If you can count on anyone in the local film industry that would speak his mind openly and unobstructed, then it must be the one and only, Bront Palarae, a widely well-regarded actor who carries that undeniable je ne sais quoi aura of an 'artiste', which is quite rare in the local industry.
With a deep sigh and a laugh, he says, "Well, it's time for a collective change", in between puffs of his cigarette as we chatted with him at Kafe Skrin in Ulu Kelang.
The 36-year-old "Terbaik Dari Langit" star who has been on screens for more than 15 years now, has a keen eye on observing how the industry has changed, especially after having taken on not only acting roles, but also with screenwriting, directing and producing, so, it's only natural that Cinema Online would have a pick at his brains especially now that the industry is plummeting with its disastrous box office performance this year.
Here are Bront's thoughts on the local film industry and his next starring role in Virginia Kennedy's "Girlfriend Kontrak".
As an established artiste who has been around in the industry for quite some time now, what are your thoughts about the local industry today and where it is headed towards?
Oblivion. [Laughs] The local industry is a collective 'eff up'. What we are witnessing today is the loss of trust from the audience. The industry has just somehow lost the trust of the local audience and it took ages to actually gain their trust.
What do you think is the root of the problem here?
Oh, I could go on for hours and that's another interview altogether. I've been saying this too often now, too many shitty films are being made with too much money and too often. The people who fork out money for those shitty films are then shortchanged when the film doesn't do so well and they're like "that's it; I'm not doing this anymore". The foreign films are making tons and tons of money, it's just the local films that nobody wants to watch.
2011 was the year where we witnessed a bunch of great local offerings. Despite the script, "Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa" offered a big production value and it was great. In terms of comedy, "Hantu Kak Limah" nailed it as a benchmark for local comedies, then for romance, "Ombak Rindu" is still on the top of the genre while "KL Gangster" is still one of the best of its kind out there. So if you looked at the slate for 2011 compared to the following year, what took place in 2012 was that everyone tried to replicate the movies that were successful the year before, but with half of the budget. Which is like, "let's produce Prada, but imitation Prada after the real product made tons of money". Now we are witnessing the real outcome of that.
What are your hopes for the ailing industry then?
It has gone to the stage of calling it a 'doggy dog world' and it is a survival of the fittest, to be honest. Because it's a collective effort but you can't really just rally up everyone and give a battle-cry and say, "Come on all of us!". You can't. Until someone sees the true importance of a collective perspective, then only will you get to see the result. After 2011, the amount of films being made has shifted the local calendar as well. From 40 plus local films per year, it has become around 70 plus wajib tayang films with one new local film each week, so does one really expect people to go to the cinema every week to watch a half-hearted quality film? So we can't really blame the audience, we can't blame the cinema as well, and with the market that is dropping we can't even blame the producer because they need to pick the right project to make money. Everything now is about marketability, commercial appeal and all that. I don't really know how things are going to pan out to be honest.
Let's talk about your latest film role in the industry. Can you describe your character in "Girlfriend Kontrak"?
His name is Zain and he's an online entrepreneur. He sets out to destroy the life of Keith Foo's character and wants to take over the whole company. It's a very corporate board-room kind of role that I got myself into.
Did you get to provide your own input on this character? As we heard you did improvise certain parts.
Yes I did. Just like any creative process, there were boundaries or a framework that we were pretty much subjected to, but then Virginia had let us explore. On the dance moves that I did in the film, I was thinking "Oh man, this is so ugly, but it's ugly good", so I thought let's do this! That's the whole fun of working on romantic comedies.
You said that you were excited to work with Virginia too. Why is that?
She has a massive reputation in the TV commercial line and I've seen her short documentary film too, "Pua". After watching it, I was like, "this is awesome, I would love to work with her one day", but then she was in a different environment until I heard that she was making a feature film and I got the call to play Zain. So the script was emailed to me and I was shocked, because I thought it was going to be an arthouse film, but it turned out to be a modern fairytale. That kind of took me by surprise, but then I read a couple of pages and started laughing at some of the gags. Underneath all the chick flick stuff there was something that attracted me to the project, especially the environmental issue.
So do you prefer acting in commercial roles or more serious ones?
I've never really set things out. It's more towards stories that need to be told. It turns out to be arthouse more than others though, because arthouse films are the ones that are more concerned about producing something with substance.
What's next for you?
I just finished shooting "Halfworlds" for HBO Asia. It is a miniseries. It should be out by the end of November and we're going to launch this at the Jakarta Comic Con on the 26th of September. I hope this series would serve as a bridge to more collaboration like this in the future. It's my saving grace.
"Girlfriend Kontrak" comes to cinemas this 24 September 2015.