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The struggle to make commercial films

With the company’s debut full feature film playing last year in Hong Kong to much positive feedback, Oliver Fa, Creative Director of White Picture Productions, shares his views on the city’s filmmaking industry and his experience as a filmmaker

Having just registered as a company last year, White Picture Productions did not waste time releasing their first feature length film in Hong Kong the same year and generating positive reviews.
The film – Against the Wind – centres around a marathon, a rare topic for films in the Chinese filmmaking industry, according to Oliver Fa, the production house’s Creative Director (CD), who cites a number of Hong Kong media outlets.
“This film suits the current trend of pursuing dreams,” said Fa, while pointing out that not many commercial films are created in Macau.
Many filmmaking companies or groups mostly focus on artistic topics, he opines.
“But there is still a market for commercial films. I mean, not everyone is [famous Hong Kong Director] Wong Kar-wai, and there are people who also like watching commercial films, for instance [Hong Kong Director] Wong Jing’s films,” commented the CD.
He explained that, to him, commercial films are films that suit the taste of the majority of audiences as opposed to making a film that mainly advertises sponsors’ products and services.
Since the gambling boom in the MSAR many filmmakers have readily received support from gaming operators, Fa says, although he also points out his experience with some gaming operators refusing to sponsor the production house’s film.
“Galaxy Entertainment rejected sponsoring our film and asked us not to include their corporate logo in the film despite them being the main organiser of the marathon race,” said Fa. “The Sports Bureau approved us to film the race but Galaxy refused to have their logo in the film and the same for Sands [China].”

Limited fusion
Fa opined that the filmmaking industry in Macau lacks fusion between filmmakers and that “everyone is doing their own work”.
Although Against the Wind received good reviews from Hong Kong, he said the newly established cinema Cinematheque‧Passion did not approve their request to screen it.
“I also got to know some people who asked them [the operator of Cinematheque‧Passion] whether they could rent out the place for playing their short films, but for the moment it is not available,” said Fa.
Managed by CUT Ltd., Cinematheque‧Passion was opened in March this year, with the cinema mainly playing non-mainstream movies and local productions.
“So many would choose to go to Cinema Algeria, but the price is not low,” said Fa, emphasising that the film business can only make money by gaining sponsors and not merely from box office sales.

Support from the government
According to Fa, the government rolls out several support schemes to assist in the development of the filmmaking industry in the city.
The ‘Support Programme for the Production of Feature Films’ (SPPFF) is one of the schemes which supports the making of a 90-minutes film, offering MOP1.5 million for production.
“The programme allows you to start, which means they also allow you to receive the amount and seek other sponsors in order to gather enough for production costs,” said Fa.
In addition, Macao Cultural Centre has introduced Local Film Power (LFP) for short filmmaking, offering subsidies of MOP270,000.
The CD said they had submitted a proposal for the LFP but observed that competition was fierce, given the abundance of talent.
“If you don’t have some people that know you it’s rather difficult to win,” said Fa, according to whom filmmakers also approach the Macao Foundation for funding, with Fa indicating that this was the more preferable option.
“You need to apply to [Macao Foundation] by providing the topic of your film and what you are trying to promote [among others],” said Fa.
With the various support made available by the government, the Creative Director complained that many filmmaking groups received money but very few of them actually released their works.
“From the programme [SPPFF], only Sisterhood [directed by Tracy Choi] was able to be released while the others are not yet ready,” said Fa. “I think the government should monitor those who have received support, maybe even setting a deadline”.
Despite the support provided by the government, Fa is also concerned about the number of people who can benefit from such support.
“I think the government should put more money into helping those who have just entered the industry,” he remarked. “If they have funding the first time they won’t have it the second and third time”.

Multimedia prevailing
The CD sees high demand for making videos for company promotions and also documenting events such as wedding banquets.
Fa, together with two other co-founders, set up the company to meet the significant demand of multimedia advertising and promotion, he points out, revealing that to participate in public tenders offered by the government the group had to set up their own company.
According to Fa, the competition to fight for jobs from the government is high, saying that the government favoured those who offer the lowest price for their services.
“I feel like the government thinks that video making companies are all more or less the same, but as far as I am concerned different companies have different characteristics,” he remarked.
When asked about future plans for White Picture Production, Fa said they will continue to make feature-length and short films, indicating that the short films would allow for more exposure, which would attract sponsors for feature-length productions.
Fa said he hopes “to promote our films to Hong Kong or to the Mainland”, while noting that it would be more difficult to expand their market to Mainland China given that they would then have to seek a partner in order to get a movie playing permit.
He also disclosed that they had received an invitation to make a sequel for Against the Wind from Hong Kong.
“But we don’t want to stick to the old stuff at the moment,” said Fa. “We don’t want to fix our films to certain [genres].”