Southeast Asian producers speak of increased budgets for independent films

A top-class producer panel discussed the modalities of producing independent films in Southeast Asia at a mylab panel on the sidelines of the Busan International Film Festival on Thursday.

Panelists included: Liza Diño, former Chair of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), who greenlit several films during her tenure; Indonesia’s Yulia Evina Bhara, producer of Venice-winning Autobiography, also set in Busan; Donsaron Kovitvanitcha from Thailand, producer of the Locarno and Busan title “Arnold is a model student”; and Malaysian Haris Sulong, producer of Beautiful Mind. The discussion was moderated by diversity Asia editor Patrick Frater.

Bhara said that the entry of huge global streamers into the region has had a positive impact on the quality of productions and has also boosted budgets. Where $100,000 was once considered a high budget for independent films, they can now reach $900,000 to $1 million, Bhara said. Much of the funding comes from Southeast Asian agencies such as the FDCP and Singapore-based IMDA, as well as from European funds. But the funds also come with spending commitments in the country of origin, and the challenge is figuring out how to maximize them and get them to the country of production, Bhara said.

Diño agreed, saying that independent film budgets in the Philippines have also increased to $1 million and internationalization allows filmmakers to achieve their cinematic visions with reasonable budgets. “When we align with international producers, our rating goes up with the streamers,” Dino said.

State-supported film agencies like the FDCP do not exist in all Southeast Asian countries. In Thailand, for example, government support for films is “scattered,” Kovitvanitcha said, adding that development has to be funded privately and is often reserved for the wealthy.

In countries where there is government support, like Malaysia where there is FINAS (National Film Development Corporation Malaysia), there are generous disbursements to labs and other development initiatives, but sometimes political continuity can be compromised when political power Changing hands, Sulong said.

“The fear is with that change – so with the next minister we don’t know what change is going to come. But the scholarship will still be there,” Sulong said, adding that the current scholarship panel is good and has the ability to visualize concepts that are proposed to them.

Overall, the mood was cautiously optimistic. “There’s this energy coming out of Southeast Asia that we really need to embrace,” Diño said. “And we need that momentum – we need to stimulate ourselves and we need to hit hard now.” Southeast Asian producers speak of increased budgets for independent films

Charles Jones

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