now, will the Filipino audience miss us? Is it enough that we still have jobs even if we keep on cooking last decade’s chicken a la king? Is this all that we’re allowed to do given the market we have? Have we forgotten what we love about stories on film that we have become content with just churning out half-baked, been-there-done-that stories?
“Or are we saying that with all the talent Philippine cinema has, is this all we can give our audience? Or is this only what our audience wants to get from us? Or is this all the producers really care about making?”
Matti called on filmmakers to reassess the health of Philippine cinema when it comes to creativity, saying: “The market is so unpredictable that we don’t bother to think of new stories anymore. We just churn out last decade’s greatest hits and hope to God the audience would still embrace the microwaved frozen dinner.”
“Do we just sit still and watch the industry go down in flames? 2019 is the 100th year of Philippine cinema and this is all of what’s left that we can offer? What do we have in the next 100 years? Or will we even have Philippine cinema in the next 100 years?” he added.
Matti’s statement about the creative aspect of filmmaking followed his earlier suggestion regarding a more financial concern, specifically the opening day of local movies. The Film Development Council of the Philippines has since announced that the group, along with other stakeholders, have agreed to move the first day of films from Wednesday to Friday.
“I can’t sit still,” Matti said in his post on Monday. “We can’t just ride the tide and wish we end up in a good place. We’re in a state of coma now. We’ve got to find a way to move our toes on our feet to get us out of it and change the course of cinema in this country.
“I am desperately trying to wiggle my toes now in my Pussy Wagon.”