The Philippine Film Industry at large is dependent on the production of Feature Length Films as its primary commodity. Ideally, as an industry, what a Feature Length Film as a commodity should be standardized, and thus its workflow defined within the specific parameter of this standard. A lot of the workings within the Film Industry can be understood if we are to look closely at its final product and the rationale of its production.
The film commodity is mainly defined by its runtime. Commercial exhibitors in the Philippines mostly cater to Feature Length films which makes it quite the dominant form of film with regards to communicative reach. Interestingly, there’s yet to be an available guideline of what should constitute a “feature-length” runtime from the institutions of commercial cinema. Most that one can see “feature-length” defined in the context of Philippine Cinema is through the guidelines of film festivals or competitions. The Metro Manila Film Festival, for example, accepts feature-length entries and is defined as running in a minimum of 75 minutes. In Hollywood, the feature-length is defined differently by two institutions: for the Academy of Motion Picture and Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a feature-length is a film running for more than 40 minutes, while the Screen Actor’s Guild of America asserts that a feature-length film is not less than 80 minutes.
Generally, a feature-length film is defined as a film with a runtime long enough to be considered as principal or sole film to fill a program. This notion of programming comes from a long history of mass entertainment. It is not always the case that a film is sold on its own. There’s a point in history where venues which film has screened (Vaudeville theaters, opera houses, etc) do not exclusively screen films, but rather, films are part of the variety program. Nicholas Sammond noted that short silent films were once filling in the “dumb acts” filling in the slots formerly for animal performers and acrobats. At some point, film and other performance acts within the vaudeville switched roles: film became the “feature attraction.” As the development of Film from silent to talkies went on, the practice of hiring supporting acts within the vaudeville gradually disappeared. A vaudeville program mostly lasts for 5 hours. Rental of short films, then later on of longer films became more economic as the programs get shorter, the more profit it can give to theater owners as they no longer hire several numbers of individual acts to fill the program.
This exchange between film and vaudeville with the development of the feature-length running time is reflected both in form and content of what is considered as the first commercial feature in America, The Jazz Singer (1927): early feature-length films mostly adapt the musical element of vaudeville both in their format and narrative.
While in recent history — or in all of history — short films dominate in quantity, short films do not become a determinant in the practice of industrial filmmaking, except in the context of serial filmmaking which is adapted within the framework of Television production. But in the context of commercial theatrical screenings, only one kind of short film is being commonly allowed: advertisements. No one can sell short films.
There’s still no definite agreement on what actually the measure of feature-length. We can just say on an average that what in practice is considered as such are those which ran from 90minutes to 150 minutes. In the Philippines, cinemas at malls are mostly open for twelve hours a day, which usually cater to 5 film slots per day per screen. It is observable, however, that Hollywood blockbuster films with running times more than 120 minutes are screened mostly 4 times only a day, but more or less enjoys two screens or more. This is profitable for the theaters despite its slight deviance from their common programming.
The conflict of profit interest between exhibitors, film producers, and their distributing agents commonly affects the decision for running time in the Philippine setting. If you are a Filipino film producer, considering having a film screened at commercial theaters, like SM Cinemas, you actually would want to have your film only run for 110 minutes maximum. One reason being is that in-between screening margins are observed for advertisements and theater maintenance. Chances are, exhibitors might not consider a Filipino film which is longer than 110 minutes because Filipino films are not mostly seen as profit-makers, with the exception of Christmas hits from mainstream studios. In contemporary times, theatrical Filipino film exhibition does not equate profit yet.
This view from the exhibitors is commonly reflected in the way they program Filipino films. When a screen is given to a Filipino film, they commonly maximize the five screening slots per day, something exhibitors can’t afford to do if a film is longer than 110 minutes. Within this programming, some long windows (around 20 minutes or so) are given to advertisements, something which recently is not quite observable when one watches a Hollywood blockbuster.
The film running time most of the time is the common point of negotiation between producers, distributors, and exhibitors. But it is mostly the exhibitors, in the recent social practice of commercial cinema, that determines which specific set of running time, along with other determinants of commercial viability, is allowed for public access.