The lights go out, the production ends, but the projections in movie theaters begin, where it is expected to recover the budget approved by the Directorate General of Cinema (DGCine). After a silence of two hours, kisses, fights and laughter, the applause and comments resound, which little by little will determine if the film was a triumph or a fiasco. Recovering the investment is the biggest challenge for producers and investors, or at least this is what is believed.
The figures for Dominican cinema, however, offer a scenario of losses that, according to the logic of any business, is unsustainable. None of the films referenced in the 2022 report generated a profit. The results are explicit enough. What is the motivation for companies to invest in a production that does not guarantee a return, at least in advertising their brand?
The 29 Dominican films screened in 2022 generated revenues of RD$101.5 million, barely 8.2% of the approved (and executed) budget of RD$1,237.8 million, highlights DGCine. When breaking down the data, 9.6% of the total amount approved corresponded to “Flow calle”, which was RD$119.7 million, but it collected RD$32.5 million, that is, 27.1%.
This film is followed by “El brujo” with a budget of RD$84.7 million, but only collected RD$20.1 million (23.7%) and “El país de las últimas cosas” received a budget of RD$80.4 million, but collected RD$27,650, barely a 0.03%, being the most extreme case in terms of losses.
Despite the fact that these last three feature films represented 23% of the total budget, with RD$284.8 million, the income as a whole stood at RD$52.6 million, equivalent to 51.8% compared to the RD$101.5 million of these 29 films. In net terms, there were RD$232.2 million that were not recovered.
“La trap”, with a cast made up of Pepe Sierra, Caroline Aquino and Raymond Pozo, had a budget of RD$82.1 million, however it raised RD$35.1 million in 16 weeks, for 42.7% of the investment. 128,894 people attended.
The film “El APP”, by director Tabaré Blanchard, collected RD$213,726 with the assistance of 728 people, which meant barely 0.2% of the executed budget, which amounted to RD$80.2 million. “Padre se busca”, by Hans García, (RD$71.3 million) and “La otra lucha” (RD$76.7 million), by Tito Rodríguez, raised RD$791,825 (1.1%) and RD$83,175 (0.1%), respectively. The thriller “Desaparecido”, by Roberto Ángel Salcedo, and the drama “La encomienda”, by Pablo Giorgelli, recovered 0.7% of the budget of RD$69.9 million and RD$69.8 million, respectively. This means income of RD$1,045,275.
The filmmaker José María Cabral opted to recreate the 1937 massacre on the Dominican-Haitian border, ordered by the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. The drama “Perejil” had financing of RD$65.2 million, some RD$2.2 million more than “Jupía”, a film starring David Maler (RD$63 million) and 35.2% difference than “La joma de justicia”, by Jassel González (RD$46.2 million). These three Creole feature films totaled income of RD$1,551,900, which is equivalent to 0.8% of their budget.
According to data from DGCine, “Bantú Mama”, RD$47.4 million; “Diaspora”, RD$39.2 million; “The transformed man”, RD$18.7 million, reported income of RD$345,350 from the sale of 1,162 ticket offices.
Cinema as a business model
Cinema is synonymous with entertainment. In 2022 alone, 363,665 people attended to see local movies in movie theaters. The premieres, the collections and the week on the billboard show a part of the success to the public, however, behind it there is a business model.
“When a film is made under article 34 of the Film Law, it is already paid for. You don’t need to go to the movie theaters to make a profit. Ángel Muñiz put “Y a Dios que me perdone” on YouTube for free, because he said that everything was already paid for through the taxes that are deducted from the companies that sponsor the films, ”explained the film critic, Pachico Tejada.
Film productions attract investors, who allocate an amount for the budget approved by DGCine and the Dominican State deducts up to 25% of the income tax to be paid by the businessman during that period.
A part of the public can see an audiovisual as a failure, others as a success. Likewise, the actor Pedro Urrutia affirms that the profitability lies in the joint earnings from the box office, distribution and participation in festivals. “But (the participating actors) we want to continue encouraging and motivating the Dominican to support his cinema more,” he said.
For Pintor, the difficulty levels are set by the production costs of each film project. In the making of a film there is an unquantified investment, which is the exchange between brands and companies.
“Advertising is not endorsed within the incentives granted by the Film Law. A commercial strategy is worth between RD$30 million and RD$40 million, which is an unquantified investment”, clarified the owner of Larimar Films, Elsa Turull.
“We understand that this industry is for sowing, not for harvesting. It is time to invest to contribute to the development of the future”, considers the co-owner of the production house, Antonio De Alma Iglesias. However, Turull recognizes that the business sector is willing to support the filming of new film projects.
The general director of DGCine, Marianna Vargas, indicates that each producer has different objectives, an action that affects the duration on the billboard.
“Commercial cinema cannot be mixed with authorial or experimental cinema, the objective of the director or producer with the audiovisual that he is creating is because there are films that are international routes and for foreign markets or festivals that set a precedent,” he explained.
According to the data, “What is inherited” had a week in theaters and attracted 213 people to movie theaters. However, its collection of RD$74,550 represents 0.2% of its budget of RD$33.4 million.
In addition, “Rafaela” had an investment of RD$28 million and “Isla de dos repúblicas” some RD$19.8 million. The entity reports income of RD$638,500 and RD$144,725, respectively.
According to the executive, the return on their investment should not be at the box office, but rather in the appreciation, awareness or exposure of the producer to the global market. Meanwhile, Pintor told el Dinero that cinema is profitable when the investment is recovered, it begins to pay off, although the cultural approach is intangible.
Dominican cinema, a service export industry
The so-called seventh art grows and diversifies. Film critic Pachico Tejada affirms that the local industry offers more drama than comedies, but these are commercial films that make noise and enjoy more publicity. An example of this is “Tuberculo gourmet” or “Pueto pa’ mi” with profits of RD$99.1 million and RD$46.3 million, respectively.
The commentator is clear: there are artistic films whose success lies in the prestige achieved by that work and who made it, opening doors to international production. In addition, creating a film is a way of expressing the culture of the Dominican Republic, and like any artistic work it will depend on those who view it to decide if they like it or not.
In the last three years, this service sector bets on conquering land outside the national territory. Productions such as “Hotel Coppelia”, “En tu piel” and “Carpinteros” are distributed on HBO Max, which shows the interest of streaming platforms in acquiring local content.
“The audiovisuals that are being made are with a more artistic criterion, to project it more in international festivals than in local movie theaters,” said Tejeda.
This thought is confirmed in the participation of Andrés Farías with “Candela”; Nelson Carlo, “Cocote” and Israel Cárdenas and Laura Guzmán with “La feria y la fiesta”, which triumph at international festivals.
For the general director of DGCine, Marianna Vargas, success is the presence of a Dominican film in a festival and the recognition it has internationally.
“The box office is an outdated metric to measure the success of a feature film,” he says. The executive maintains that the value is measured in time, the prestige and recognition of the author and the feature film.
“There is no specific element to measure the success of a film, it cannot be only at the box office and we cannot simplify such a complex industry,” he explained.
However, for the marketing expert, Julissa Rumaldo, local films must be assisted by a marketing team to carry out an advertising strategy. “It is thought that a film that goes to festivals is not media, but it is a mistake. When an advertising cycle is not fulfilled, it is because it lacks a convincing communication plan for the Dominican and foreign public,” she said. He suggests that Creole films create an “aggressive” marketing plan before being projected on the big screen so that viewers come to see it.