The Bhutanese film industry saw its worst year in 2011 with 18 of the 26 releases flopping big time at the box office.
Most films that failed were introduced by new directors including fresh graduates who learnt filmmaking elsewhere and wanted to start their own production as soon as they return to Bhutan.
“The market is saturated with inexperienced people,” said the general secretary of the Motion Picture Association of Bhutan (MPAB), Sherub Gyeltshen.
Fresh entrants of directors and producers should stick with experienced ones for at least two to three projects as interns, he said.
Television channels like HBO show movies of very high technical quality. And viewers unconsciously set higher standards for local movies. The Bhutanese movie industry doesn’t have the technical expertise or investment to produce movies of that quality, but fresh stories and tight scripts can help in overcoming the crisis.
Sherub Gyeltshen said the failure of a film can be directly attributed to inexperienced crew and not really actors.
“It is necessary for movie producers to analyze the script well and opt for directors and cast who are well trained and experienced,” said Sonam Choki Gyeltshen of the MPAB secretariat. She also insisted that filmmakers should realize the importance of proper promotion of a movie postproduction to gain publicity and popularity.
Records show that by the end of last year, 194 films were produced. In 2010, 50% of the 31 films released failed.
Another reason cited for poor viewership is piracy, which has always affected theater collection. Sherub Gyeltshen said law-enforcing agencies are not very strong in protecting intellectual property. “We did quite a number of raids, but of the cases that were fought, not many were in our favor,” he said.
The industry doesn’t have a rating scheme to measure the success of a film. And motion picture companies need not declare the profits made from a film to the association. However, the returns from films can be known from the number of days it survives at local theatres. Thimphu is the main target market for the industry as it determines the returns from a Dzongkha movie. The general secretary said “a film which lasts for at least two weeks in the local theatres with 60-70% viewers or occupancy implies that at least more than half of its total cost has been met” which means the film has not flopped. A failed production is when the investor cannot cover even 50% of its expenses. He also said producers in the country are content even if the production cost is met despite a meager profit.
Sherub Wangmo, a producer, said her only film failed despite receiving recognition for its theme on gender equality. The Nu 2.5mn production didn’t even meet expenses for the technical crew. She attributes the failure to her lack of experience and plans to seek assistance from seniors and experts in the future.
The high-budget ‘Sa cho ga mi ga’ of 2010 also didn’t earn profits, according to some records as it was shot in London with a budget of Nu 6.5mn.
Wangchuk of Bhutan Multimedia who produced and directed the film ‘Gaawai Sem’ said, though the lack of movie halls is a huge problem, other factors like piracy, competing cable channels and poor storyline result in flops.
“In the past we could earn a lot from music which is part of a film, but today there is no income at all from music because of piracy,” he said.
He invested about Nu 1.4mn for ‘Gaawai Sem’ and the film failed to fetch even 20% of the total cost. Though the film is still in the market, the total return he expects is less than Nu 0.2mn.
Sherub Wangmo said she waited for a year post production for the release of ‘Gawai Menchung’ due to the lack of screening venues. She was not aware that reserving halls in advance was a prerequisite to screen a film. Her Nu 2.5mn production couldn’t even meet expenses for technical crewmembers.
Rinchen Namgay of Bhutan Himalaya Pictures said though schools are an alternative venue, the rental rates are high while the proceeds from students are too little since the ticket cost for a student ranges from Nu 10 to Nu 15.
MPAB, established in 1999, has 85 registered member producers and 185 registered individual members. Bhutan has 62 film production houses, 12 recording studios and seven small screen producers, creating more than a thousand jobs for the youth.
MPAB will soon launch a membership management information system with details of key individuals in the industry. It will generally assist investors in employing potential crewmembers or professionals like the cast, directors, camera operators, technicians, choreographers, editors, production managers, scriptwriters, cinematographers, art directors, costume designers, make-up artists and others.