Monday, December 8, 2008

Only the Audience can Revive Taiwan's Film Industry

Only the Audience can Revive Taiwan's Film Industry
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
December 8, 2008

The film "Cape No. 7" failed to win the Best Director and Best Drama awards at the Golden Horse Festival. Many people are disappointed. But many heavyweight film-makers, including Best Director winner Peter Chan, expressed their gratitude to "Cape No. 7" at the podium. That's because "Cape No. 7" was the highest grossing Chinese language film in history, and brought audiences back to Chinese-language films. Who would have guessed that the audience was the key to success in the film industry?

The success of "Cape No. 7" has of course not led to a revolution in Taiwan's troubled film industry. But the box office performance of "Cape No. 7" was nothing short of amazing. Director Wei Teh-sheng struggled vainly for 15 years before shooting the film. The inspiring message of "Cape No. 7" is that dreams can come true. The film reignited hope in the hearts of the audience. It gave many who had lost hope amidst political and economic turmoil the courage to dream again. The film "Cape No. 7" helped people realize that the film industry on Taiwan lags behind the film industry on the mainland, Hong Kong, and even other Asian countries. If one wishes to revive the film industry on Taiwan, and ensure that films from Taiwan are noticed, this is where one must start.

As film makers on Taiwan watch "Assembly" win Best Actor, and "The Warlords" win Best Director and Best Feature Film, they may lament that it is almost impossible to shoot such films on today's Taiwan. This is not because Taiwan is poor. This is not because one cannot find anyone wealthy enough to underwrite such films. Films, on the one hand, are art. Films, on the other hand, are commerce. A movie must have a good story. A good story can move an audience. But first it must move Investors. Otherwise, it will go nowhere. For a film like "The Warlords," the Government Information Office's grants aren't even enough to pay for lunch. Forget about shooting a film like "The Warlords." To shoot a film with any class, Government Information Office grants are not enough.

There is no reason why the film industry must always look to the government's good graces. Film makers must learn how to raise money. No industry can wait for the government to subsidize it. The fact that film is an art makes no difference. No matter how one "primes the pump," in the end, it is a commercial enterprise, Government money is taxpayer money. It must always be used sparingly. One may hear sad stories about how such and such a director mortgaged his house to complete a film. But under capitalism, the government can not afford to take most of the investment risks. Commercial investors must be willing to put up the capital. For a long time Chinese language films have not done well at the box office. Investors have not been willing to take the necessary risks. After all, their investments are for profit. If Chinese language films have no audience, investors will not be willing to take the gamble. This is the root of the problem.

Every year, two to three hundred foreign films account for 90 percent of the total box office on Taiwan. In other words, Chinese language films account for less than ten percent of the total box office. A Chinese language film averages only one million NT at the box office. Obviously Chinese language films cannot survive under such circumstances. In recent years, a number of young filmmakers have chosen to make smaller, more intimate, "slice of life" films. They have shot a few box office sleepers. These films include "Island Etude," "What on Earth have I Done Wrong," "Winds of September," and "Orz Boys." The film "Cape No. 7" has finally done the Taiwan film industry proud. It has given investors new confidence, and a willingness to consider investments in film as serious investments. This is a good start.

The film industry on Taiwan has no shortage of creativity, and no lack of enthusiasm. But to bring in capital, one must ensure that "movie people" and "money people" speak each others' language. Clearly the next step is a serious effort to establish a business model for film investment.

The film industry on Taiwan has long looked to the government. Later, it seemed to be making films for solely for film critics. In recent years it has finally begun to realize that films must be made for the audience. Movies such as "Cape No. 7" succeed because they put the audience first, knowing this will ensure their popularity. We look forward to a bright future for the film industry on Taiwan.

中國時報  2008.12.08

《海角七號》未能在這次金馬獎拿下「最佳導演」與「最佳劇情片」兩項大獎,或許會讓很多人感到失望,但值得注意的是:多位重量級的電影工作者,包括最佳導 演獎得主陳可辛,紛紛在台上公開表示對《海角七號》的感謝,因為這部創下台灣有史以來華語電影最高票房紀錄的電影,「把觀眾重新帶回了華語電影。」,原來 觀眾才是整個電影工業最核心的驅動能量。

當然,台灣電影的困境並不會因為《海角七號》的成功而帶來革命性的改變,但最起碼《海角七號》幾近於「不可思議」的票房成績,導演魏德聖在拍攝這部電影之 前,長達十五年不得志的生涯歷程,以及《海角七號》整部電影所傳達的「夢想終會實現」的正面訊息 …,在在點燃了很多人心中希望的火苗,讓很多在混亂的政經局勢中失去勇氣、失去信心的人,有了「敢作夢」的勇氣;《海角七號》也讓人理解到在電影工業已經 落後大陸、香港甚至亞洲其他國家的台灣,如果要重新召喚屬於台灣電影的能量、要讓台灣電影得到注目,至少可以思考該從什麼樣的角度再出發。

台灣電影工作者看到拿下金馬獎最佳男主角獎的《集結號》、奪得最佳導演和最佳劇情片獎的《投名狀》,或許會忍不住慨嘆:以台灣目前的環境和條件,幾乎不可 能拍攝這樣的電影,但這是因為台灣很窮嗎、找不到出得起錢拍電影的人嗎?當然不是,電影一方面是藝術的呈現,另一方面,它的「經濟性格」也同等重要;一部 電影要有好的故事,這個好的故事在打動觀眾之前,必須先打動投資人,否則就寸步難行;如果是拍《投名狀》這種電影,新聞局的輔導金大概連發便當都不夠,別 說是拍《投名狀》了,要拍一部有點格局的電影,新聞局的輔導金也是不夠的。

問題是:電影作為一個產業,沒理由老是等待政府主管機關「關愛的眼神」,財務能力是電影人必修的一堂課,任何產業都不可能期待政府給錢才動得起來,電影再 怎麼藝術,再怎麼是火車頭,到最後還是一個商業行為,政府的錢就是納稅人的錢,要怎麼使用,本來就該慎重;雖然老是聽到哪個導演要靠賣房子才能繼續拍電影 的故事,總讓人感覺很悲情,但是在資本主義的邏輯下,不可能要政府負擔大部分的投資風險,必須要讓商業投資者的資金願意進來。然而在過去國片票房長期不佳 的情況下,投資人還真的是出不了手,畢竟投資是將本求利,沒有觀眾的國片市場要如何讓投資者願意放手一搏呢?這是根本的問題。

台灣每年約有二○○部至三○○部的外國電影,外片約占總票房的九成以上,換言之,國片連一成的票房都搶不到;一部國片平均只有一○○萬元台幣的票房,這種 成績當然很難活下去;近幾年來,在大量年輕電影工作者以貼近在地生活經驗與親切質樸的電影語言,拍攝出了幾部票房讓人眼睛為之一亮的電影,如《練習曲》、 《情非得已之生存之道》、《九降風》、《冏男孩》,及至《海角七號》的出現,終於讓台灣電影有了揚眉吐氣的機會,這也讓投資者開始有了信心,激勵投資人至 少願意把「投資電影」列為一個可以認真考慮的投資項目,這總算是一好的開始;《海角七號》最大的貢獻即在於此;台灣電影工作者不缺創意,也不缺熱情,但是 要引進資金活水,畢竟還是要讓「電影人」與「投資人」這兩個分屬不同世界的人「說一種彼此都能懂得的語言」,電影投資商業模式的建立,顯然是下一步應該認 真努力的工作。


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