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Iflix’s Mark Francis: ‘South East Asian TV drama is a sausage factory – and is frankly pretty shit’

Iflix’s global director of original programming has branded the South East Asia television drama market a “large volume – frankly pretty shit– sausage factory” with “no genre”.

Speaking at this year’s ContentAsia Summit in Singapore, Mark Francis claimed regional TV screens are largely filled with Soap Operas or “some version of it” due to budget constraints on the local broadcasters.

Francis, who joined the Malaysian company from National Geographic last year, told the audience he used local, independent films with “authentic voices” as his model for commissioning the OTT player’s original content.

“With our first ever originals, we looked at local drama and noticed a gulf – especially in scripted drama – between the production value, tentpole quality of independent local movies versus the large-volume – and with respect, frankly pretty shit – sausage factory local TV drama,” he said.

“We didn’t want to do that and we don’t have to do that because we’re not a channel and we don’t have Sunday night to fill… We didn’t want to use the processes – or bad habits – that are endemic in local TV drama: writing a script on a Monday and shooting whatever it is on a Wednesday.

“There is almost no genre in local drama in South East Asia. That’s because you only have enough budget to shoot a bunch of people having a dialogue indoors. Guess what? That’s Soap Opera, or some version of it.

“I was far more interested in what’s happening in the movie space: authentic voices, creative vision and making movies under really challenging circumstances. My view was to see if I could get some of the movie guys to look at spin-offs, sequels of some of their films or fresh ideas, and do them in six-to-eight parts… and do it on a pure local level with local talent.

He added: “We have a commercial imperative to challenge the status quo and dear God I hope it works.”

Iflix recently released its first original television series, a stand-up comedy programme called Oi! Jaga Mulut, which roughly translates as ‘watch your mouth’.

Speaking about pushing the boundaries in Malaysia’s largely conservative comedy arena, Francis said: “I basically told the comedians, ‘I don’t want you to go out there and be purposely provocative. I want you to be as funny as possible’. And if that means you’re going to touch politics or be a bit racial, so be it.

“That’s our differentiation; they can’t do that in mainstream television or comedy clubs. So we gave them that opportunity in a very local way.”

During his talk, Francis also announced that Iflix’s recently announced Filipino ambassador, actress Kris Aquino, would star in the company’s first ever feature-length film.

“I would describe her as the Oprah Winfrey of The Philippines,” Francis said. “She’s the daughter of a president and the number one commercial endorser in The Philippines – even more so than Manny Pacquiao – and we thought, instead of doing a mini-series with her, it would be more impactful to have her in a feature film. That’s now in development.”

Kris Aquino

He added: “We have a fundamental ambition to raise the bar in the production quality in South East Asia.”

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