Indonesia film industry So many films, such small audiences

Yuliasri Perdani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Film producer Ody Mulya Hidayat had no reservations about paying Rp 1.5 billion (US$112,880) to buy the film rights to Bulan Terbelah di Langit Amerika (Split Moon in the American Sky), a novel written by Hanum Salsabiela Rais and her husband Rangga Almahendra.

The film adaptation of the best-selling novel was his way to shine in the current fierce climate of the film industry; where an increasing number of films are competing to win over a slowly dwindling audience for local movies.

“This is my gamble. In the film industry, we must dare,” Ody, who has produced over 40 films under the flag of Maxima Pictures, said after a film discussion in Jakarta recently.

“If not, you will only get 200,000 viewers or below, as has happened to many films nowadays,” he added.

In recent years, Indonesians have become less interested in watching local movies at the cinema.

During the film industry’s heyday in the year 2010, 74 Indonesian movies attracted 16.8 million viewers in total, according to data compiled by the Association of Indonesian Theatre Owners (GBPI).

In 2014, the number of local films that made it into theaters rose significantly to 113.

That the annual total of 15.2 million cinema viewers has not increased significantly since four years ago is where the problem lies.

Between 2006 and 2010, 17 Indonesian films achieved one million viewers and above. Inspiring children’s film Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) and Islamic drama Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) — both adaptations from best-selling novels — topped the list with 4.5 and 3.5 million viewers, respectively.

The worrying trend started in 2011, when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) pulled out all Hollywood films from Indonesian cinemas in protest of the government’s decision to impose a levy on imported films.

The boycott that lasted for several months forced local theaters to show sub-par b-grade movies, Thai horror flicks and more local films. What could have been a great chance for the local film industry to reach a larger audience was instead a disappointment.

During that year, Indonesia films attracted only 12.2 viewers, before slightly bouncing back with 15.7 million viewers in 2012.

“In 2011, people’s interest in going to the cinema went down. Too many poorly produced films made it into the cinema. This lowers the audience’s trust in [the quality of] Indonesian films,” Ody said.

Fresh film producers came in, hoping to make startling critical and commercial successes.

Some producers — both old and new — were not that ambitious. They cut corners and followed the trends, producing films with awfully low budgets, the director of Indonesia’s largest exhibitor 21 Cineplex, Rudi Anitio, suggested.

“In these past three years, producers can reap profits in spite of a decreasing number of viewers. Some abuse this market condition. They make films with a budget as low as possible in the hope of still making profits despite small audiences,” he said.

Generally, the production costs of an Indonesia film is above Rp 1 billion — some even reach Rp 25 billion. Nowadays, more and more movies are produced with a budget of few hundred million rupiah.

The trend continued in 2014, where 113 Indonesian films were shown at cinemas. Only comedy Comic 8 and much-anticipated action flick The Raid 2 gained a million viewers each. Twenty-five films gained less than 10,000 viewers, Rudi said.

“It is common for me to see a film that has no audience at the first and second screening times on its opening day, and 12 viewers at the third. It’s just sad,” Rudi said.

Extending the screening days of such films will not make any difference, he said.

“The film may gain only 30 to 40 viewers a day. That is nothing compared to the loss experienced by audiences, who are disappointed by the film and have limited movie choices [as the screening of a new movie is delayed to give space for the film],” Rudi added.

Film producers used to rely on selling the film’s airing rights to television channels after it left theaters. It’s not the same anymore, Ody said.

“Television channels broke new ground by producing their own films [FTV]. We used to get Rp 2 billion from the airing rights, now we can only get a quarter of it,” the producer said.

Producers are now shifting their focus to market films abroad and sell them as in-flight entertainment.

To thrive in this fiercely competitive environment, Ody utilizes a few formulas when creating films. First, a film adaptation of a best-selling novel has a higher probability of success compared to those of original stories.

