Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Journey to the Top

By now, you most likely would have heard that Chiu Keng Guan's The Journey has earned the top spot as the most profitable local film in Malaysian history, and I could just imagine studio execs scratching their heads in unison and wondering out loud, "How?!"

In many ways, the film went against many - if not all - of the rules stated in the How to Make a Local Film playbook. For a film that cost in the neighbourhood of RM 3 to 4 million, you'd think they'd be tied down to oh-so many demands and stipulations set by the investors; maybe they still had to bow down to some, I don't know. But from an audience perspective, it didn't seem like the vision had been tampered with.

'cause if it had, the poster might have ended up looking like this;

But no, what ended up on screen looked like a genuine labour of love, and it did seem like they were able to do what they had set out to do. Of course, it definitely helped that the director and writer combo have a good track record. Then again, one thing I noticed about Chinese films is that they're less focused on pandering to the audience; but I haven't seen enough of 'em, so feel free to contradict me on this.

Back to the subject at hand, I too wonder what made The Journey click with the local audience. I could name some possible reasons for it, but do I know? Nope. But hey, as of right now I'm less concerned with analysing it; I'm just happy that it's doing really really well. Also because it might just be the kick in the arse that the industry really needs right now.

Perhaps it will help in convincing people that in show business, the word 'show' comes first for a reason.

Thankfully, this time around it isn't a genre film that's doing well. Why? Well, the last time a film broke box-office records, it was KL Gangster [2011] and through no fault of its own, you couldn't walk into a cinema for the next two years without seeing a KL Gangster copycat. Before that, it was the same story. Remember Jangan Pandang Belakang [2007]? I wish I couldn't.

Well this time around, hopefully the focus will be on creating good stories, and not to worry too damn much about what the audience might think well before they could even hear about it, let alone see it. If you wanna take a page or two from The Journey, here are a couple of things to bear in mind;

#1 The audience won't mind paying, as long as what's shown on the big screen isn't something they can get on TV. Kalau tak, what's the point?

#2 Strong imagery. It's a lot tougher to leave an impression on the audience when the screen is huge, so don't skimp out on details. Even when their eyes don't pick up on it, their brains will. For instance, at the mere mention of The Journey, the first image that comes to my mind is the look on the lovable curmudgeon dad's face. Secondly, the Union Jack helmet worn by the white dude...

... as they go cross-country on a motorcycle. Which leads us to numero tres.

#3 Casting is really important, it can literally make or break your movie. Now, instead of Aaron Aziz, imagine Harun Salim Bachik as the male lead in Ombak Rindu [2011]. Perhaps only then people will realise that it's an appalling movie romanticising a rapist. But it was Aaron Aziz, so it's okay. Now imagine him as the male lead in Istanbul, Aku Datang! [2012]. You know what, I've written about this before in some form or another, so let's just leave it at that.

#4 Word-of-mouth is king. You can trick the audience via marketing, you can "coax" reporters into giving your film a glowing review, you can have a star-studded cast; but if you can't leave an impression on the audience, then they will all go to waste. So how do you leave an impression on the audience? You've just gone through them: #1, #2 and #3. I'll talk more about this in another blogpost.

Right now I just want to say that when you have a film that connects with the audience, the box-office will take care of itself.

#5 In a nutshell, I told you so.

I'll be damned, maybe I do know why the film is so successful.

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