Indonesian production house Screenplay Films is at the forefront of the streaming boom, with a dozen titles for 2022 and on track to scale further by 2023 for, among others, Vidio and Netflix. SVP streaming, Anthony Buncio, talks about production priorities and realities, surfacing stories that will engage a potential audience of 290+ million people, developing a superhero universe, and the move into international format adaptations.
Screenplay Films is already among the Indonesian production houses at the forefront of the streaming boom. What are your priorities now?
“Our top priorities are to grow more IP bank. Sources can be in-house IP or third parties. And also definitely more partnerships with IP owners outside and inside Indonesia, and with creatives; how we can adapt their series and films that fast-tracks our ability to provide volume. Regeneration is a key objective for us. With the content boom, especially in OTT, we can experiment a lot. We can find and identify new writers, producers, directors and really guide them to find their voice in this new mode of entertainment.”
In March 2020 you had one steaming commission. This year you will launch 10 or 12 series, including season two of "Serigala Terakhir"...
“And then next year, that’s expected to grow to about 14 to 16 series for all the major platforms operating in Indonesia.”
What’s most important to you in choosing stories?
“We rely on analytics, especially if we have to acquire something. But as our creative team and our CEO always emphasise, we don’t care if no one knows about the story as long as it’s good, cutting edge and something different. Right now there’s a lot of low hanging fruit in Indonesia because we’re in our infancy in terms of ideation.”
How do you approach formats?
“Definitely Korean and Japanese. It’s what’s working in the region. We’ve adapted Turkish formats.... [we will consider anything] as long as we feel that it will have an emotional resonance with Indonesians... the critical consideration for us is that the format rights holder should have a fly-in producer or a showrunner who really knows how to navigate the intricacies of an emerging market. So, for instance, we produced "Mendua" ("Doctor Foster"). BBC was great, they knew how to navigate the complexities of our writers, who are still learning. So, when we were developing, we found for instance, that the core of the character is not actually about a scorned woman bent on revenge over a cheating husband, it’s actually about a woman having to accept her fate of being alone, and that took several discussions. Without access to the bible, to the creator, that would have not been possible.”
There’s a big gap between "Doctor Foster" and your young-adult (YA) series, like "Married With Senior"...
“We purposely orchestrate it that way so that Screenplay doesn’t become homogeneous. Screenplay has been around for 12 years. We did a lot of YA romance initially, but in the last five to six years, we ventured out to other genres, like action thrillers... we knew we needed to go a little bit older as well.”
You’re racing to keep up with demand for premium TV production. What have your biggest challenges been?
“Our biggest challenges are what we were facing before the demand – a shortage of manpower. It’s just escalated. We are now competing with movie production in Indonesia, and some of the crew we had the luxury of working with on OTT series are moving back to movie production. We are also still implementing efficiencies in production processes, along with infrastructure that’s conducive for filming; in Indonesia we are lucky if we can shoot in two locations a day... for the most part, we don’t have studios.”
One of the things that we’ve spoken about over the years is your mission to attract top filmmakers. How are you thinking about continuing to develop this kind of creator and production ecosystem?
“We knew that with the explosion of content, we needed to have diverse voices and those voices can only come from the filmmakers. We signed a deal about four years ago with [Indonesian director] Timo Tjahjanto’ Frontier Pictures... fast forward to now and we have supersized that with about eight subsidiaries within Screenplay, and a lot of them are filmmaker-led. They have their own operations, their own offices... Screenplay is the umbrella, we just provide them infrastructure so that these creators just create. That’s their main focus.
“We are constantly on the lookout for co-production and development with entities in Indonesia and outside of Indonesia, much like Joko Anwar’s "Pengabdi Setan 2" ("Satan Slaves 2").We also have an exclusive tie-up with Wattpad, and Screenplay Infinite Films, which produced Timo Tjahjanto’s "The Night Comes for Us" – the first original ever to come out of Indonesia. Frontier Pictures has also produced comedy/crime/action feature, "The Big 4" (releases 15 Dec 2022 on Netflix). We also invest in writers’ rooms, like Katatinut, led by one of Indonesia’s foremost writers, Titien Watimena.
“Even though these filmmakers have partnerships with us, they have the freedom to work with other studios in Indonesia or outside. They have the leverage and the flexibility. Our hope is just that they become emissaries to help the industry as a whole.”
Where does Screenplay Bumilangit fit?
“Screenplay Bumilangit is our superhero vertical. It is a partnership between Screenplay Films, Bumilangit and Joko Anwar. Bumilangit is an IP-based company with perhaps the largest comic-book hero IP in Asia; 1,200 to be exact. So, out of this library, we’re creating movies, such as Sri Asih, and series for OTT such as "Tira" for Disney+ Hotstar.
Indonesia has 290 million people and you’re reaching maybe 10 million with your shows. Is there a plan to increase that?
“Our number one movie hit about nine million sales, so that’s 4% of the population. We constantly talk about how to tap into the rest of the country... I think it’s about experimenting a lot and taking big risks, and we can do that now with OTT... we can also put a spin on conventional series to attract viewers in tier-two cities, or the rest of the country. Married with Senior, for instance, was set in Bandung. Normally, everything is shot in Jakarta... but we still have a long way to go [in reaching the other 280 million].”
Budgets for drama series in Asia have increased, led by Korea which is spending anything from US$600,000 to US$2.5 million per episode for premium drama. Are Indonesia budgets where they need to be?
“Maybe I would use our movies because a lot of the bigger platforms especially are requesting that we do OTT series of similar quality to our movies. Well, currently, our movies in Indonesia range from US$700,000 to US$1 million. So that equates to about US$6,000 per minute, so 45 minutes per episode that’s US$270,000. We are getting there with some of the platforms.”
What’s the biggest lesson from this major growth spurt?
“To be able to know when to slow down and listen to the creators. As a company we have a certain DNA: we are not here for quantity, we are here for quality.”
This feature appears in ContentAsia's December 2022 print magazine