Young Star

Audience and the machine

TOFF of the world - Christopher De Venecia - The Philippine Star
Audience and the machine
Beauty from within: Baby Ruth Villarama’s documentary Sunday Beauty Queen won best film and won the hearts of many moviegoers.

Every year for the last five years, my friends and I have gathered for our annual Metro Manila Film Fest excursion. We pick a day, a mall, then schedule a whole-day itinerary. Part of the process is the processing, so we discuss the movies afterwards. Some films I recall quite vividly. They make you laugh, cry, fall in love. They make you think. Others, they make you roll your eyes and reach for your popcorn.

I won’t get into history since there’s Google for that. But based on the changes in this year’s screening process, it has allowed for truly diverse programming. Hello, a documentary! Also, it’s become impossible to scroll through your FB feed without seeing an #MMFF2016 post. I suppose we have social media and Heneral Luna to thank for that.

You will remember that when the latter was being shown in cinemas, it was performing rather poorly at the box office. But lo and behold, audiences came to its rescue. People posted about Heneral Luna online and got behind a worthy cause. The same thing happened with this year’s MMFF.

People posted reviews, selfies and engaged friends and family to support the films. I campaigned heavily for Sunday Beauty Queen because, well, it left ripples in my soul. I posted about it, serial liking other people’s posts while commenting, “Yes, Die Beautiful was amazing! But be sure to catch SBQ!”                     Social media amplified-word of mouth gave this stellar lineup the lifeline it deserves.

Suffice to say, the film is doing very well. It won Best Film. And like any adopted parent to a child, I can let go and allow the movement to take up the cause. I can’t help but wonder though, what happens next? After Jan. 7? Did the theaters profit? Were producers able to recoup their investments? Will they join foreign film festivals? Will they win awards? Awards are cool and all but creators often create with an audience in mind. And the people who need to be watching these films by the hundreds of thousands are the Filipinos themselves.

I wrote in a recent FB post about the similarities between the clamor for an extension and what we go through constantly in the theater industry. We put up a show; market it; it gets rave reviews; hardly anyone watches; sales pick up towards closing weekend; it gets sold out, but not enough to mitigate previous losses.

As producers/creators, you can’t help but wonder, “Why couldn’t audiences have come sooner?” At this point, an extension is next to impossible. The venue is no longer available. Nor are the actors. And you can’t program an extension ahead of schedule because you’re uncertain how audiences will receive it. The risk is greater for original work. You wonder: in terms of marketing and cost of acquisition, why did audiences need that much convincing? Why can’t they take risks? Why can’t they be brave?

Compared with concerts, touring productions and foreign film franchises that gross millions and sell out on opening weekend, local creations are always a steeper climb. Unless they follow a “formula,” which is also what this new wave of creators across the arts spectrum is trying to disrupt, the likelihood of success is slim to none. In all fairness, commercial viability doesn’t happen overnight. The Avengers or Star Wars happened over years of brand building, strategic marketing, and leveling up on product, engagement and overall experience. And… resources.

A change in MMFF’s direction is a step in the right direction. Laugh? Yes. Cry? Yes. Roll your eyes? Not so much anymore. In fact, there was generally applause in the theater when the end credits rolled.

Certainly, there is more risk taken by this new wave of creators. But it is risk that, sadly, isn’t reciprocated at the same level by risk-averse audiences. They are curious but not curious enough to be at the forefront of the consumer cycle. It is the reason behind the Pinoy’s “last minute syndrome.” We’re seguristas. Because of economic reasons, we don’t exist in an environment that allows us to take risks. A ticket is a ticket is a ticket, and it’s expensive. So let other risk-takers serve as our guinea pigs. Maybe about five people will have to tell me it’s good before I bother to check it out. Maybe a Heneral Luna situation has to happen so I can get behind a cause and give a quality endeavor its much-needed lifeline.

The state of arts consumption in our country is frustrating and downright unfortunate. There’s so much quality content to be shared but hardly a receptive market. What we need is an environment where audience and artists are able to take risks so quality can keep on improving. Where creators can break molds, break boundaries, and not be scared to try because audiences will be there, rooting for them. That is, perhaps, what government and the private sector need to do. Incentives, grants, subsidies, marketing, and all that jazz.

For every attempt, there is the unpredictable. For every #MMFF2016, there is the stakeholder — that is the moviegoer, meaning ourselves. Where do we begin? Online, maybe. Converse. Share a post. Then go offline and actually catch a film. You have ‘til tomorrow. #BabySteps


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