Nicolette San Jose could not remember the last Filipino movie she saw as she lined up for tickets to the latest George Clooney film at a Manila mall.
The 18-year-old college student giggled with her friends as they tried to help her remember.
“No Other Woman,” one of them suggested, referring to a blockbuster released in September about a man whose perfect marriage was almost shattered by a relationship with another woman.
“Does that count, because we didn’t go to the movie house for that?” San Jose asked, quickly adding that they saw the movie from a pirated DVD borrowed from another friend.
“We don’t usually go out to see Filipino movies,” she said as she and her friends hurried to catch the start of Clooney’s movie. “There aren’t many choices anyway.”
On the day San Jose and her friends were at the cinema, only one Filipino movie was being shown on the seven screens at the mall.
The Philippine film industry, once a thriving sector that captivated even international audiences with its groundbreaking movies and outstanding Filipino actors, has slumped in the past decade.
The number of films produced locally has declined to an average of 73 a year in the past decade from more than 140 a year from the 1960s to the 1990s, according to a recent study by the National Statistical Coordination Board.
“Only two of the top 10 all-time grossing films shown in the Philippines were produced locally,” the board said.
Leo Martinez, director general of the Film Academy of the Philippines, which oversees the welfare of workers in the industry and gives awards for artistic and technical excellence, said piracy, high production costs and a lack of incentives have plagued the industry.
“Some theater owners complain that pirates earn as much as Filipino films gross every year,” he said, adding that movie piracy was estimated to have caused losses of about 4 billion pesos (95 million dollars) last year.
“Producers also had to contend with paying 30 percent in amusement taxes, plus 12 percent VAT, but now the amusement tax is down to just 10 percent after our lobbying,” he said.
Martinez expressed confidence that the number of films being produced locally would again increase now the taxes imposed on producers had been lowered, and as independent films begin to carve a niche in the commercial market.
“Last year, for the first time, two indie films grossed about 60 million pesos (1.43 million dollars),” he said. “That is a big profit considering that it costs about 2 million pesos to 3 million pesos to make an indie film. That is giving hope to other indie filmmakers.”
In 2011, independent film makers accounted for 44 movies produced locally compared to 34 by major studios, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board study.
The rise brought the share of locally produced movies to to 34 percent of films shown in the Philippines in 2011, compared to 24 percent in 2005, the study added.
More film makers should be encouraged to produce their movies independently of major studios to give the public more choice, Martinez said.
He said he also hoped that the local industry would receive a big boost from the filming of Hollywood movie Bourne Legacy in the Philippines since January.
“It can serve as a signal to other foreign producers to come to the Philippines and shoot here,” he said. “We used to do three to four pictures a year in co-production with Hollywood producers. That’s something we should encourage.”
Movie fans have been flocking to the sets of the Bourne Legacy in Manila since last month to get a glimpse of the action.
“I’m curious to find out how they make Hollywood movies,” said a man who identified himself as Mang Ando, eagerly watching stunts being performed by local doubles. “Everything’s so elaborate. I don’t think Filipino movies are made in the same way.”
Martinez agreed that Filipino movies are often produced on much lower budgets than international films and often suffer from hackneyed plots.
“When it comes to action movies, we really are unable to compete with foreign films,” he said. “Filipino action films are very predictable. When you see an old car, you know that’s the one that will always explode.”