Talking Sense

New FINAS Chair takes the reins with hands of experience

Hans Isaac
National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS)

A fresh take on Malaysia’s industry participation added an upsurge of vigour in the landscape at MIPCOM this year. The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia, or FINAS, made a comeback to the Palais des Festivals, and things have never been busier or more promising.

"In the last 5 months since I’ve taken the post, there’s been a lot of negotiations of where we stand currently in the market.

“This includes dealing with the concerns the industry has, the future of the industry we want to go towards, and currently, the running of the day-to-day business,” said its new Chair, Hans Isaac, who not only comes from the industry, but continues to have a genuine passion for it and an inherent protective stance for it, making him a natural fit for this daunting role.

And so, into the future we went, as Hans spiritedly revealed where the lion’s share of his determination will go to.

“The future basically is focusing on co-pros; bringing revenue into the country, allowing our local partners or stakeholders to be working with international parties. Hence, this is why we have the FIMI incentive*, which is a 30% rebate back to any country working within Malaysia.

“We feel that the money value, looking at the US dollar, countries feel there’s more mileage in Malaysia with regards to the facilities, the manpower, the locations we have. So that’s basically one area of how we tap into the international market,” Hans noted.

* Film in Malaysia Incentive (FIMI) provides an additional financial incentive for the production of creative content within Malaysia, and encourages support for the Malaysian content production industry. FIMI is a 30% cash rebate on all Qualifying Malaysian Production Expenditure (QMPE), available for both Malaysian and foreign production activities.

“We’re looking at the local market as well, not just thinking the international one. We’re also protecting the local market, because there’re two sets of players in Malaysia.

“You got the foreign ones, who want to go outside and build their content outside – do co-pros – and you have the local ones, who say, ‘I’d rather make content for Malaysia, and stay here’.

“That structure has to be very detailed to be honest. Because the Act that we had 30 years year ago is still here today. We need to refurbish that act, to cater to today’s digital world. It takes a while; we have to go to Parliament and change everything.

“We do the paperwork, we do the process, but our Minister has to back it in Parliament, and he’s willing, and has given us the approval to proceed with it.

“Every policy we have (under the Act), we would like to change a certain amount in it; so now we have to put everything together, justifying it all, and go through market. It is a long, tedious process.

“I would say, it will take at least a year to get it done, realistically,” Hans explained, fully aware of the formidable undertaking success would demand.

Overcoming Barriers for Malaysia

“I think we’ve stumbled a lot in the past years,” Hans spoke candidly, already establishing himself as an upright, down-to-earth leader at the get go, “Today’s a little bit different,” Hans confidently remarked, giving the example of what they have done at MIPCOM this year.

“Its’ something that has never been done before. We have done co-pros; the market is buzzing around Malaysia; from 9am to 5pm, people are coming to negotiate with us and build relationships with us.”

One of Hans’ arduous hurdles is to cater to the various elements vital in the ecosystem. “We keep everyone in mind, because we need everyone to move forward together.

“We can’t lose the broadcasters; and we’re engaging a lot more now about copyright. We’re looking at the well-being of the industry; we put a paper together for EPF (Employees' Provident Fund in Malaysia) and insurance policies for everyone to benefit, and no industry has tried something like this. I think Canada might have that, but in Asia, you don’t have that. We’re doing it right now; we’re 80% there to get this done,” Hans declared with a level of depth only applicable to those who’ve been around the block as many times as he has.

“I have been in the industry all my life; I know the problems, so I know about the protection plan for the well-being of the industry, copyright issues, piracy issues… We had a G2G here in France to come up with how we can work with the copyright matters of piracy for the IPs.

“We’re looking at cinema protection between the producers to make sure films are played and given the best opportunities. So we’re restructuring the Act for producers or local content providers to have their films played in cinemas now, so that they get the best opportunity to earn back their dollar.

What’s Working: The Yields of FIMI
“Last year, we spent RM200 million on FIMI and we brought in RM1.3 billion worth of investment into the economic system. That money was spent in the industry of FINAS; the workforce, the studios, the locations, the food; so we know the revenue that we bring back with FIMI.

And success begets success, as Hans noted how today, companies they have always wanted to work with are now in active discussions with them. “We’ve never done that with FINAS before. For example, this is the first time ever in history for us to sit with Warner and go. ‘we’re dealing’.”

Also, Hans relayed how in the past, they have had a studio come into Malaysia, film the film, and after they finished, leave to their next production in another country in Southeast Asia. “Today, our conversation is like, ‘We’re not going to go to any other country except Malaysia. We made a mistake by leaving Malaysia’, and they were negotiating with us to come back. And I said, ‘you’re most welcome to’.”

The Rise of Malaysia

Hans has come out with guns blazing for the people; the talent; the location, and the local sponsors that manage international companies; “it’s on a high international level now.”

He does admit that the companies Malaysia offers are smaller: “They are still learning and building themselves – the foundation – but we also have those companies that can literally service Fremantle, Warner, these big studios, and we know we can handle it right now.

“Back in the day, the confidence level was not as what we had hoped, with the question, ‘can we handle it?’ at the forefront of our minds. But there have been external parties coming into Malaysia, setting up companies in Malaysia, running out of Malaysia.

“We even have a company in Bangsar that runs by doing the biggest Marvel films, and Aquaman as well, and it is made in Malaysia; not many people know that.

“We’re also building the ecosystem with education. We’re not just looking at what we have today. We have to go back to education; looking at piracy and copyright issues. These are the kids that will start building content, so we need to educate that you’re literally killing your future as you’re doing it (infringing copyrights, IP etc).

“Way back when, it used to take days to justify your content for the agency (MCMC) to pull down that content. We’ve now created a fast track process; 24 hours, content’s pulled. In addition, we’re working with the French on the policy they’ll use to be cut and pasted into Malaysia as well.”

With the support of Minister Gobind Singh, a new minister who has literally gone, ‘Enough, it’s time to make changes’, Hans is confident he will make a difference.

“I’m not political. I look at the results,” Hans recapped, excited with his ammunition – grants for local content, marketing grants and production grants, outside of FIMI’s pull.

“Everyone seems to be invested in Malaysia, and I never realised that,” Hans reflected.

And before running off to yet another meeting, Hans leaves with words of a man on a mission: “Times have changed. The guards have changed. We’re industry players. We manage FINAS with integrity today, and we’re not going to promise what we cannot deliver.”