Ody proved this first-hand with 99 Cahaya di Langit Eropa (Ninety-nine Lights in European Sky), an Islamic film based on the novel about religious tension observed by Hanum and Rangga during their stay in Europe.

To capitalize further on the novel, Ody divided it into two films. The first film was the second-highest grossing film of 2013 with 1.1 million viewers, and the second film attracted 500,000.

The films also secured some product placement, including a Muslim clothing line, the sales of which quintupled following the films’ release, Ody claimed.

With that scale of those films’ successes, Ody was willing to spend more on Bulan Terbelah di Langit Amerika, which centers on a Muslim couple in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

He doubled the salaries of its main actors, Acha Septriasa and Abimana Aryasatya, and purchased the film rights of the novel for Rp 1.5 billion — almost seven times the payment for the film rights of 99 Cahaya di Langit Eropa.

“Sponsors will fight for spots [in Bulan Terbelah di Langit Amerika] and the product placement will cover 25 percent of the production cost. If I wasn’t sure of this, I wouldn’t dare to do it.”

Ody’s Maxima Pictures initiated small-scale research to better judge current audience tastes. One particular finding is quite intriguing — only few local languages can lure Indonesian audiences to the cinema.

“When it comes to a local language as the dominant one used in a film’s dialogue, only Betawi and languages from Java Island are accepted by general audiences.”

The exception is Nagabonar Jadi 2, a drama centering on a Batak father and son that attracted 1.2 million viewers in 2007.

The competitive industry poses more challenges to young and relatively inexperienced producers.

Last year, at the age of 24, Gandhi Fernando entered the Indonesian film business. Gandhi, who studied film direction at New York Film Academy, started his career with three films; drama the Right One, Pizzaman and horror film, Tuyul Part 1.

Having experience acting in several FTVs, Gandhi took a leading role in the films and invited some of his actor friends to join in.

He has knowledge, a production team and actors. He lacks just one thing: connections.

“We need connections to have the film screened with the right timing. Many producers have built relationships for dozens of years [with exhibitors] and have a proven track record. I don’t have that.”

He also lamented the allocation of so few screens for his film on its opening day.

“Fewer screens mean a smaller audience. The film Tuyul, with 50 screens drew 37,000 viewers in the first four day of screening. While Tjokroaminoto, with 100 screens, drew 43,000,” the young producer said.

“If with half the number of screens we can get a similarly sized audience to that of Tjokroaminoto, is that fair?”

From his three movies that have been released so far, only with Tuyul has he broken even.

The stagnant market and allegedly unfair competition have not discouraged Gandhi. He is now in the process of producing three new films, including the second and third installment of the Tuyul trilogy.

“I took a plunge into this industry, and it is hard to get out from it. We already have three movies; we have no choice but keep on going,” Gandhi said.

“We shouldn’t just sit and wait for the films to hit the theaters. We must make another one, keep on rolling,” he added.

As of early June, Indonesia had 1,002 screens in 193 theaters across the country, with 21 Cineplex holding the majority — 780 screens in 146 theaters. With a national population of around 250 million people, each screen should accommodate 249,000 people. This represents a stark difference with Malaysia or Japan, where each screen caters to between 39,000 to 40,000 people.

In March, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that Indonesia ideally needs to have between 5,000 and 6,000 screens. The country is predicted to have 2,000 screens as of 2018, mainly supported by the expansion of two theater companies; Blitzmegaplex and Cinemaxx.



– Habibie & Ainun and 5cm managed to get more viewers than The Hobbit by the end of 2012

– The Raid was still able to attract some 1.8 million viewers despite it being screened at the same time as Hunger Games.

– Cinta Brontosaurus still managed to get 800,000 viewers, although a joint screening time led to a showdown with Iron Man 3.

– Coboy Junior (05-06-2013) got a respectable 669,000 viewers in a race against Fast and Furious.

– 99 Cahaya di Langit Eropa and Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck got more viewers than The Hobbit

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