Filipino movies

Good ol’ marketing, bayanihan help bring patrons back to cinemas for MMFF 2023

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Good ol’ marketing, bayanihan help bring patrons back to cinemas for MMFF 2023

PROMO. Veteran actors Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon help promote their film 'When I Met You in Tokyo' at an SM Cinema for the Metro Manila Film Festival on December 25, 2023.

SM Cinema's Facebook page

MMFF spokesperson Noel Ferrer says the on-the-ground promotional campaigns by the celebrities who have films in MMFF played a key role in the successful start of the festival

 MANILA, Philippine – A traditional on-the-ground marketing campaign plus a bayanihan effort from the Philippine entertainment industry are helping moviegoers return to cinemas for the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2023 edition after hitting rock bottom for three years due to the pandemic. 

Bukod sa mahahabang pila sa mga sinehan simula pa noong Disyembre 25, mas malaki ang kinita sa unang araw ng film festival ngayong taon kumpara sa bentahan ng ticket sa unang araw noong 2022,” said Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Don Artes, also concurrent chairman of the MMFF, on Wednesday, December 27. 

(Aside from the long queues in cinemas starting December 25, the film festival earned more on its first day compared to ticket sales on the first day of the MMFF in 2022.)

Artes did not disclose figures, as the MMDA belied a post that ranked the 10 participating films in order of their box-office earnings. 

“‘Di natin akalain na babalik ‘yung dating sigla, ‘yung pre-pandemic levels sana,” Noel Ferrer, spokesperson for the MMFF, told radio DZBB late evening Monday, December 25. 

(We didn’t expect that the enthusiasm would return, hopefully it will to pre-pandemic levels.)

The MMFF is the country’s traditional annual film festival, which runs for two weeks starting December 25, when people have more money in their pockets compared to previous months. No foreign films are shown throughout the country, making it a monopoly festival for the participating film producers. 

Ferrer said the on-the-ground promotional campaigns by the celebrities who have films in MMFF played a key role in the successful start of the festival. 

Ang mga artista, ang sisipag, lahat sila naglibot ng mga sinehan para salubungin ang fans. Dati, magpe-presscon, magpaparada, tapos magbabakasyon na sila,” he said. 

Parang naging film event, napakahalagang event, kaya ‘yung mga tao, parang nananabik uli makita ‘yung mga artista sa pelikula.

(The artists, they were hardworking, all of them. They went around the cinemas to welcome fans. Before, they would hold a press conference, join the parade, and then go on vacation. This year, it became like a film event, a very important event, which is why people became interested to see the actors in the movies.) 

Ferrer also noted the bayanihan effort of the players in the Philippine entertainment industry to get people back to cinemas. 

Dito talaga, sama-sama tayong nagtutulungan para hikayatin ‘yung mga audience at gawing personal ‘yung experience, Ferrer added. 

(Here, everyone is pitching in to attract the audience and make it a personal experience.) 

Even prior to the MMFF, many of the celebrities did mall tours and other promotional campaigns to get people to watch their films. 

For instance, despite being seniors, veteran actors Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon went all out to promote their comeback romance film When I Met You in Tokyo

The Philippines’ leading broadcast company, GMA Network, also gave full support to promote Firefly, the entry of GMA Pictures and GMA Public Affairs in the MMFF 2023. No less than Jessica Soho, the Philippines’ most popular news and current affairs personality with 30 million followers on her Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho Facebook, has been promoting the drama film.

The Philippines’ leading content creator, ABS-CBN, via its film outfit, Star Cinema, joined forces with APT Entertainment and Agostodos Pictures for the romance film Rewind, led by real-life couple Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera.  

Good ol’ marketing, bayanihan help bring patrons back to cinemas for MMFF 2023

Ferrer stressed the personal experience that people want these days, noting that this is a major reason why people have returned to watching concerts and theater productions. 

Sabi natin, ‘yung concert scene tsaka ‘yung teatro, bumalik na ‘yung sigla. At kahit magkano ‘yung presyo dun, pumupunta ‘yung mga tao kasi may physical interaction, may direct interaction ‘yung mga tao,” he said. 

(As we’ve said, the enthusiasm is back for the concert scene as well as theater. And regardless of the ticket price, they watch because of the physical interaction – there’s direct interaction with the people.)

Another factor is the more diverse offerings in the MMFF’s 49th edition. Aside from the usual comedy, romance, fantasy, and horror films, this year’s MMFF includes historical film GomBurZa

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Ferrer said there’s a film for every person in the family in this year’s MMFF. 

The absence of a “frontrunner” in this year’s film festival has also helped level the playing field as cinema owners give more time for films with less box-office potential, he said. 

In its heyday, the MMFF earned P1 billion at the box office, with escapist but fun movies of comedians Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto often cornering the bulk of the box-office earnings. This year, both comedians are noticeably absent in the MMFF. Coco Martin, star of the long-running teleserye Ang Probinsyano and FPJ’s Batang Quiapo, also has no entry this year.

Meantime, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) said on Thursday, December 28, that it launched the call-to-action-event Balik Sinehan (Back to Cinemas) initiative on Christmas Day at Trinoma Mall in Quezon City to help “ignite hope” for Philippine cinema’s revival. 

In a statement, MTRCB vice chairman Njel de Mesa, a film producer, noted the many challenges of the Philippine cinema industry, including the decline of foot traffic in cinemas “aggravated by the growing popularity of streaming platforms.”

“This is not to say that technology is bad. However, with the rise of accessible and competitively-priced streaming platforms, it has been difficult for the local film industry as well as cinemas to recover post-pandemic, and they need our help,” De Mesa said.

Ferrer said this bodes well for the Philippine movie industry. 

After COVID, parang ‘yung mga tao, hinihintay na lang sa mga streaming device ‘yung pelikula. Aminin natin, guilty tayo dun. Pero ngayon, nagbalik ‘yung sigla at ‘yung mga tao, pati ‘yung mga artista, pati ‘yung mga produksyon, parang nag-meet halfway, balik-sinehan,” he said.

(After COVID, it seemed people were just waiting for films to be shown on streaming sites. Let’s admit it, we’re guilty of that. But now, the people are enthusiastic again, even the artists and producers, they’re meeting halfway by returning to cinemas.) 

The Philippine film industry hit rock-bottom during the COVID-19 pandemic as cinemas were shut down and people were afraid to catch the virus in enclosed theaters. Although health protocols were lifted in 2022, the MMFF’s 48th edition still didn’t go back to pre-pandemic levels, with box-office earnings reaching P500 million or half of the earnings in 2017.

MTRCB chair Lala Sotto urged people to help protect jobs in the movie industry by watching films in cinemas. 

Iba pa rin ang panonood ng sine kasama ang pamilya at mga kaibigan (It’s still different if you watch a movie with family and friends), that’s why the MTRCB, Film Academy of the Philippines, Movie Workers Welfare Foundation Inc. (MOWELFUND), and Ayala Malls are here on Christmas Day to encourage everyone to come and experience the familial and communal experience that is unique to watching movies on the big screen. More than the entertainment value, we help protect the livelihood of those who work in the industry,” she said. 

The MMFF will run until January 7, 2024.

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.