The massive success of Indonesian martial arts film “The Raid” has begun to open doors for the Indonesian film industry around the world. Last week, Indonesia was dubbed as the “rising Mecca of Asian genre films” by the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival’s Network of Asian Fantastic Films, which chose five projects from Indonesian filmmakers Lucky Kuswandi, Paul Agusta, Billy Christian, Sidi Saleh and Nitta Nazyra Noer, to be shown in a special segment called “Project Spotlight: Indonesia” at the festival in July.
According to Michael Werner, the chairman of Fortissimo Films, a Hong Kong-based film production, sales and distribution company, film agents and distributors are on a constant search to look for something as fresh and groundbreaking as “The Raid.”
However, the search is not just for any Indonesian film.
“A film that has a universal theme is easier to sell and travel,” Werner said.
Malaysian producer, actor and writer Norman Halim added that “The Raid” is a good example of how a producer should sell a local movie to an international market. Action and horror are among the easiest film genres to sell, while comedy is the most difficult because it is often a matter of cultural context.
What Indonesia needs in taking local films abroad, Werner said, is a revolution of strong film producers.
“Producers have to understand how marketing works overseas,” Werner said.
He suggested that they network at international film festivals and meet experienced producers.
In a recent workshop on “Bringing Indonesian Film to the International Market” hosted by the Motion Picture Association, notable Indonesian film producers Mira Lesmana, Meiske Taurisia and Maya Barack-Evans shared their experiences of the international film industry.
Mira is currently producing a new film about a family separated after the independence of East Timor from Indonesia in 2002, called “Atambua 39°C,” with director Riri Riza. Mira said that financing a film was undoubtedly a tough challenge for any Indonesian filmmaker.
She added that it was important to know what aspects of a film will appeal to investors or viewers.
“Atambua” was shot with only 17 crew members in the field, made in the local Timorese language and without makeup for cast members. Mira knew it was more likely to appeal to film festivals than to investors, so she divided the source of funds for “Atambua” in three parts. About 20 percent of the funds — Rp 300 million ($32,100) — was to come through crowd-funding platform Wujudkan.com. As of Sunday, they had surpassed the target, collecting Rp 313 million.
“Atambua” also recently received a 20,000-euro ($25,000) grant from the Hubert Bals Fund at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands to support digital production.
“My investors are only funding 30 percent of the budget, which makes it easier for them,” Mira said.
Meiske, who first served as producer for “Babi Buta Yang Ingin Terbang” (“Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly”), said she relied on foreign funding because she had no money of her own nor a well-connected network. She learned everything on her own, including how to take part in an international film festival.
Meiske said it was important to know the economical value of a film. Community-based and art house films obviously have less economic value compared to box office films. She said the key in making art house films like “Babi Buta” is to include a message about morality because, “if you don’t aim for a mass audience, you have to aim for cultural needs.”
Maya, the executive producer of “The Raid” and wife of the film’s director, Gareth Evans, said that she and her husband had learned a lot from their first film “Merantau.” A sales agent cut half an hour from the film to put more focus on action at the expense of drama.
“That’s why when we made ‘The Raid,’ we knew that in the first 10 minutes, we had to have some action,” she said. “If you want to sell an action film, sell as an action film and give as much action as possible.”
While there is no fixed template in how to produce a film, Maya suggested that aspiring filmmakers should slowly build a solid fan base while producing the movie, letting enthusiasts hear news about the project first from the filmmakers, not from the media.
“This is very useful because you want to perform well on the opening weekend,” she said. “It’s what keeps the cinemas playing your film.”
Once the international market is attracted, a film has the potential not just for a remake or distribution rights, but also for a prequel, sequel, game, merchandise, or even the original soundtrack.
Michael Ellis, president and managing director of the Motion Picture Association, Asia-Pacific region, announced on Thursday that Indonesia’s film industry contributed $845 million to the national economy in 2010, and employed more than 491,800 people that year.
Elitua Simarmata, a representative of the Creative Economy Ministry, said the ministry is in the process of establishing the Indonesian Film Council (BFI), which is intended to be an independent body, sidelining notorious bureaucracy .
“We are doing focus group discussions at the moment, and we hope BFI will be able to help finance more Indonesian films,” he said.
“We need to balance the rapid progress of the film industry because if the government is in charge of the body, they will be late in anticipating [what is needed].”
Elitua said there are three governmental bodies involved in supporting the film industry: the Ministry of Culture and Education, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy and the Directorate General of Taxation.