By Lee Wei Lian [Malaysian Insider]
SHAH ALAM, May 2 — Twenty thousand ringgit. That's about how close three young 3D animation filmmakers came to breaking the local box-office record for made-in-Malaysia movies with their very first feature-length film “Geng”.
The movie ended up taking in RM6.31 million at the end of its run in March, coming within a whisker of all-time champion “Lagi Lagi Senario” which grossed RM6.33 million in 2001.
Merchandise sales of the movie characters have been brisk and, as a sign of its popularity, have also been pirated and are being sold in pasar malams and even hypermarkets.
When met at their modest but comfortable corner shoplot studio in Shah Alam, the boys — Mohd Nizam Abd Razak, Mohd Safwan Abd Karim and Muhammad Usamah Zaid, all just 26 years of age and casually dressed — made it clear that with their next movie, they intend to see the record for the local movie box office not only fall but smashed — by opening the sequel to the family-oriented “Geng” during the school holidays in 2010 instead of outside it like with their first film.
They are feeling confident that the sequel could take in as much as RM12 million.
“Geng”, however, may well set the record for overall box office for a Malaysian movie as it is slated to open in Indonesia in September and India and Brunei some time later.
Their partner in India plans to dub the Malay-language feature into Tamil and Hindi, and has put out a conservative forecast of US$4 million (RM14.3 million) in box-office takings, although it could be several times that.
The trio also found themselves with a hit TV series on their very first try — “Upin & Ipin” — now in its second season on TV9 and the second-highest-rated cartoon series on television with an estimated 1.5 million viewers. That puts it ahead of “SpongeBob” (800,000 viewers) and behind only “Doraemon” (1.6 million viewers). It is also being shown in Indonesia.
Such commercial success was far from certain when the three film and animation coursemates and friends from Multimedia University (MMU) formed Les' Copaque Production Sdn Bhd together with a husband-and-wife investor in December 2005.
While it now appears they have something of the Pixar touch in that everything they have worked on has been a hit, although on a much smaller scale than the US-based studio behind “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story”, the reality is that it involved hard work and a great deal of risk as some RM4 million was poured into making “Geng”.
To make ends meet, they had to do unrelated projects like video montages for golf club openings and television advertisements.
"Imagine if ‘Geng’ was not a hit, we would have had to close down," says Nizam, the more vocal of the three filmmakers and the trio's natural frontman.