Ad filmmaking: Six feet under?
I heard you on my wireless back in ’52
Lying awake, intent at tuning in on you
If I was young, it didn’t stop you coming through
They took the credit for your second symphony
Rewritten by machine and new technology
And now I understand the problems you can see…
That was the first verse of the famous 1979 song by The Buggles titled “Video killed the radio star”. It was playing in my subconscious while I was having my pre-weekend exclusive tête-à-tête with Mr. Khoo Kay Lye, President of The Malaysian Association of Advertising Filmmakers (PPFIM).
The ad filmmaking industry in Malaysia took a big hit ever since the pandemic hit the world and the governments of all major economies around the world started placing lockdowns with strict SOP’s to get the spread under control.
Here in Malaysia, the third largest economy of Southeast Asia, like most other countries, any business that didn’t have anything to do with selling their goods or services via digital methods, crashed the hardest. The Ad filmmaking industry, despite being essential in generating direct sales for numerous brands, was brought to a complete halt with all the SOP’s in place.
While inquiring about how bad the financial situation of the industry is currently, Mr. Khoo said, “Back in 2019 when things were still normal, the annual revenue of our industry was 4.4 billion ringgits, which fell to 4 billion in 2020, and we don’t really have any numbers to present this year (2021).”
An essential industry with no numbers to present even on the seventh month of a calendar year? How is that remotely possible?
Mr. Khoo added, “We have been brought to a complete stop by the strict SOP’s and lockdowns. Although it is mandatory for ensuring the general safety of the public but our industry and work is a core component for brands as our ad films are directly linked with generating sales for most brands. Despite that fact, the government has classified our industry under the entertainment category, due to which we are unable to work and make money.”
I was wondering how this has affected the overall economy. Mr. Khoo added further, “A lot of our workers are freelancers, hence they do not receive any subsidies in order to survive. With them being stuck at home, it isn’t possible for us to make ad films and that is how we are losing projects and the chance to make an earning.”
“We have pleaded numerous times with the government to let us resume work. We made promises to abide by SOP’s, wrote letters, held press conferences, and yes, promises have been made to us, only without any fruition.”
So then I wanted to know more about the opportunities and threats arising from the increasing adoption of digital media. Given how the government has not come into aide the industry, and the increasing traffic in digital media and the rising popularity of DOOH, there must be newer avenues for ad filmmakers to explore.
Mr. Khoo stated that, “It is true that digital and DOOH are the new norms, and those are good things. But it’s hitting us even harder because somehow our clients have formulated the idea that it costs lesser to make ad films digitally. This has caused a drop in their budgets to make those films, despite the transformation for legacy ad filmmakers into digital is quite high, given that with all the usual workforce in place, we now have to employ digital savvy freelancers as well as train the current workforce to adopt to these new techniques.”
“While it costs more to make ads for digital media compared to those for television, not only that we are being offered lesser money as well as receiving requests for discounts on our services, the quality expected by our valued clients remain on the crème de la crème level.” Mr. Khoo added, “The reason behind digital ad filmmaking being costlier is not just due to inflation, but the clients require different versions of films with different stories, which requires more shots to be taken and the clients aren’t willing to pay the overtime for the staff working behind them. Ultimately, it is us who have to pay out of our pockets thus not making profits.” I gathered more from Mr. Khoo that this whole situation has resulted in bidding wars between ad filmmakers and while some aren’t agreeing to shoot films on reduced budgets, there are others who are jumping at the opportunities for lesser money, thus making the overall value of ad filmmaking decline, especially in the eyes of the clients.
For closing remarks, I asked Mr. Khoo for his suggestions on how the ad filmmaking industry can be restored. He concluded saying, “Us ad filmmakers have to be united, we are an association, but we must also act like a family. The pandemic is here to stay, it’ll be a series of vaccinations, resurgence, and re-inoculation before things actually become normal. During this time, I strongly believe that the authorities such as FINAS have to fight alongside us to help us resume work.”
He added further, “Movements like #kitajagakita are only momentarily good, they’re not permanent solutions. The long term solution is not by giving alms, but allowing people to be self-reliant, letting them work. The government should strongly reconsider classifying us as essential services, help us all get vaccinated and let us work with those strict SOP’s in place. Only by working together and making sure that industries like ours do not lost out on earnings from which we also pay taxes, I believe we can curb the pandemic and see better days ahead.”
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